In a campaign season swelling with populism, where candidates try to out-folk each other and prove their anti-elitist credentials, having a symbol of extreme wealth as potent as a 145-foot yacht is already a liability.
It’s way more of a liability if your yacht has been involved in a number of untoward episodes over the past decade — if, like Florida Senate candidate Jeff Greene, your yacht has destroyed part of a precious Belizean coral reef, showed up “caked in vomit” in travel-embargoed Cuba and, possibly, fueled some of Mike Tyson’s less proud moments.
Greene, who is vying for the Democratic nomination in a race where most Dems will probably vote for Republican-turned-Independent Charlie Crist anyway, is a billionaire who made his fortune betting against the imploding sub-prime mortgage system.
Belize is home to a diverse, protected barrier reef that Charles Darwin reportedly called “the most remarkable reef in the West Indies.” The Summerwind — absent its owner — sailed there in 2005 and dropped anchor right through the reef.
From a local news report:
The luxury yacht released a very large anchor with approximately two hundred feet of chain down to an estimated seventy-foot depth. In the process, the chain dismantled a large section of coral and as it descended the swinging motion, from side to side, continued to break off more sections of hard and soft coral and sponges.
Belize’s Department of Environment eventually levied a $1.87 million fine, but the Summerwind was long gone. The fine remains unpaid and the case open. Confronted with the information by the the St Petersburg Times, Greene’s campaign asserted that it never even happened.
“Career politicians are attacking him with ridiculous stories about something that didn’t even happen five years ago on a boat he wasn’t even on,” said campaign spokesman Luis Vizcaino. Pressed, he said, “That’s our position. That’s our quote.”
This one started when former Summerwind deckhands told all to the Times, including this particular anecdote: “Mr. Greene’s yacht is known to be a party yacht. When it went to Cuba, everybody talked about the vomit caked all over the sides from all the partying going on.”
Greene’s Democratic primary opponent, U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek, asked him about Cuba at their next debate.
“I was not on the yacht on the trip you’re talking about,” Greene said.
His campaign, however, later clarified that Greene was indeed on the boat, headed past Cuba to the Bahamas, when the Summerwind had mechanical problems. They docked in Cuba and Greene says he waited out the days by visiting the Jewish community.
Greene also said there was no partying. The employee, however, sticks by his story, adding that Greene intentionally went to the banned country. (Cuba and the embargo, of course, is a hot-button issue among Florida’s Cuban voters.)
The boxer, who recently detailed his struggles with addiction to Sports Illustrated, was the best man at Greene’s wedding in 2007. And he’s spent a lot of time aboard the Summerwind.
Tyson gave details of his cavorting during the same summer he spent a month on Greene’s boat: “This guy goes and gets me a big rock of cocaine. So pretty soon I got a party going on. I got everything: I got these rugby players. I got these naked girls … But then [the dealer he met in Amsterdam] saw how much of a mess I was. He came in and kicked everybody out of my room! All the nude people, all the people having sex. He said, ‘I feel so bad I ever gave him that stuff.'”
It’s important that Tyson never mentions Greene’s boat, and Greene told Politico that he has a “zero tolerance policy” for drugs. He added that Tyson often “peeled off” and went out on his own.
Greene did, however, mention that he’s paid “tens of thousands of dollars” for Tyson’s rehab.
But does it matter?
It’s hard to say how much the yacht scandals have hurt Greene. They certainly haven’t helped, but they’d have maybe hurt him more if Democrats weren’t turning en masse to Repbulican-cum-independent Gov. Charlie Crist.
Greene and Meek are about neck and neck — in primary matchups, favorability ratings and in the general election, where they’re each trailing Crist and Marco Rubio by big numbers.
The primary is Aug. 24.