Before Jeff Greene attacked Gwen Graham Thursday evening during a televised debate over her family company's involvement in a controversial $4 billion mall being built in northwest Miami-Dade County, Democratic voters watching the event at home on their televisions got a preview of what was to come.
In a new commercial, Greene's campaign tells voters that Graham "promises to protect the environment from developers, but now she's facing tough questions over her family's ties to a multi-billion-dollar mega mall." The ad focuses on the development of the American Dream mega-mall, a planned development by Triple Five involving 6 million square feet of retail and entertainment space near the Florida Turnpike in northwest Miami-Dade County.
Triple Five allied with the Graham Companies, the Miami Lakes developer that still owns a large chunk of the 175-acre American Dream site and plans an even larger commercial and residential project on 300 acres to the south. The site is near the Everglades. Graham sat on the company's board before she was elected to Congress in 2014 and, according to her financial disclosure, owns $13.7 million in company stock.
The commercial calls the mall "Graham's mall."
The attack ad includes comments from Graham made during an interview last month with WFOR's Jim Defede, who pressed Graham on her family company's involvement in the project. Green's campaign edited excerpts of the roughly seven-minute interview. At the end of the ad, the campaign chopped up her response to a point by Defede that Graham would benefit from the mall by editing out the words "I have actually, long before I..." and cutting straight to a four-second pause in which Graham struggled to gather her thoughts about what to say.
The rest of her response, which was not included in the ad, revolved around her efforts to distance herself from her family's company by placing her stake in a trust and her plans to recuse herself from any decisions involving the project.
During the debate, Greene turned a question about blue-green algae and Lake Okeechobee into a response about Graham and her family's involvement with the mall, which he incorrectly asserted was to be built in the Everglades.
"Is it a difficult decision for you to have your family build a mall in the Everglades?" he asked.
Graham deflected his rhetorical question during the debate. But her campaign fired back Friday, sending out statements from supporters in the Democratic party who condemned the attack as "misleading" and "dirty." Former state party chairman Rod Smith said the commercial was "based on a lie and altered news footage."
In a statement, State Senator Linda Stewart, accused Greene of failing to disclose his investments in oil and fracking companies in his own financial disclosure.
“Jeff Greene is a billionaire developer who illegally refused to disclose how much interests he holds in oil companies who want to drill off our beaches and frackers who want to destroy our aquifer,” Stewart said. “Graham is the only Democrat who has put her holdings into a transparent trust and distanced herself from private employment. As governor, she will recuse herself from any decisions that would even have the appearance of affecting her interests.”
Greene dismissed the shot during a campaign stop in Coral Gables Friday afternoon, saying he'd disclosed all his assets appropriately. Late Friday, his campaign responded to Graham:
"The environmental community has spoken, and the message is clear: the American Dream MegaMall is an environmental disaster that absolutely threatens the Everglades," said campaign spokeswoman Claire VanSusteren. "Graham is scrambling to enlist political surrogates to defend her indefensible record on this project, but the facts are the facts: the American Dream MegaMall is a bad bet for Florida and for the Everglades."