PEMBROKE PARK, Fla. (AP) — Billionaire Jeff Greene wants to consider lifting Cuban trade and travel restrictions and said the $787 billion stimulus is a failure, points Rep. Kendrick Meek disagreed with Sunday in the final debate before the Democratic Senate primary.
The candidates also had different responses on whether they support a mosque opening two blocks from where terrorists crashed airplanes into the World Trade Center in New York City. Greene opposed the idea while Meek didn't directly answer the question, saying as a senator he would not be involved in New York's local government zoning issues.
The discussion Sunday with WPLG-TV's Michael Putney was more focused on issues and less contentious than the three previous debates between the candidates engaged in a bitter primary. Polls show the race to be tight with little more than a week before the Aug. 24 election.
Meek said the federal stimulus helped save and create thousands of jobs in Florida, adding that he "absolutely" takes some credit for helping bring money into the Miami district he's represented since 2003.
"Teachers' jobs were saved, law enforcement jobs were saved, firefighters' jobs were saved," Meek said. "We're not talking about consumers helping the economy bounce back, we're talking about job creation."
Greene called the plan a failure.
"I can tell you, Kendrick, the stimulus plan did not work. This last month, unemployment claims went up for the first time in five months. We still have an 11.5 percent unemployment rate in Florida. So the stimulus plan has not succeeded because people like you in Congress don't understand how this stuff works," Greene said.
Greene said the money should have been targeted toward helping businesses expand instead of just random projects.
Greene also said opening trade and travel to Cuba could help bring business to Florida, a shift in position for him.
"We have to take a close look at opening up Cuba to travel and the trade embargo," Greene said. "It's a 50-year plan that's failed. The whole idea was to bring down the Castros and they're still there ... I'm not saying let's open the doors tomorrow, but I'm saying when I get to the Senate I want to take a close look at making a revision."
Meek chuckled at Greene's response.
"I haven't had a change of opinion on Cuba in the last two weeks, I don't know why Mr. Greene would change," said Meek, who supports the embargo. "It's important that we keep our eye on Cuba. It's important that we treat this as chess" and not checkers.
Meek avoided a question about whether he supports allowing a mosque near ground zero.
"I'm not running to be a part of the New York City zoning," Meek said. "It's important that we as the United States of America do not step in. We are not the radical individuals that went after the twin towers and the Pentagon."
Greene said that allowing the mosque is inappropriate.
"I don't think when their families have to go to mourn their losses, that they should be looking at mosque right there," Greene said. "You know what? It's insensitive to the victims, it's insensitive to those that lost people in this tragedy."
The winner of the primary will face Republican Marco Rubio and Gov. Charlie Crist, who is running as an independent, in the November election.