Original post | 4:42 p.m. April 19
Updated | 7:58 p.m. April 19 and 12:58 p.m. April 21
Hundreds of Broward Democrats – included many elected officials and local party leaders – turned out Saturday and turned up with major enthusiasm for governor candidate Charlie Crist.
He opened his first campaign office outside his Tampa Bay home base, an event that attracted so many people that there wasn’t enough room inside the office suite. It turned chaotic as aides shifted people outside to the parking lot of the office near the Westfield Broward Mall, as a Plantation police car blocked the entrance so cars couldn’t drive through.
The crowd, which may have topped 300 people, got a full dose of Crist-style sunny optimism about Florida – and an even fuller dose of condemnation of Republican Gov. Rick Scott. Below are excerpts of Crist’s comments.
Many of the Democratic elected officials at the event said they weren’t necessarily supporting Crist, insisting they were officially remaining publicly neutral in his primary contest with Broward’s favorite daughter candidate, former Senate Democratic Leader Nan Rich of Weston.
But their presence at the Crist event spoke volumes.
Among those who professed neutrality, or didn’t specify a side: Broward Sheriff Scott Israel, County Commissioner Kristin Jacobs, State Rep. Hazelle Rogers, Lauderdale Lakes Commissioner Levoyd L. Williams, state representative candidate Steve Perman, Broward Democratic Chairman Mitch Ceasar, vice chairwoman Cynthia Busch and Democratic state committeeman Ken Evans.
“I’m a Democratic supporter. I support all the Democrats. I think Governor Crist is a phenomenal leader and if he wins the Democratic primary I’d be 100 percent behind him as I would be if Nan won, but I wish him all the luck in the world. I’m a Democrat. I support all our Democrats,” Israel said. [Israel was present in his uniform at the political event. He said he was dressed that way because he’d just come from the funeral of a longtime Sheriff’s Office employee.]
Ceasar said Crist called and asked him to attend. After the event, the two men walked arm in arm, chatting, all the way to Crist’s car, but Ceasar said that still didn’t constitute and endorsement.
“I was invited. I go to different things – not all of them. I’ve endorsed no one in the primary,” he said.
State Rep. Shevrin Jones, D-West Park, said he’s officially a Crist supporter, which he said is “nothing against Nan or anything like that.” He said he’s known Crist for a long time and “this is what we need for this time.”
Other Crist supporters who were present include County Commissioner Stacy Ritter, Hollywood Mayor Peter Bober; state Rep. Jim Waldman, Fort Lauderdale Commissioner Dean Trantalis; West Park Commissioner Thomas Dorsett; Mike Moskowitz, the former state Democratic committeeman; Mitchell Berger, a prominent national Democratic fundraiser; former Attorney General Bob Butterworth.
The speakers, who had to stand on a chair brought outside for the suddenly relocated rally, included two Crist pals: former Senate Democratic Leader Steve Geller of Cooper City and former House Democratic Leader Dan Gelber, who represented part of Broward when he served in the state Senate.
There was hardly a mention of Rich, though one supporter showed up holding signs supporting her. And two reporters asked Crist if he’d change his mind and debate her.
“No,” was his answer.
Pressed, he said: “I’m focused on Rick Scott. I mean it’s so important that we defeat this guy and that somebody get in the office that cares about people as Omar was saying earlier. Listen, if I spent any energy doing anything but that shame on me.”
A handful of sign-carrying protesters from Tea Party Fort Lauderdale were on hand.
Jack Gillies, co-leader of the tea party group, said he found Crist odious even when he was a Republican elected governor in 2006. “He flip-flops on everything.” It’s just embarrassing to have him as governor.”
Doug Sensening of Pompano Beach, also part of the tea party group, said he had several reasons for his opposition to Crist: He said he’s a Second Amendment supporter and “I’m worried about him turning back the clock on Stand Your Ground.” He’s worried that a Crist governorship would make it easier for immigrants who are in the country illegally. “I have to star worrying about my job and whether I’m going to be replaced by someone here illegally.” And he does not like Obamacare.