Charlie Crist draws huge crowd to open South Florida campaign HQ

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Broward Democrats turned out en masse on Saturday to cheer on Charlie Crist as the gubernatorial candidate christened his first South Florida campaign office outside his home base of Tampa Bay.

Hundreds of supporters — and a smattering of protesters — lent a chaotic air to the event, so much so that not everyone could fit inside the office suite, according to Anthony Man of the South Florida SunSentinel. Staffers had to move visitors to the parking lot adjoining 302 South University Drive near the Westfield Broward Mall, where a Plantation police cruiser blocked the entrance.

“I’m completely overwhelmed and humbled by the support at our South Florida office opening today,” Crist said in his trademark sunny disposition. “It only incredibly shows to me the people’s desire for change in Tallahassee and the energy to get it done, and we thank God for that.”

“It tells me how frustrated you are just like I am about the failed leadership of Rick Scott and Tallahassee,” Crist said in his eight minute speech. “Florida deserves better. We deserve better. And it’s coming. And they’re going to feel it. They already do feel it.

“It is about respecting our hardworking schoolteachers. Not just once in a while say we’re going to cut education by he tried to cut it by over $4 billion. I mean it’s unconscionable. How do you do that? How do you do that if you care about kids and you care about teachers and you care about education. And you realize how important it is in order for them to have a brighter future.

“We know what to do. It’s common sense. Not his nonsense.”

A number of speakers also addressed the crowd, which grew to more than 300 people from all parts of South Florida joining to celebrate the new location, a cornerstone of Crist’s ever-expanding field operations. On stage were Crist, former Senate Democratic Leader Steve Geller, former House Democratic Leader Dan Gelber, campaign manager Omar Khan, and former Obama and current Crist campaign super-volunteer Rose Dangleben.

“We are a metrics and data driven campaign, and a huge part of that will be our grassroots field operation,” Khan said. “Broward County is critically important to Governor Crist, and we were excited to kick that off today.”

Counted in the audience were several Broward elected officials, not all in support of the former Republican governor, who claim they are staying neutral as Crist campaigns in the Democratic primary against a local favorite — former Florida Democratic Senate Leader Nan Rich.

However, their presence at the event was significant, Man writes.

Among those in attendance who are straddling the fence were Broward Sheriff Scott Israel, county commissioners Kristin Jacobs and Stacy Ritter, State Reps. Jim Waldman and Hazelle Rogers, Lauderdale Lakes Commissioner Levoyd L. Williams, candidate for state representative Steve Perman, Broward Democratic Chair Mitch Ceasar, vice chair Cynthia Busch and Democratic state committee person Ken Evans.

Ceasar, who has “endorsed no one in the primary,” told Man that Crist called and asked him to attend. Afterwards, the two men walked to Crist’s car arm in arm, chatting all the way. Ceasar maintained that it did not constitute an endorsement.

“I was invited. I go to different things – not all of them,” he said.

The speakers avoided mentioning Rich, but a supporter did hold up one of her campaign signs. Two reporters pressured Crist on changing his mind to debate his Democratic rival.

“No,” he responded.

“I’m focused on Rick Scott,” Crist added when pressed. “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.”

Also spotted were a few Fort Lauderdale Tea Party signs.

Jack Gillies, one of the leaders of the Tea Party group, referred to Crist as “odious” even as a Republican governor in 2006.

“He flip-flops on everything,” he said. “It’s just embarrassing to have him as governor.”

Sharon Day, No. 2 official at the national Republican Party, was there to offer advice on how to refute Crist supporters.

“Basically he’s not to be trusted,” Day told the SunSentinel “I really don’t understand as a Democrat how you support someone that was not just a Republican, just a few short years ago, was a conservative Jeb Bush-Ronald Reagan conservative.

“And then when that didn’t suit him anymore, and he couldn’t win a primary he jumped and became an independent, and when that didn’t work well for him he became a Democrat, and a very liberal Democrat.”

Phil Ammann is a St. Petersburg-based journalist and blogger. With more than three decades of writing, editing and management experience, Phil produced material for both print and online, in addition to founding HRNewsDaily.com. His broad range includes covering news, local government and culture reviews for Patch.com, technical articles and profiles for BetterRVing Magazine and advice columns for a metaphysical website, among others. Phil has served as a contributor and production manager for SaintPetersBlog since 2013. He lives in St. Pete with his wife, visual artist Margaret Juul and can be reached at phil@floridapolitics.com and on Twitter @PhilAmmann.