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Charlie Crist spends post-announcement afternoon chatting with veterans

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

After officially announcing his bid for Congress, former Gov. Charlie Crist made two more stops to meet with veterans. In what was a throwback to the C.W. Bill Young 42-year reign, Crist promised to serve with a commitment to providing vets with more than what Washington gives them now.

“People like Jay who have served in the armed forces literally are willing to risk their lives for our freedom,” Crist said from a new memorial at the War Veterans Memorial Park next to Bay Pines where countless vets get medical care.

He was speaking with U.S. Army veteran Jay Alexander, who now serves as the fire commissioner for Lealman.

Alexander didn’t say whether he’d be supporting Crist or not, but asked that if he’s elected, Crist continue supporting veterans and fire services.

Crist said he absolutely would – and that he’d do better than what’s being done now.

At a third and final stop later at Clearwater Beach’s Pier 60, Crist met with a second veteran who said he’s followed the former governor’s career closely – seeing him at three separate events over the past several years.

Young, whose seat was vacated after passing away in late 2013, was an avid supporter of all things veteran. His support for veterans’ services was honored across party lines even as Washington gridlock grew to historic proportions during the Obama administration. Issues surrounding improved access to care for veterans are likely to be a staple issue during this race.

Crist also weighed in on comments made against him earlier by Congressional District 13 incumbent David Jolly. In a Q&A with reporters following Crist’s announcement Tuesday morning in Childs Park, Jolly called Crist a Huckster who would do whatever it takes to get elected.

“I guess he’s having a bad day,” Crist said when told about the remarks. “People who do that kind of thing in Washington all day long don’t listen to the people here. They don’t like that kind of rhetoric.”

Crist made the decision to run for Jolly’s seat after a court ruled the district violated Fair Districting Laws. The gerrymandered district left out a chunk of St. Petersburg, including South St. Pete and parts of downtown that are primarily Democratic. That made the district a fairly safe one for Republicans.

The new map shifts the district to Democrats.

The deal was made sweeter when Jolly then announced he’d be vacating office to run for Marco Rubio’s U.S. Senate seat.

No Republican has yet entered the race, though former St. Pete Mayor Rick Baker is rumored to jump in soon. Regardless, Crist is likely to get a lot of criticism from his former party.

Crist suffered fallout from his political flip-flop shifting him from Republican to independent and then to Democrat. The party swapping left him labeled as an opportunist. But Crist, as his book is titled, argues he’s not changed – it was the party that left him.

“I’ve always stood for the same things,” Crist said. “I’ve always fought for women’s rights. I’ve always fought for our economy.”

He also listed education as one of his strong suits, reminding reporters that two of his three sisters were teachers.

“They can do the onslaught thing if they want to and that’s exactly what’s wrong with Washington,” Crist said. “That’s exactly what’s wrong with politics and people are sick of it. I’m sick of it.”

He echoed that sentiment when asked how he could affect change to the current gridlock that exists in Congress as a rank-and-file representative.

“Arguing with each other isn’t going to get it done,” Crist said. “Working with each other will get it done.”

Crist is running against St. Pete native and former adviser to three secretaries of defense in the Democratic primary.

His announcement came as he and his wife celebrate her birthday. Asked why he chose that day to finally make the speech everyone knew was coming, Crist asked, “why not?” He then added, his wife was the one who suggested it.

The two ended their day of hopping from spot to spot with a stroll along Clearwater Beach.

Janelle Irwin has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in the Tampa Bay area since 2003. She also hosts a weekly political talk show on WMNF Community radio. Janelle formerly served as the sole staff reporter for WMNF News and previously covered news for Patch.com and various local neighborhood newsletters. Her work has been featured in the New York Daily News, Free Speech Radio News and Florida Public Radio and she's been interviewed by radio stations across the nation for her coverage of the 2012 Republican National Convention. Janelle is a diehard news junkie who isn't afraid to take on big names in local politics including Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, the dirty business of trash and recycling in St. Pete and the ongoing Pier debacle. Her work as a reporter and radio host has earned her two WMNF awards including News Volunteer of the Year and Public Affairs Volunteer of the Year. Janelle is also the devoted mother to three brilliant and beautiful daughters who are a constant source of inspiration and occasional blogging fodder. To contact, email janelle@floridapolitics.com.

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