Editor’s note: In anticipation of the release of former Governor Charlie Crist’s book, “The Party’s Over: How the Extreme Right Hijacked the GOP and I Became a Democrat,” I’ll be highlighting some of the more interesting passages from the book, which offers very frank opinions on Mitt Romney, Jeb Bush and other leading Republicans. Today’s excerpt should be of interest to those who track Florida’s lobby corps, as it reveals how uber lobbyist Brian Ballard was present at the moment Charlie met Carole Rome, his future wife.
Harry Sargeant, a Florida State fraternity buddy of mine who’d become a fighter pilot in the United States Marine Corps Black Sheep squadron and then a hugely successful energy and shipping magnate, had set up a later dinner for me. It was at Campagnola, a world-class country-Italian restaurant on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. Harry had invited a group of New Yorkers who had some connections to Flroida and might be willing to help with fund-raising for the Florida Republican Party.
I came in off 1st Avenue, past the narrow bar and the pianist playing Sinatra. In the main dining room, I saw Harry sitting at a large round table with several other people. One of them was Brian Ballard. Also at the table was a very attractive woman with long dark hair, brown eyes, a stunning smile.
I hope that’s Carole, I thought.
Harry had told me about Carole Rome. Half the plan for the dinner was to meet her. Next to her was a conspicuously open seat.
After greeting everyone, I sat down.
We hit it off instantly. It was like I had known this woman my entire life. She was smart. She was funny. She seemed great.
Everyone at the table was talking politics. Carole jumped in comfortably.
At some point, like I do with most people I turned to Carole and asked: “Where did you grow up? What was that like? Did you have a big family? Tell me what you’re doing now.”
She told me about growing up on Long Island in a place called Roslyn. Her family was in the Halloween business, she said. I don’t think I’d ever met anyone in that field before. She had a business degree from Georgetown University. She was obviously smart.
She told me that she had two daughters and that she was getting divorced. And she mentioned how much she loved Florida. She had a place, she said, on Fisher Island near Miami. She said she’d been coming to Boca Raton with her family since she was a little girl. We talked about how much both of us enjoyed being on the water and going to the beach.
I was paying close attention to all of it.
As much as I was enjoying getting to know Carole, I made sure to include others in the conversation, I wanted everyone to have a good time. This was, after all, a fund-raising dinner. These people were considering writing substantial checks. After dinner, several of us went to a loung on East 63rd Street called Club Macanudo to listen to some live music and extend the evening a bit.
I’d been single for nearly thirty years. I’d date some very nice women. But after my brief marriage during law school, I had never said “I do” again. I’d known Carole for all of three hours. It was far to soon to be thinking long-term. But some kind of light did go off in my hear.
As we separated on the sidewalk, I gave her a kiss and though to myself as we said good night: I definitely have to see her again.