EAST LAKE — The conference room at the library was near capacity as the audience waited for the VIP to arrive for his 6:30 p.m. appearance.
He was late.
After driving in rain and rush-hour traffic, former Florida Gov. and Sen. Bob Graham arrived at 7 p.m. Tuesday for the Author's Showcase at East Lake Community Library.
Little did Graham know that a contingent of library supporters were driving in the same nasty weather to a Pinellas County Commission meeting where they'd watch as commissioners unanimously approved self-funding for their library.
"Well hello, I am so sorry to make you wait, but you all need to put out a bigger sign. I had trouble finding you,'' Graham said as he walked to the podium in a buttoned-up blue blazer.
The statement made Rob Davis of Palm Harbor laugh. "Maybe if the library gets some money tonight, then they can get a bigger sign that lights up,'' mumbled Davis.
For the next hour, Graham shared his experiences as both a politician and as the author of four books, spending most of the time discussing his 2011 novel, Keys to the Kingdom.
The thriller may not be what you'd expect from a 70-something, beloved political icon, however. Graham's Keys to the Kingdom includes spies, hijackers and an international conspiracy linking the Saudi kingdom to Osama Bin Laden.
It might be fiction, but "it is based on truth,'' said Graham, who is well-known for his long battle with the U.S. government over censored information concerning Saudi Arabia's role in 9/11.
"I realized through the novel, I could get the truth out without worrying about being censored,'' he said.
He also talked about the writing craft, crediting his friend, historian David McCullough, whose son Bill is married to Graham's daughter Cissy, for guiding him.
"Mr. McCullough told me he has a goal to write 400 words a day. That might not seem like much, but he works on it, taking eight hours a day, from 8 to lunch and then 1 to 5 p.m., to get those 400 words just right,'' he said. "So you need discipline, and also, write what you know. Think about what you can teach others.''
The 60-member audience peppered Graham with questions. Would he consider running for office again? No.
What was more fun, being a senator or a governor? A governor.
And how would he persuade state officials to accept funding for Medicaid?
"Actually, when I was driving out in the rain looking for you all, I was listening to a program on the radio about this topic. It was making the case that you can't trust the government. That they'd get us into something and then bail on us.''
Graham said that the radio show spurred a memory from the 1950s when many Florida residents were against the state highway expansion.
"At the time it was the same reasoning,'' he said. "Now, how many people here today think we made a mistake by joining the interstate highway system? Interesting, I don't see any hands.''
While he talked to reporters after the event, Graham was told of the library's financial struggle.
He acknowledged that funding for libraries can get complex. "Our libraries run on a decentralized system, but it's a system that has worked well,'' he said. "Public libraries are set up so each county can shape services to respond to the desires of people who live and read there.''
He was also asked if he was surprised that his oldest daughter, Gwen Graham, a Tallahassee mother of three, has decided to run for public office. She is the Democratic challenger to U.S. Rep. Steve Southerland, R-Panama City, in the second congressional district.
"She grew up around it. No, I was not surprised that she has a desire to serve,'' he said. "I think she's in for a great adventure, and I think she'll be a very great congresswoman.