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It's Gov. and Mrs. Charlie Crist

ST. PETERSBURG

Charlie Crist, the 44th governor of Florida, who has spent two decades in public service and three decades alone, married Carole Rome last night at First United Methodist Church. The ceremony was traditional and brief, stately yet intimate. The guest list was short for the people's governor, who refers to the state of Florida as his family, but the people found their way there. They have seen the 52-year-old governor's celebrity rise, and his clout climb, but missing from the traditional American political equation was a wife. That changed last night, under a full moon, in his hometown.

• • •

The bride was like every bride. Nervous.

Carole Rome, her daughters, and her sisters got ready in a room decorated with Victorian couches and cherry tables. A bible was open to Isaiah. The air was thick with perfume and nerves.

They munched Triscuits and swiss cheese. They asked for orange juice and drank it from clear plastic cups. They opened a bottle of Martini & Rossi. The church has a rule against that, but decided to let it go. They unwrapped shoes and dresses and tossed tissue paper around the room.

Carole, 39, was jittery. She checked herself in two floor-length mirrors. The governor's mom stopped by.

When it was time, veil in place and flowers in hand, Carole left the room, down an elevator, through the fellowship hall, up a flight of stairs. With the stained glass of The Last Supper on her right and the doors to the sanctuary on her left, she seemed to pause.

A coordinator with the church, who has seen a lot of anxious brides, looked her in the eye.

"Carole, honey, just breathe."

• • •

They met 444 days ago at an Italian restaurant called Campagnola on Manhattan's Upper East Side. She thought he was handsome and sincere. He thought she was beautiful and smart.

They talked politics and sports and ended the night with a kiss.

He spoke at Bill Clinton's Global Climate Initiative the next day, but he was thinking of her.

Reporters took note when the two began to appear together. They learned she was a recently divorced business woman and socialite from New York. She was accustomed to a lavish lifestyle, with homes in Manhattan and the Hamptons. Early this year, the notoriously cheap governor, who eats once a day and gets $10 haircuts, introduced her as "my girlfriend."

On July 3, on a couch in his rented condo overlooking Tampa Bay, he pulled out a small box. He had bought a sapphire and diamond ring from a jeweler near a Publix in northeast St. Petersburg.

She said yes.

• • •

Weddings are about commitment and devotion, and if you're governor of Florida, yours comes wrapped in conjecture and innuendo. People talk about your political aspirations and splash doubt on your motives. They watch you marry in opulence, see your guests arrive in stretch limousines, see you step outside with an impossible smile and tropical tan, and they think of their own daily injustices.

The protesters gathered across the street, in Williams Park, and their signs said "Congratulations Governor Crist! When can I get married?" and "HOMO SEX IS SIN" and "Reparations NOW!"

Helicopters hovered. Police kept watch.

Across Third Street from the church, Gregory Cliett and his friends and neighbors had the best view in town — besides the 220 or so invited. A couple of days ago, Gregory called all his buddies, Charlie and Tony, Bo and Tim. He told them to bring their own beer, because he's out of work.

TV trucks blocked their first-floor view, so they carried their beer and plastic chairs to Keith Meek's balcony one floor up.

A half-dozen people leaned against the railing. "Hey, is this where the party is?" asked a girl with a nose ring.

"Yeah," Keith said. "The governor's predivorce party."

• • •

Inside, the people at the church cranked down the thermostat. The governor didn't want to get too hot.

The sanctuary was all roses and hydrangeas and Christmas trees.

Trumpet Voluntary by Henry Purcell played as the bride walked down the aisle. She was escorted by her daughters Skylar, 10, and Jessica, 12. Crist smiled beside his father, Dr. Charles Crist of St. Petersburg, his best man.

His dad teared up, just like at the rehearsal.

Skylar and Jessica walked their mom toward Crist. They both took her hand and gave it to the governor.

When the Rev. David Miller, pastor of the church, asked who was there to give the bride away, the daughters answered "I do'' and "I do.''

The vows were traditional. Each of them pledged to "have and to hold from this day forward for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish until death us do part.''

The kiss was tender and brief.

She wanted more.

She put her hands on his face and kissed him again.

• • •

Outside, the protesters shouted about freeing Michael Vick and sang "Jesus loves me." A street preacher shouted "Perverts!" and a passenger in a moving pickup yelled at them all to get a life.

A homeless man wearing a sweater sleeve for a hat stood still across the street, watching the parade of provincial power feed into First United Methodist Church. Big men and thin women. Furs and sequins and bow ties and shiny black shoes.

Back on the balcony, Dee Reynolds was pointing over the railing.

"Hey, are those the gay people?"

"Nah," Keith said. "They're just the homeless."

Gregory was on his second beer when the first stretch limo pulled up outside the church. He turned his chair to better see the glitter. "Wonder who they are?"

Dee couldn't take his eyes off Williams Park. "Now the Jesus people are protesting the protestors," he says. "And here come the Uhurus."

A man walked by carrying a banner for Five Guys Burgers. He waved. "Hey, you all come by Five Guys and get some burgers after the protest!"

"Protest?" Keith says. "There's a wedding going on."

The guy with the banner shrugged. "Protest. Wedding. It's all the same."

• • •

Twenty minutes after it began, the governor and his bride stepped onto the stoop, under a full moon in a clear sky, in front of reporters and cameras and protestors and balcony partiers.

"It's a great night for Florida," he said. "It's a great night for us.

"We couldn't be more excited."

The protesters shouted louder.

"Free speech is alive and well," the governor said.

Guests spilled out. Politicians and lobbyists, family friends and fraternity brothers.

"It was very touching," Geraldo Rivera said. "It was very sincere. The bride was beautiful. The flowers were fresh. … We also like that it was relatively short."

A few minutes later, Mr. and Mrs. Crist arrived at the Renaissance Vinoy in the back seat of a black Suburban. He climbed out, walked around, opened her door. The new couple waved.

The governor introduced Carole to an acquaintance.

"My wife," he called her.

The two began walking up the steps. The governor felt for her hand.

"Carole," he said, "stay with me."

Ben Montgomery can be reached at bmontgomery@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8650. This story was reported by Lucy Morgan at the ceremony, and by Mary Jane Park, Jennifer Liberto, Lane DeGregory, Robert Farley, Ben Montgomery, Nicole Hutcheson, Jamal Thalji and Kelley Benham.

It's Gov. and Mrs. Charlie Crist 12/13/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, December 16, 2008 5:12pm]
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