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A new life for Gov. Crist

We know all about the Friday night wedding: the church, the rings, her 3-inch heels.

But then what?

At 52, our confirmed bachelor governor, Charlie Crist, is about to become a married man — and a stepfather to two tween-age girls.

How will his life change? Will he move his new family into the mansion? Will Carole Rome's daughters — Jessica, 12, and Skylar, 10 — get their own rooms in the People's House?

"There are no plans now to renovate or redecorate the mansion," the governor's spokeswoman, Erin Isaac, said. "And no information about the first lady or her daughters is available."

Is the first lady going to live in the mansion? Will she have her own staff?

"None of those decisions have been made," Isaac said. "The governor ... and the first lady will split time between the mansion, his condo in St. Pete, and possibly her home in Miami."

So she's keeping her home in Miami?

"I didn't say that. I said possibly."

Carole Rome, 39, is president of her family's New York-area novelty and costume company. In 2006, she left her husband and moved her daughters to Miami. She met Crist the next year at a New York fundraiser. Her divorce became final in March. By then, her daughters were back in school in New York.

This week, the governor said he didn't know whether his new stepdaughters would go to school in Florida. Rome, he said, "hasn't decided about that yet."

Rome's ex-husband, Todd Rome, insists that isn't an option. "The girls live here in New York and will always live in New York," he said from his office at Blue Star Jets. "We have joint custody, but the girls live full time in New York. They go to school here, they're playing tennis, they're doing great.

"I have no idea how much time they'll spend in Florida," he said. "We'll see what happens. But I'm telling you, they're going to stay here."

Does Carole Rome's sister know anything about the future first lady's plans for the children? "I can't talk to you," Michelle Oumano Powell said. She referred questions to the governor's spokeswoman who isn't answering them.

Changes to mansion?

If the new first lady is planning to make changes at the mansion, or move her daughters into the 13,000-square-foot home even part time, she hasn't told anyone who runs the place.

Richard Nichols, who oversees the mansion's maintenance, said there are no plans to build swing sets or tree houses, redo bedrooms or make a playroom for the girls. "And if there was something like that going on," he said, "I'd know about it."

Chef Josh Butler has overseen the mansion kitchen for more than a decade. He said he hopes marriage will mean the governor eats at home more. Crist is a notoriously light eater; Butler said his favorite meal is hardly a challenge: Cobb salad with boiled eggs, grilled chicken and blue cheese.

"I'm very excited about the changes around here after the wedding," Butler said this week. "I mean, I'm sure there will be some, but nobody's really said anything to me yet."

Butler has served Carole in the mansion, he said, but has never cooked for her daughters.

The governor can order any meal he wants, but if he or the first lady want to repaint the mansion or add a gazebo, they have to go through five women who make up the mansion commission.

"We're just here to help the governor and his wife with their decisions," said member Jane Aurell, who lived in the mansion from 1955 to 1961 while her father, LeRoy Collins, was governor.

She remembers having huge slumber parties with her two sisters. "There were five bedrooms," she said, "so we each had our own room."

Has she heard whether the mansion might again be filled with the laughter of little girls?

"No, I don't know what that situation is, or will be," she said.

At this week's meeting, the commission talked about having the house painted, the windows washed, the art collection assessed. No one mentioned anything about changes in the private areas. About half the house, Aurell said, is open to the public during tours.

One who's been there

Adele Graham raised her four daughters in the mansion while her husband, Bob, was governor from 1979 to 1987. Now she chairs the mansion commission. "I have no idea if there are any plans to change anything after the wedding," Graham said from Cambridge, Mass. "I only met Ms. Rome once, at a Make-a-Wish ball in Miami, and we didn't talk about anything like that."

When Graham lived in the mansion, her staff included "a mansion manager, a private secretary, the chef, three housekeepers, three butlers, a grounds­keeper and a greenhouse manager."

After ticking off the list, she laughed. "Right now I'm at the hardware store buying mildew stop," the former first lady said. "So you can see how my life has changed."

Lane DeGregory can be reached at degregory@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8825.

Coming Sunday: "Dear Charlie": The mother of a 10-year-old girl gives the governor a little advice about being the stepfather of tweens.

A new life for Gov. Crist 12/11/08 [Last modified: Sunday, December 14, 2008 1:34pm]
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