ST. PETERSBURG — Florida's most powerful bachelor is getting hitched.
Gov. Charlie Crist, single for nearly three decades, on Thursday morning became engaged to his girlfriend of nine months, Carole Rome.
"She's special in every way. She's brilliant, beautiful and sweet. I'm very, very lucky," Crist told the St. Petersburg Times in an exclusive interview.
Crist said he picked out the sapphire and diamond ring on Wednesday at the Gold and Diamond Center in St. Petersburg's Northeast Shopping Center.
No date has been set for the wedding, but Crist, 51, said it would be in St. Petersburg, where he is a member of First United Methodist Church. There probably also will be a reception in Tallahassee.
Speculation has been rampant for months about Crist and Rome's future, as the two have been steady companions. Two weeks ago Crist tamped down a rumor that the engagement already had happened, saying "Not yet. … Stay tuned."
"We've talked about it quite awhile," said Crist, who proposed to Rome, 38, on Thursday morning in his Bayfront Tower condominium in St. Petersburg.
"God bless her, she said yes," he said. "What better place to do it than the 'Burg," said Crist, who said his parents were "ecstatic."
Rome is a 1991 honors graduate of Georgetown University who became president of her family's 100-year-old Halloween costume business in 2000 when her father died. She has two daughters, ages 11 and 9, with former husband Todd Rome of New York, CEO of Blue Star Jets. She moved to Fisher Island in Miami in 2006.
The Romes' divorce was finalized this year, and Todd Rome has been quoted in New York gossip columns speaking fondly of his ex-wife and wishing her the best with Crist.
Crist's famously frugal lifestyle could be coming to an end. While he has never bought a home and earns $140,000 a year as governor, his net worth of about $450,000 was by far the smallest of any other statewide officeholder.
Meanwhile, Todd Rome estimated in court records that his ex-wife's income has been as high as $1.48-million a year, and the Romes' numerous properties included a 10,000-square-foot vacation home in Southampton, N.Y.
Crist would be the first Florida governor to get married in office since Claude Kirk in 1967. Crist was married once before, for less than a year, but divorced in 1980.
And his engagement is likely to reverberate well beyond Florida because the popular governor is widely viewed as a contender to be likely Republican presidential candidate John McCain's running mate. Not since Franklin Pierce picked William King to be his running mate in 1852 has America had a bachelor vice president.
Rome will join Crist on a 12-day trip through London; Paris; Normandy, France; and St. Petersburg, Russia, that leaves July 11. The trip is described as a "business development mission for Florida's aviation, defense and climate change sectors."
Crist, though, was focused Thursday on his bride-to-be.
"I'm very, very happy," the governor said. "I love her."
Adam C. Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727)893-8241.