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Tongues wag whether Crist's 'girlfriend' is 'the one'

Charlie Crist and Carole Rome.

Courtesy of Gov. Charlie Crist

Charlie Crist and Carole Rome.

TALLAHASSEE — Charlie is successful, good looking, charming, single. He lives in a mansion and drives a Mustang convertible.

But "Charlie" just so happens to be Charlie Crist, 51-year-old bachelor governor of Florida. And lately a much talked-about potential running mate for Republican presidential nominee John McCain.

So when Crist earlier this month introduced 38-year-old socialite Carole Rome as "my girlfriend" at a Governor's Mansion reception, tongues wagged: Could she be 'the one,' the future first lady of Florida? Or even, a vice president's wife?

Or is Rome, recently divorced and the mother of two school-age girls in New York, just the latest woman to be linked, correctly or not, with the governor who makes no apologies about his social life?

"I'm not a monk," Crist told the Times in December. "I'm a governor."

While bachelors are rare in politics, they're not without precedent. Crist is the sixth bachelor to be elected Florida's governor.

And nationally, several bachelors have bid for president: Bob Kerrey and Jerry Brown in 1992; Dennis Kucinich was a bachelor during his 2004 campaign; and Ralph Nader, the perennial third-party candidate.

But three of Florida's five bachelor governors eventually wed while in office. The most recent: Republican Claude Kirk. At his 1967 inaugural ball, he introduced his date as "Madame X," and only later identified her as Ericka Mattfield, a native of Germany. They wed within a month.

Crist and his spokeswoman Erin Isaac declined to comment for this story, though Crist did not deny the "girlfriend" description and his office provided a picture of the two from the reception, which came after his evening State of the State address on the opening night of session.

But Crist's father and confidante, St. Petersburg physician Charles Crist, said Rome has his son's "full attention right now."

"I think he's very fond of her," Dr. Crist said recently. "I don't think he's been dating anybody else lately at all. We like her very much, and her children seem lovely, too."

Rome, living mostly in affluent Miami Beach, just finalized her divorce from Bluestar Jets chief executive Todd Rome, according to Mr. Rome's attorney, Bill Herman of New York City. He called it a friendly divorce and said the Romes agreed in the New York County proceedings to share custody of their two daughters, 9 and 11.

She is a 1992 honors graduate of Georgetown University who became president of her family's century-old Halloween business in 2000 when her father died, according to the company Web site. Rome added a line of "sexy" Halloween costumes to Franco American Novelty Co. LLC's goods and works with her mother and sister.

Dr. Crist said his son, married once from 1979 to 1980, has always enjoyed the company of women: "Always! I mean, I can't keep up with him," Dr. Crist laughed. "And they like him, too."

Recently there was St. Petersburg banker Katie Pemble, 43, who was by Crist's side the night he was elected governor, but was notably absent by inauguration day.

There was Kelly Heyniger, 37, a former beauty queen and reality show contestant from West Palm Beach. Crist called her "a wonderful friend," but she told a local TV reporter in May that they were dating. She soon fell off the radar.

But it's Rome, a Miami resident since 2006, who dominates the political blogs and Capitol chatter now. Rome has been to Crist's parents' home, where the governor keeps his boat, more than once. And she recently attended the wedding of one of Dr. and Mrs. Crist's granddaughters, Dr. Crist said.

In November, she traveled to join the governor in Brazil where he was on a trade mission. Rome was a member of the host committee that organized an Amendment 1 fundraiser in December at New York City's Trump Tower. She also accompanied Crist last month to a White House dinner.

No one is saying on the record how they met, but Crist was in New York City this past summer for a global warming summit headlined by former President Bill Clinton.

Crist has long had an active social life. On weekends in St. Petersburg, he's been seen cruising around in his yellow Mustang convertible. At night you can sometimes find him at Ceviche, the tapas bar across the street from his downtown condo.

And in Tallahassee late last year he made headlines when he made a late-night stop at Big Daddy's, the Tallahassee bar popular with FSU students who go for the beer specials.

Crist said recently that he thinks it's sort of silly how people — notably, the press — go into a tizzy whenever he appears in public with a woman. Yet he accepts that the scrutiny comes with his very public job.

"I get credit, if it's that, for going out with people that I've never had a date with," Crist told the St. Petersburg Times in December. "It's really kind of weird. I understand it's just part of being a bachelor governor of a state like Florida."

Would his parents like to see their only son settle down with "the one"?

Dr. Crist says there's no pressure, and his son would never go into a serious relationship just to meet public expectations about what's proper for a governor or a potential vice president.

"As a parent, the only thing you want is for your children to be happy," Dr. Crist said. "And that's the way we are with Charlie."

Times staff writers Steve Bousquet, Mary Jane Park and Alex Leary and researcher John Martin contributed. Shannon Colavecchio-Van Sickler can be reached at svansickler@sptimes.com or (850) 224-7263.

. FAST FACTS

Relationships

Katie Pemble, 43, St. Petersburg banker. She and Crist dated for roughly a year leading up to his November 2006 election as governor. She celebrated with him the night he won, but the two were no longer a couple by inauguration day, January 2007.

Kelly Heyniger, 37, of West Palm Beach, former South Carolina beauty queen and contestant for reality show Hottest Mom in America. Crist called her "a wonderful friend," but she went on local TV news in May and said she was dating the governor after meeting him at a charity event on tony Jupiter Island.

Carole Rome, 38, business owner, mother of two and frequent face on the New York and Miami social scenes. She recently divorced her husband, Bluestar Jets CEO Tony Rome, and was linked to Crist in November by the New York Post. Crist took Rome to a dinner at the White House last month and introduced her as "my girlfriend" at a legislative reception earlier this month.

Tongues wag whether Crist's 'girlfriend' is 'the one' 03/22/08 [Last modified: Monday, March 24, 2008 7:39pm]
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