Sunday, April 22, 2018
Politics

Jim Greer book 'The Chairman' takes aim at Charlie Crist, tea party

TALLAHASSEE — Jim Greer found a way to get even with Charlie Crist, but the question is how many people will believe it — or pay $32.95 to read about it.

The disgraced and imprisoned former chairman of the Republican Party of Florida is the subject of a new book by St. Petersburg author Peter Golenbock.

The Chairman: The Rise and Betrayal of Jim Greer is largely a 400-page rant by Greer, who went to prison more than a year ago after pleading guilty to stealing party money. Now at a halfway house in Orlando, he's due to be released July 5.

The book, filled with reconstructed dialogue and triple hearsay, is Greer's behind-the-scenes account of four years as party boss that paralleled the term of his benefactor, former Republican Gov. Crist.

"I haven't read it," Crist said, "but he sounds like a sad, bitter soul."

Crist plucked Greer from political obscurity in Seminole County and orchestrated his election as chairman, giving him power and money that became Greer's undoing.

Greer describes their relationship as "like brothers" and for most of four years, no one spent more time at Crist's side. Greer writes of lavish fundraising trips across the country, family outings at Disney World, evenings spent sipping wine at the Governor's Mansion and weekends at the Fisher Island home of Crist's wife, Carole.

To Greer, Crist was a self-absorbed and superficial politician who broke a promise to endorse Rudy Giuliani for president in 2008 and backed John McCain instead, then lost interest in being governor while seeking to be McCain's running mate.

Greer calls Crist a rank opportunist, but as chairman he staunchly defended Crist even as his fellow Republicans gradually turned against the governor.

Greer also claims that before Crist appointed former chief of staff George LeMieux to be a U.S. senator in 2009, Crist had decided to give the once-in-a-lifetime appointment to his lieutenant governor, Jeff Kottkamp.

Told of Greer's claims, Crist said: "Nothing you've said so far is truthful."

The book is hitting store shelves as Crist is seeking the Democratic nomination to oppose Republican Gov. Rick Scott in November. Asked if the book could pose problems for him, Crist said: "A book written by a convict? Zero. Zero."

Greer calls Sarah Palin "as dumb as a box of rocks," Carole Crist "a New York Jew and a liberal" and the GOP the party of "old white people."

The book has factual errors and misspelled names and places. Crist is said to have been "named" education commissioner in 2000, but he was elected; Delray Beach is spelled Del Ray; and Republican strategist Pat Bainter is identified as Pat Baynor.

Greer blamed his downfall on the takeover of the Republican Party by tea party members, whom he calls "crazies," "wingnuts" and "wackadoos." He likened them to members of the racist John Birch Society of the 1950s and '60s, and said their constant calls for his ouster made him physically ill.

Greer says Crist's undoing as a Republican can be attributed to his embrace of President Barack Obama and to his decision to appoint James Perry, an African-American and a Democrat, to the Florida Supreme Court.

Greer's spectacularly fast rise to power and fall to personal ruin is one of the most dramatic in the annals of Florida politics.

Greer and his close friend Delmar Johnson formed a consulting company, Victory Strategies, that took party money. Greer insisted that the firm's commissions for raising party money were approved by Crist and LeMieux.

After Greer was charged criminally, Crist said under oath that he had no knowledge of Victory Strategies.

LeMieux did not respond to a request for comment.

Former U.S. Rep. Tom Feeney, a longtime Greer friend who Greer says warned him that the party chairmanship would mean nothing but trouble, declined to comment.

Greer accuses Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater of a "setup" at the Breakers Hotel in Palm Beach. On the night of a lavish 2008 fundraiser celebrating Crist's 52nd birthday, Greer claims Atwater's entourage didn't like his room and asked Greer to put a $2,000 suite on his credit card.

The extravagant use of party credit cards by Greer and elected officials became a major embarrassment for the party.

Brian Hughes, a spokesman for Atwater, said: "The anecdote is a complete fabrication and utter nonsense."

Suzanne La Rosa, a spokeswoman for the publisher, New South Books of Montgomery, Ala., said Greer will receive no money or royalties from the book.

"There's no deal," La Rosa said. "This is just his story."

She declined to say how many copies will be printed.

Steve Bousquet can be reached at [email protected] or (850) 224-7263.

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