Charlie Crist should have realized something was up when C.W. Bill Young arrived for the job interview in sneakers and an untucked polo shirt.
Young was among 10 people, including former U.S. Rep. Mike Bilirakis of Palm Harbor, the governor had summoned for interviews about being appointed to fill out the remaining 16 months of Mel Martinez's Senate term. But in this case Young, a Tampa Bay political icon who has been Crist's U.S. representative for most of the governor's life, was clearly the man in charge.
Surprising the governor, Young told Crist he's not interested in applying to be appointed as an interim U.S. senator.
"I have the best job in the world now, and I work for the best people in the world. I would not want to leave in the middle of a term. I'm not a quitter," Young, 78, said after emerging from a private meeting with Crist at St. Petersburg-Clearwater International Airport. "Truth of the matter is, I can do far more for Florida and Pinellas County where I am than if I took a different job."
Crist flew into the Pinellas airport in the afternoon from Miami, where he had interviewed former U.S. Rep. Clay Shaw of Fort Lauderdale. While waiting for Young to show, Crist told a reporter that he was confident Young intended to fill out the questionnaire required to be considered.
Then Young waltzed in. He dressed casually, he explained, because he was squeezing in the governor between his granddaughters' ballet and gymnastics classes. They went behind closed doors for about 40 minutes before emerging to talk to the media.
"One of the greatest human beings I know is the man who stands to my right," Crist gushed about Young, who was elected as the lone Republican in the Florida Senate the same day 50 years ago that Crist's father was elected to the Pinellas School Board.
It took a few minutes before someone asked if Young was applying.
Nope, not interested.
He said he advised Crist to appoint someone reflective of the governor, who hopes to win that Senate seat in 2010.
"Washington experience would be helpful because with only 16 months to go in the term a new member who's never had any experience or exposure to the Congress could use all that 16 months just trying to figure out where do you find places," Young added.
Only three people on Crist's list of finalists — Bilirakis, Shaw and former U.S. Rep. Lou Frey, R-Orlando — have Washington experience.
"This would give me an opportunity to continue to serve if the governor so wants it," Bilirakis said after meeting privately with Crist Monday afternoon at the airport. "I do have the background that probably the Senate could use right now, particularly on health care, on veterans matters, certainly on energy, offshore oil drilling and things of that nature."
Republican activists had been heavily lobbying for Bilirakis' appointment, and Crist added his name as well as Shaw's and Frey's to his "short list" on Sunday.
Young is at least the fifth person to reject Crist's outreach on a Senate appointment. Former Sen. Connie Mack said no, as did U.S. Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart. Crist revealed Monday that he had also reached out to former Lt. Gov. Toni Jennings and to Susan Story, the chief executive of Gulf Power Co.
"I think the world of both of them," Crist said of Jennings and Story. "But they had other pursuits they needed to attend to."
Crist expects to make the appointment within about a week or so in time for Sept. 8, when Congress starts back up. The nine finalists are Bilirakis; Shaw; Frey; former Secretary of State Jim Smith; state Rep. Jennifer Carroll of Jacksonville; former state Sen. Dan Webster of Winter Garden; University of North Florida president John Delaney; George LeMieux, Crist's former campaign manager and chief of staff; and former U.S. Attorney Roberto Martinez of Miami.
Adam C. Smith can be reached at [email protected]