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Crist's party invites outrage

Charlie Crist ran a successful campaign for governor. No doubt about that.

Whether he can successfully run the nation's fourth-largest state is another question.

Crist is in the awkward moment of a transition, rushing to choose the right people for his administration. Every day, the weight of his responsibilities grows a little heavier.

At the dawn of a new regime, setting a tone matters.

People are kicking Crist's tires, seeking validation that they made the right choice on Nov. 7.

They are angry and a little desperate over taxes and insurance, and they want to be sure that the guy moving into the Governor's Mansion really is the same guy they heard on TV ads and debates.

Which is why Crist has his first big problem.

Crist the candidate showed a keen sense of the public mood with a populist message that repeatedly criticized utilities and insurance companies.

People are now disappointed that Crist is soliciting donations of up to $500,000 to pay for his inaugural celebration.

With their insurance premiums skyrocketing and policies being canceled left and right, it should come as no surprise that people in Florida are not in a partying mood.

"We thought higher of him than this," Fran Gorski of St. Petersburg said Friday. "This is really disgusting."

Gorski said she voted for Crist in part because Crist's father is her physician, but now she's not sure she was right.

"People are losing their homes to the insurance crisis, and he is partying!" Lynne Winslow-Adubato wrote in an e-mail. "He was elected why?"

Crist's keen sense of what the public wants to hear has failed him. The sheer decadence of the $500,000 number shocks the senses.

It is comically inconsistent with the image Crist cultivated as a candidate, the frugal guy who patches his soles rather than pay for a new pair of shoes.

The inaugural fundraising committee has to raise $2.5-million in a hurry and is asking for checks in denominations of $10,000, $25,000, $50,000, $100,000, $250,000 or a cool half-million.

That way, Crist's group says, it can make some inaugural events free and keep the cost of the inaugural ball to $100.

Maggie Stambaugh of Palm Harbor e-mailed to say she would love to go to the ball, "but because my homeowners insurance just went from $1,300 to $4,000 with Citizens, I won't be able to afford to go."

Crist promised a lot during his campaign.

Lower property taxes. Lower insurance premiums. Smaller class sizes. Higher teacher salaries.

He also promised to deliver honest, ethical, open government.

It's a real stretch for Crist to suggest that a $500,000 donation to the inaugural gets the donor no special consideration.

If all people are paying for is good government, who would be dumb enough to pay that much for something they could get for free?

Crist moved to minimize the political damage by announcing that all inaugural donations will be posted every Friday on his campaign Web site, www.charliecrist.com, so people can see for themselves.

The first nine donations posted Friday include $100,000 from an aviation company and $50,000 each from U.S. Sugar and the GEO Group, a private prison company.

Another $25,000 came from the Fort Lauderdale law firm of Colodny, Fass, Talenfeld, Karlinsky & Abate, whose clients include Nationwide and other insurance companies.

Steve Bousquet can be reached at bousquet@sptimes.com or (850) 224-7263.

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