1. Florida Politics

Rep. Charlie Crist spends hours answering questions at St. Petersburg town hall

Rep. Charlie Crist, D-St. Petersburg, hands a business card to Tracy Crabtree of Clearwater, who asked for the best way to reach legislators, during his town hall Saturday at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg. “On every card I hand out, it’s my personal cellphone,” Crist said.
Published Mar. 5, 2017

ST. PETERSBURG — Tracy Crabtree of Clearwater writes to legislators.

She emails and sends letters and postcards. She makes calls, too, but "nine times out of 10," she said, no one answers. On Saturday in front of a crowd of about 550 people, she asked Rep. Charlie Crist how best to get through and be heard.

Crist called her up to the stage at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg and handed her his business card. He told her to read the number on the bottom.

"On every card I hand out, it's my personal cellphone," he said.

He read the digits to the crowd.

"Call me," he told them, as if they were all his friends. In a way, the people of Pinellas County are.

During his first town hall since being elected, the former governor and new congressman received a standing ovation from constituents in his hometown. In return, the St. Petersburg Democrat shared anecdotes from his political career and his stances on hot-button issues. He spent just over four hours in the college's grand ballroom answering questions — two hours longer than scheduled.

"I know your questions are going to be a challenge and hard to answer," he said. "I want them to be.

"Any politician who says they know all the answers, run."

Soon, the crowd's excitement became concern as, one by one, people took the microphone. Most focused on President Donald Trump's administration.

There was a woman who wanted assurance Crist supports Planned Parenthood. (He does.) People wondered what will happen if Obamacare is repealed, how to handle hate crimes and how best to stand up to policy with which they so strongly disagree.

Cuthbert Hutton, 31, of St. Petersburg is an ecologist who works in the mining industry. He's worried staffing is being stripped from the Environmental Protection Agency, which his own career depends on.

He worries the same thing is happening to the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

"What can you do to make sure the federal departments of government are properly staffed to achieve their role in our country?" he asked.

The crowd cheered. Crist told Hutton when he speaks, people listen — himself included.

"You are my boss," Crist said to him. "You literally pay me."

Crist said he understood Hutton's concerns, and while Congress might "hold the purse strings" to create the budgets for the agencies, it does not control the number of staff members. He told Hutton — and others like him — to continue to speak out so he can bring what they say back to Washington.

Crist, a former Republican, used questions like this one to set up how much Trump's stances differ from his own.

When Clearwater travel agent Cathy Codon Nail got to the mic, that theme continued.

"Foreign nationals have changed their plans because they don't feel welcome," she said.

Crist looked to the travel ban that Trump put in place to keep people from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States, which Crist doesn't support.

"It's seven nations tomorrow," he said. "What about next week?"

When Randy Wright of Seminole questioned the future of the Affordable Care Act, Crist said he wants to see it improved, not repealed.

When another man talked about standing up to the Trump administration, Crist said he wanted to see Attorney General Jeff Sessions step down, not just recuse himself from an investigation about his contact with Russia's ambassador.

He lied under oath, Crist said, in a job the requires honesty and integrity.

That brought cheers.

Crist kept on as the crowd thinned out around noon, when the 10 a.m. event was scheduled to end. After a quick break, he continued chatting with some two dozen people.

It's his duty to listen to the voters, he said, to digest and feel what they say, and then do something about it.

They sat in a circle around him. Some hugged him goodbye, some asked for photos. He was there past 2 p.m.

After all, this was home.

Contact Sara DiNatale at or (727) 893-8862. Follow @sara_dinatale.


  1. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., attends an executive session of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington on Sept. 24, 2019. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh) SUSAN WALSH  |  AP
    The senator drew backlash for the claim on ABC’s “The View.”
  2. Herman Lindsey, a former death row inmate who was exonerated, holds a letter that he and other wrongfully convicted men delivered Tuesday to the office of Gov. Ron DeSantis, asking him to stop the execution of James Dailey. Witness to Innocence
    Former death row inmates delivered a letter to the governor’s office Tuesday asking him to stay the execution of James Dailey over questions of innocence. DeSantis won’t budge.
  3. Former sheriff of Broward County Scott Israel, right, and his attorney Benedict Kuehne wait their turn to speak to the Senate Rules Committee concerning his dismissal by Gov. Ron DeSantis on Monday in Tallahassee. (AP Photo/Steve Cannon) STEVE CANNON  |  AP
    The vote is expected to be seen as a political victory for the governor and validation for the families of the victims of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting.
  4. Rep. Erin Grall, R-Vero Beach, speaks on the floor of the Florida House. Grall is sponsoring a bill for the second time that would require parental consent for minors to obtain an abortion.
    The legislation would enact a consent requirement for minors.
  5. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. "OCTAVIO JONES   |   TIMES"  |  Times
    He could use his position on the Board of Clemency to allow nonviolent felons to serve on juries and run for office.
  6. Rep. Bruce Antone, D-Orlando, says the Legislative Black Caucus will prioritize both public education and school choice during the 2020 Florida session. The caucus held a news conference on Oct. 22, 2019. The Florida Channel
    The caucus announced its 2020 goals for justice, housing and other key issues, as well, with members saying they will stick together to pursue them.
  7. CHRIS URSO   |   Times
Florida Governor elect Ron DeSantis, right, thanks supporters including Ukrainian businessman Lev Parnas, left, Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018 in Orlando. DeSantis defeated Democratic candidate Andrew Gillum. CHRIS URSO  |  Times
    This new fact indicates an attempt to directly influence DeSantis’ early policy agenda as he took office, one that DeSantis said was unsuccessful.
  8. Pre-season baseball practice at Wesley Chapel High School. Lawmakers want to ensure student-athletes remain safe in the Florida heat as they participate in high school sports. DIRK SHADD  |  Times
    PreK-12 Innovation chairman Rep. Ralph Massullo expects legislation requiring some ‘simple things.’
  9. President Donald Trump speaking during a Cabinet meeting in the Cabinet Room of the White House, Monday, Oct. 21, 2019, in Washington. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais) PABLO MARTINEZ MONSIVAIS  |  AP
    And few people are on the fence.
  10. Former sheriff of Broward County Scott Israel, right, and his attorney Benedict Knuhne wait their turn to speak to the Senate Rules Committee concerning his dismissal by Gov. Ron DeSantis, Monday Oct. 21, 2019, in Tallahassee, Fla. (AP Photo/Steve Cannon) STEVE CANNON  |  AP
    The full Senate will vote on the issue Wednesday.