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Gov. Charlie Crist's schedule shows many blank days
Gov. Charlie Crist was center court at the Miami Heat game for the retirement of Alonzo Mourning's jersey one Monday evening in late March.
It hadn't been a difficult day for Crist. Earlier, he'd visited the Miami set of a TV series, Burn Notice, and announced a health insurance initiative in Hialeah, his schedule shows.
He'd had no events slated the previous Friday, Saturday or Sunday.
As Floridians struggle with job reductions, home foreclosures and dwindling bank accounts, Crist has enjoyed a jet-setting lifestyle, mixing with celebrities, attending charity balls, staying at grand hotels and relaxing in his new wife's $4 million condo on Miami's Fisher Island.
"I'm never not governor," Crist said this week. "I have no days off. I'm working all the time."
But a Sun Sentinel review of the governor's detailed schedules for the past two years found he had no events or appointments on 62 weekdays -- the equivalent of three months. On another 74 weekdays -- or nearly four months -- his schedule shows him working only part of the day.
The records, from January 2007 through February 2009, list his activities as governor and not his political or personal commitments. The calendars include meetings, flights, public appearances and details such as "downtime" and "depart for residence."
Crist's spokeswoman, Erin Isaac, said the governor begins his days at 5:30, and his schedules don't include "the hours of reading and research on a wide variety of policy, budgeting and current event issues in our state; the dozens of phone calls and unscheduled meetings that can take place on any given day. . . .
"Whether in line at the grocery store, out at a restaurant or wherever he might be, Governor Crist is visiting with, listening to and learning from Floridians he meets."
Crist rarely spends weekends in the state capital, preferring instead his hometown of St. Petersburg or South Florida. His calendar shows events scheduled in those areas on more than 40 Fridays. He typically flies back to Tallahassee on a Monday or Tuesday.
As governor, Crist has devoted considerable time to politics: stumping for John McCain for president, entertaining talk of his own vice presidential nod and more recently contemplating a run for U.S. Senate next year.
In good times, the governor's schedule might not draw scrutiny. But these are not good times for Florida.
Crist, who is paid $132,932 a year, is presiding over a historic collapse of the state's housing market, banking sector and construction industry, and a slowdown in tourism. Lawmakers in Tallahassee are wrestling with a $6 billion budget gap and possible funding cuts for police, schools, health care and the poor.
The governor remained aloof in the early weeks of the legislative session. But legislators and top aides said he is now becoming more involved on issues ranging from a Seminole gambling deal to the budget. On Friday, he visited the House floor as Republicans and Democrats debated the state's $65 billion budget. He's also appeared in committee meetings in recent weeks to pitch another pet cause, a tax break for first-time home buyers.
Still, the governor's budget plan submitted before the session has been virtually ignored by lawmakers. It relied on outdated, overly optimistic revenue projections -- and the governor never updated it.
He's also steered clear of the debate over a $1 hike in Florida's cigarette tax.
"Governors have different types of approaches -- some are very involved, some are hands-off,'' Rep. Ron Saunders, a leading Democrat from Key West, said Friday. He said former Gov. Jeb Bush's "approach was, I'm running everything."
In his bid for governor, the Republican Crist, 52, skewered his opponent, U.S. Rep. Jim Davis, for missing votes in Washington. In a TV ad, he portrayed Davis as an empty chair, rolling around the U.S. capital.
Now some Florida Democrats call Crist "Empty Chair Charlie" for his own missed days.
His defenders include Chip LaMarca, Broward County GOP chief. "I think we are lucky to have the governor we have," he said. "I feel strongly he spends more time than the job requires as far as state business goes. He does help the party out, but state business always comes first."
The governor established his work habits early on, the Sun Sentinel found.
He was sworn in as governor on a Tuesday in January 2007 and took that Friday off. The following Friday, his schedule shows he finished before noon. Little more than a month into the job, Crist took a three-day vacation.
On 53 Fridays since taking office, Crist's calendar was empty or showed commitments for only part of the day. He had no events scheduled on 10 of 13 major holidays.
On the other hand, sometimes his schedule can be packed. On Jan. 9, 2008, for instance, Crist met with his legal staff, U.S. Rep. Adam Putnam, a furniture store president, a health care executive, the head of the Florida Bar Association, and the state's juvenile justice secretary. He had lunch with business editors and hosted a legislative reception before flying home to St. Petersburg.
Crist's calendar also shows him working more than 60 evenings to attend dinners, receptions and meetings. On at least 40 weekend days, he's made appearances at parades, football games or other events, attended funerals or handled weather emergencies.
While the governor's schedule includes policymaking meetings with staff, lawmakers and interest groups, it also shows Crist attending charity balls and rubbing elbows with heads of state and celebrities, including Robert Redford, David Caruso and Jimmy Buffett.
He's visited a half-dozen TV and film sets, including a Sharon Stone movie in Jacksonville and the Miami set of Marley and Me, starring Owen Wilson and Jennifer Aniston.
Before last fall's election, Crist took time out of his work schedule to campaign for John McCain, appearing at rallies, raising money for him in Texas and California, and visiting the GOP candidate at his ranch in Sedona, Ariz.
"He was with him so many times I thought he was an adopted member of the family," said Mitch Ceasar, Democratic chairman of Broward County.
Back home, Florida's economic crisis was deepening. But Crist did not step up his workload, according to his schedule.
Since August, his calendar shows 23 week days with no appointments or work time, and a partial schedule on 30 other days.
On Thursday, Nov. 6, 2008, Crist took a private plane at noon from St. Petersburg to Palm Beach. For the next five and a half hours he had scheduled "downtime" at the Four Seasons Hotel, before attending a business leaders dinner there and staying the night.
The next day, a Friday, he visited a Tamarac furniture store, spent a couple of downtime hours at the Sonesta Bayfront Hotel in Coconut Grove and attended a reception at the home of the president of a biopharmaceutical company.
That Saturday, he and his new wife, Carole Rome, hosted a Make-A-Wish charity ball at the InterContinental hotel in Miami.
In December, Crist's schedule shows him working half the month. He had no events listed on two state holidays or another eight days: five around his Dec. 12th wedding and three between Christmas and New Year's Day.
In the week before February's Super Bowl in Tampa, Crist kept a light schedule: He participated in an NFL Kids' Day press conference on Wednesday, finished Thursday by 1:30 p.m., and on Friday gave a 10-minute interview to MSNBC cable TV host Joe Scarborough before heading to Washington for a Republican political meeting.
In a Feb. 22 appearance on Meet the Press, Crist would not commit to a possible run for the U.S. Senate in 2010, a decision he is expected to announce next month.
"I've got to get through what's happening in the Florida economy,'' he said. "That's where my focus has been and will stay."
Staff Writer Josh Hafenbrack contributed to this report. Megan O'Matz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (954) 356-4518.