Charlie, the Black Community Knows When It's Being Disrespected
Around the State
Charlie Crist is not a racist. No one can honestly call him that. On the other hand, after Monday night, it's time to address the subject fairly.
By all accounts, his appearance at a candidates forum in Liberty City for the South Florida black community, side by side with his primary opponent Nan Rich, showed African-Americans where Charlie's heart lies.
That's where it's always been.
It was there 20 years ago when he adopted tough-on-crime "Chain Gang Charlie" to make a name for himself. And it was there Monday night when he pandered for votes -- not by addressing policies of the most interest to the black community, but by dropping President Obama's name umpteen times in the space of more than 20 minutes, as if to say, Barack is a black man who loves me, I helped elect him in 2012 and so did you, so support me just the same as you did him.
Bad as that is, it's not racism. Nor should his audience feel he singled them out for an insult. Charlie is an equal opportunity exploiter. He would disrespect his own mother if it took him a rung higher on the political ladder.
In a telephone interview, Gracie Wilson and her sister Millieann Oliva who attended the National Action Network event, talked to me Tuesday about their impressions.
"You know, we don't care how many times Charlie Crist and the president hug each other," Wilson told me. "We wanted to hear about our grandchildren's education and what he would do to help their schools. We heard that from Mrs. Rich. She convinced us she has a policy to put children first. Charlie Crist said a lot of nothing about nothing."
Leslie Wimes, who also attended, wrote her no-nonsense Tuesday column on the forum, and in it -- in much the same terms as Wilson and Oliva -- she described the difference between Crist and Rich.
"Nan Rich hit the ball out of the park," Wimes wrote. "One of the major components of getting out of poverty, of staying out of jail, of not being left behind or stepped on, is EDUCATION."
She continued, "... After Crist’s campaign people placed his trusty fan on the stage, Crist hit the stage to win over the crowd. ... We didn’t get the same concise answers that we got from Nan Rich. We got President Barack Obama. If Charlie Crist invoked Barack Obama’s name once, he invoked it 20 times."
Wimes is a devoted progressive who admits she sees more to like in Democratic gubernatorial candidate Rich than in Rich's party-leadership-chosen opponent Crist. But Wilson and Oliva, also Democrats all their lives, sat in on the forum, they said, because they genuinely weren't sure which candidate would serve them better if elected.
Said Oliva, "They gave Charlie Crist a longer time to talk than they gave Nan Rich and I still don't know what he said. We felt sorry for the way they treated (Rich) when she had so much more to say."
Wimes paraphrased a conversation she had later with Congressman Alcee Hastings, who represents a large portion of South Florida. Talking about Crist's decision to lean on Obama, Hastings said this: When your water is off, you don’t call Barack Obama. When you are stuck on I-95, you don’t call Barack Obama. When you lose your job, you don’t call Barack Obama.
A lot of fuss has been made about whether Charlie is or is not a racist. Even I have written about his Chain Gang Charlie beginnings in the Florida Legislature. The truth is, I know a racist when I see one, and Charlie isn't close.
He is nothing more than a gifted, schmoozing flim-flam man. He came along when Floridians were terrified of the rising crime rate, when visitors from foreign countries were being waylaid and murdered, when vicious crimes involving drug deals were daily occurrences in the state. He latched onto Chain Gang Charlie like a limpet, tried to put the worst kind of chains on mostly black prisoners, and it made him famous.
Charlie Crist has weathered his political career looking in a reflecting pool for what he wants to be next and how to get there fast. It doesn't matter who gets in his way. He doesn't serve at our pleasure and never has. We serve at his.
Has he treated African-Americans abysmally? Of course. But you don't have to be black to feel ripped off by Charlie.
The real reason for Democrats to consider the stunning difference between Nan Rich and Charlie Crist is because with Nan, you get what you see, you get her tenacity, her convictions. With Charlie, who is devoid of core beliefs, you get whatever he's selling today.
And the problem with that is, like every rank opportunist, Charlie's lust for power keeps him open for options -- which, rest assured, are all about what he sees in that reflecting pool -- all about him, not even a little about you and me.
I'm truly sorry I wasn't there Monday night. More of the press should have turned out for a rare, much-needed Crist-Rich forum in the heart of a Democratic stronghold.
Reach Nancy Smith at email@example.com or at 228-282-2423.