Gov.-elect Charlie Crist hugged friends and shook hands with supporters at a breakfast Wednesday that kicked off three weeks of inaugural events.
After taking photos with babies and greeting some of his backers, Crist addressed the gathering of politicians, community leaders and regular folks in a ballroom at Parrot Jungle, a Miami tourist attraction.
Crist reaffirmed his concern over sky-high insurance rates, rising property taxes and teacher salaries as those in attendance ate bacon and eggs.
“I know it’s a problem, I understand,” Crist said about the insurance issue. “I also understand property taxes are a big issue for our people, and we’re focused on it, too. … And we must always stay vigilant on education.”
Crist, who likes to call himself the “people’s governor,” earned praise for canceling an inaugural ball that was supposed to precede his swearing in on Jan. 2. Crist said he didn’t feel right about having a costly party when many people are struggling with higher insurance costs and property tax payments.
“I agree with him,” said attorney Vidal Velis, 58. “I think he should focus on taking steps to put Florida in the right direction.”
Insurance rates were on the minds of some attendees. Several insurance companies have sought large homeowners insurance rate increases, and state lawmakers plan to meet in a special session in mid-January to deal with the issue.
Crist said he met with state Sen. Steve Geller for about an hour to discuss the insurance issue. Geller, D-Hallandale Beach, is the Senate Minority Leader.
“This is not a partisan issue. This is a Florida issue,” Crist told reporters.
State Rep. Dorothy Bendross-Mindingall, D-Miami, said the work to fix the insurance problem would likely not be finished in one special session.
“It’s going to take us a longer time to get out of this,” she said. “Oh, no. The special session is not that special that we can get it done.”
Along with his decision not to hold an inaugural ball, Crist hopes to keep the budget for inaugural events below $1 million, said spokeswoman Vivian Myrtetus. Other inaugural events include a Dec. 17 barbecue at the New York Yankees’ spring training site in Tampa.
The inaugural committee originally set a budget of about $2.4 million for all events, including the ball. Myrtetus said the committee is doing a lot of additional cost cutting on items like transportation, signage and other expenses, and it’s now seeking free instead of paid entertainment.
By comparison, Gov. Jeb Bush raised more than $2 million for inaugural festivities after his 2002 re-election.
The donation limit has also been set at $10,000. The committee is returning donations it has already accepted above that amount.
Bendross-Mindingall, a former public school teacher and administrator, said Crist took a notable step toward showing he’s a “team player” by canceling the ball.
“If they would take that money and put in children’s programs and of course raise teachers’ salaries, then I would feel much better,” she said.
Associated Press Writer Brendan Farrington in Tallahassee contributed to this report.
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