Crist applauded for his role as weatherman-in-chief

Sep 10, 2008

Gainesville Sun–September 10, 2008

By Joe Follick
Sun Tallahassee Bureau

MELBOURNE — Rosemary Rasdin said she has been stuck in a house “with mold with two dogs, suffering every day” since Tropical Storm Fay flooded her home on Aug. 20.

The lifelong resident of Brevard County has received a check from the Federal Emergency Management Agency for more than $11,000. But she said that’s not even enough to pay for the clothes she lost in the flooding.

She came to a press conference Tuesday with state and FEMA officials to ask for more assistance and air her grievances.

But she left hugging Gov. Charlie Crist and wishing him well on his upcoming marriage.

“I’m glad I met him,” she said. “He’s a nice guy. I’ve always loved him anyway.”

Her reaction was similar to others Crist met Tuesday in Brevard County, and it showed the political value of his full-court media press as storms brushed Florida.

For more than three weeks, Crist has been the state’s weatherman-in-chief while four hurricanes or tropical storms hit or threatened the state.

Since Aug. 18, Crist has devoted all but four days to weather-related press conferences, private briefings or televised visits to affected parts of Florida.

Bob Lay, who has been Brevard County’s emergency management director for 11 years, said it is “extremely important” for Crist and others to make personal visits. “The community starts to feel like the political leadership in the state and the county really are getting behind all the things that people should be eligible for,” said Lay. “Those kind of personal things send a huge message that the government cares and the state of Florida cares.”

Rasdin said it was critical for the governor to come to Brevard County weeks after Fay’s damage.

“People want to see it. They want to see him. They want to see somebody live,” said Rasdin.

A Quinnipiac University poll released Monday said more than 80 percent of Floridians approved of Crist’s work in the aftermath of Fay, which caused 15 deaths in the state. And Crist’s overall job approval rating was still 61 percent despite a historic collapse in the state’s economy.

Crist’s in-state popularity came at the expense of some international exposure.

The governor stayed in Florida last week to monitor the storms and declined a planned, prime time spot speaking to the Republican National Convention last week.

Crist said Tuesday that he never seriously considered going to the convention in Minnesota, even though Florida appeared unlikely to suffer any storm-related weather during that time.

“A lot of people advised me to come” to the convention, he said Tuesday. “I would have loved to have gone . But I also know what my job is. My first duty and responsibility is not to go to some party in Minneapolis.”

Crist said he was aware of criticism that he had devoted too much time to storms that ultimately failed to affect the state.

“As long as you’re getting reports that there are storms out there, I think it’s important for us to be on watch, to be vigilant, to continue to update my fellow Floridians about what’s going on,” Crist said.

“If people have issue with that, that’s fine. I’d rather always have done too much than not enough.”

Crist is set to return to normal duty today while Hurricane Ike avoids Florida as it enters the Gulf of Mexico.

But he asked his staff to gather the names and numbers of random residents who asked for help on Tuesday.

Gertrude Knappek lives in Lamplighter Village, a neighborhood of manufactured housing that saw flood waters nearly two-feet deep when Crist visited a few weeks ago.

She told Crist that her insurance company had failed to pay for an air conditioner and insulation damaged by Fay’s flooding.

“We’ll give them a little call,” Crist told her. “We’re here to fight for you. Don’t you worry.”

Knappek hugged Crist and told assembled media that his visit had helped.

“This was really a disaster,” she said. “I’m glad he cares about us.”