Charlie on the Town

Crist and a former beauty queen are "a confirmed item" — at least in some newspapers

To borrow a phrase from one of our governor's political heroes, here we go again.

The Florida media was awash last week in reports that Charlie Crist, Florida governor and bachelor, is romancing a former beauty queen who starred on the gross-out TV program Fear Factor and will soon vye in a reality show for the title of "America's Hottest Mom."

You can't make this stuff up.

Oh, wait. Of course you can.

It's true that the governor has been seen out in public with 36-year-old Palm Beach County blond Kelly Crosby Heyniger. But the two biggest newspapers in the state have taken it a bit far. This past Tuesday, the St. Petersburg Times reported that it was "official: She's the governor's girl."

The Miami Herald followed that with an article headlined: "Gov. Crist's girlfriend is Palm Beach mom." The newspaper went on to speculate whether Crist, a Leo, would be compatible with Heyniger, a Cancer, on an astrological basis.

If anything, the articles were a sign that it was a slow news week. And they shouldn't be taken seriously (as if). The whole story looks like just another media creation to bolster the idea that Crist is a man's man rather than, well, a man's man. He has presidential aspirations, after all.

This time, though, it might have been the woman who engineered the publicity. Looks like Heyniger, a prodigious self-promoter, is behind the recent news blitz.

Before I further debunk the stories, let's make one thing clear: I'm not saying Crist is gay. Rumors have abounded about it, and he's denied it. There are no stained blue trousers. He's Sphinx-like in that regard, the Ryan Seacrest of politics.

Last year, I wrote about two male GOP staffers who boasted to witnesses that they'd had, or were having, romantic relationships with Crist. The future governor personally told me it wasn't true and said he'd never had sex with a man.

Not exactly the kind of questions I like asking, but it was a valid topic. Crist belongs to a political party that condemns homosexuality, after all. And, for hypocrisy's sake, he supported an amendment to the U.S. Constitution banning gay marriage and was against allowing homosexual couples to adopt.

Since moving into the governor's mansion, however, Crist hasn't been playing much to the hate-mongers on the right. In fact, he scolded the Republican Party recently for giving money to antigay groups. He's done things that can only be described as left-leaning, like championing the right of felons to vote on machines that have verifiable paper trails.

In a word, he's been decent. And that is taking away not only the motivation but the justification for writing about this stuff. But then you get what you had last week. There's something so obviously fake about these recent dating stories that I feel obligated to bring some reality to the table.

So I'm going to tell a tale that I dug up several months back while looking into the "Crist Is Gay" dossier, supplied to me via phone by a shadowy political mercenary.

One rumor that has been floating around for years but never reported is that Crist was a regular during the early 1990s at the Green Iguana Bar & Grill on Westshore Boulevard in Tampa. The Green Iguana is known as a popular haunt for the gay crowd, especially during late-night hours.

It's owned by Rick Calderoni, a wealthy Tampa native who also happens to be gay. The story, according to the mercenary, was that Crist and Calderoni socialized at the Green Iguana and even went on trips to Key West together. Making the scenario more intriguing is that a gay club run by Calderoni was tied to a drug-money-laundering investigation in 1997, according to the St. Petersburg Times. He was charged with no crime at that time, but two years later, feds arrested Calderoni on a charge of laundering marijuana profits.

I couldn't determine the disposition of that case prior to publication, but it doesn't appear he was convicted, since there's no newspaper record of it and he's still running the Iguana (it's usually not easy to keep a liquor license if you have a drug-related conviction). His lawyer at the time said Calderoni was guilty only of "naively helping a friend."

Attempts to interview Calderoni were unsuccessful. But I did speak with former Green Iguana bartender and longtime Calderoni friend Lovie Hudson about it. I had been told she knew all the details. I should have known better.

The 45-year-old Hudson confirmed that Crist and Calderoni were friends and that the future governor frequented the Iguana during the early 1990s, when he was a freshman state senator.

But she said she never saw any indication of Crist's sexual orientation one way or the other. "I would have no idea," she says. "I think he's a very friendly guy, and I think he's friendly to people of all types."

She adds that, even if he were gay, it wouldn't have been a topic of discussion at the Iguana because the bar "is supportive of that lifestyle and would accept it and protect it."

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