A young rising star in the Republican Party has boasted to witnesses of his sexual relationship with Charlie Crist, the frontrunner in the Florida governor's race who has repeatedly denied that he is gay.
The GOP staffer, 21-year-old Jason Wetherington, told friends at separate social functions in August that he had sex with Crist, according to two credible and independent sources who heard Wetherington make the claim first-hand.
Wetherington, who recently worked as a field director for U.S. Senate candidate Katherine Harris and currently works for state representative Ellyn Bodganoff's reelection campaign, also named a man whom he said is Crist's long-term partner, a convicted thief named Bruce Carlton Jordan who also recently worked for Harris in her long-shot Senate bid.
Jordan made headlines recently when the Miami Herald learned that the felon was working as Harris's travel aide. The newspaper noted that Jordan, 42, was reported to be close friends with Charlie Crist, whom he convinced to attend an annual Florida Funeral Directors Association meeting in 2003.
Jordan was charged in 2003 with stealing thousands of dollars from two organizations for whom he worked, including the Tallahassee-based Florida Funeral Directors Association, where he served as executive director. He completed a 60-day jail sentence in February and will be on probation until the year 2011, according to state records.
When the Herald questioned Crist about Jordan this past August, the frontrunner in the governor's race told the newspaper that he doesn't remember the man. "I don't know who Bruce Jordan is," he said at the time. "It doesn't mean I haven't met him. I don't know who you are speaking about."
I asked Crist during a phone interview on Monday morning if he had ever had sex with Jordan.
"No," he said. "I don't recall the name."
That Crist doesn't remember Jordan seemed incredible to me. Not only did the attorney general make a special appearance at the funeral directors' conference, but former presidents of the association say Jordan was known to be pals with Crist. Attempts to reach Jordan weren't successful, but his father told me that Crist and his son are friends.
"He talks about [Crist], but I don't think he's seen Charlie in a while," said Albert Jordan, who lives in Inverness, where he and his wife raised their son.
When asked if his son and Crist had a sexual relationship, the father simply said, "Not as far as I know."
I recounted some of those facts with Crist.
"I'm not saying I haven't met him, I probably have," he said. "I just can't picture him, that's all."
I also asked him about Wetherington's claim to sources that he'd had sex with Crist. "That's ridiculous," he said. "Completely false."
Then I asked him if he'd ever in his life had sex with a man.
"Never," he said.
While there is no proof that what Wetherington has said is true, it's clear that he said it. I first learned about his claims after receiving an anonymous e-mail on October 6. The e-mail was linked to a 2003 story of mine reporting that now-disgraced congressman Mark Foley was gay.
"Why don't you do the same story for another hugely visible FL politician running for office? Call if you want a starting point."
Immediately I knew the e-mailer was referring to Crist. For years, it has been rumored that Crist, the favorite to move into the governor's mansion after the November 7 election, is gay.
I was interested in pursuing the lead mainly because I've come to believe that any closeted politician in the Republican Party which openly woos homophobes into its ranks while opposing gay rights is fair game for the media.
Crist, for his part, has been moderate on those issues and supports civil unions. "I'm a live and let live kind of guy," he told me.
But the Palm Beach Post reported on Friday that Crist can be heard in recently recorded phone calls targeting voters saying, "I support a constitutional amendment to protect traditional marriages, and I oppose adoption by gay couples."
I asked him about that, and he said he's always held those positions. I asked him if he thought it was fair for reporters to ask him about his own sexuality. "Of course it's fair," he said. "It just happens to be wrong."
Many people aren't convinced that Crist is telling the truth. I am one of them, especially after reporting this column. The source behind the e-mail, who asked that I not reveal his name for fear of retribution, is a gay man, a registered Independent voter and former Republican who isn't involved in Democratic Party politics. He was motivated to tell his story, he says, by his outrage at the Foley scandal.
He recounted a dinner party of four people at a friend's posh waterfront home in Las Olas Isles. He didn't remember the exact date but it took place in early August. He was there with his friend, his friend's partner, and Wetherington.
His friend had struck up a sexual relationship with Wetherington after meeting him in an AOL chat room. Wetherington spoke at the party about working for Katherine Harris's campaign. To me, this was significant since Harris is a stalwart of the Religious Right and openly denounces homosexuality. Wetherington even took a call from Harris after they sat down for cocktails before dinner. "He was like Harris's gay valet," the source said.
As they sipped their drinks, Jason started talking about his relationship with Crist, which he said had been sexual in nature.
"Charlie Crist? Are you kidding?" the source remembers asking.
They asked Jason about the size of Crist's anatomy. Jason "wouldn't go there," said the source. "He said that he remains friendly with Crist and that he was expecting an appointment when Crist becomes governor."
The source said that after the dinner he struggled for a few weeks with what he'd heard. When the Foley scandal hit the news, he called ABC News, which had broken the congressional page story. He said the network had no interest in the story.
Then he contacted me. I learned that Wetherington, a dark-haired and good-looking former page in the state senate, had been Harris's southeast field director and had left the campaign after the primary to work for Bogdanoff.
Wetherington had also appeared in numerous Sun-Sentinel articles. From them, I learned he was an alum of Fort Lauderdale High School, where he was the student body's vice president and the student advisor to the Broward County School Board.
On August 11, 2002, the newspaper published a feature story about Wetherington under the headline: "Leader by example: The school board's student advisor is a take-charge guy with lofty ideals and goals."
In it, Wetherington was very open about his ambition, telling the newspaper, "I'll make it to Washington, whether in the Senate or the White House." His mother said she was certain she would someday be a "First Mom."
The article also mentioned his role as a leader at First Baptist Church in Fort Lauderdale. The huge 12,000-member church is one of the more anti-gay institutions in the county and has been aligned with the ultra-conservative Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church and its rabidly right-wing minister, D. James Kennedy.
Wetherington appeared to be living a seriously twisted double life. On the one hand, he was a young Christian Republican leader and on the other a cruiser of men in AOL chat rooms.
Two weeks ago, I dropped by Wetherington's apartment complex off Sunrise Boulevard near the Intracoastal. As it happened, he was in his car in the parking lot, about to drive away.
I asked him to roll down his window, introduced myself, and told him what I was doing there. Wetherington confirmed he was gay. I told him what I had learned about the dinner party, which he admitted attending. But he denied that he had ever had sex with Crist.
"The only way I would have said that was if I was really drunk," he told me, adding that he didn't "remember anything" about the party.
I told him that the source told me that they had asked him about Crist's anatomy. Wetherington became more adamant about this detail than anything else during the impromptu interview. He asserted several times that he had never spoken about Crist's anatomy.
I assured him that the source had told me the same thing.
He said that he had met Crist on at least three different occasions, including at his church and at Crist's Republican primary debate with Tom Gallagher in West Palm Beach, but the extent of his contact with the Attorney General was "shaking his hand."
Did he already have a job locked up with the administration if Crist wins the election?
"I sent him a resume," he said. "I want to work for him, but I never said that I had a job with the administration."
I told Wetherington that it must be tough navigating his two conflicting worlds.
"It has been a personal struggle," he told me. "But I have my mother and I have the church "
Wetherington went on to say that he had come out to the church and that his activity there had decreased significantly because of it. He said he needed to go but wanted me to call him so we could meet for a standard interview. He never returned my phone calls.
A week later, I received another e-mail from another source who created the Yahoo name of "EveryOne KnowsAboutCC" to contact me. I spoke with the new source and he told an extremely similar story about Wetherington, only he'd heard it at a different party that took place in Broward County this past August.
This source, unlike the first, has known Wetherington for years. Again, the source supplied his identity which is known in some local political circles but asked that I not reveal it publicly.
The source was credible and possessed knowledge that only a confidante of Wetherington's could possibly have. He said he contacted me because he had learned that I had interviewed Wetherington.
"I am very conflicted about talking yet at the same time with the whole Foley thing, you can imagine how I must feel," he said. " Jason is a very nice kid, but as a gay person, we struggle very hard and, to have somebody [Crist] who sucks up to a party that badmouths us and works against us, is very two-faced."
He said Wetherington told him and several other people at a party that he had sex with the politician in a hotel room in the Tampa-Sarasota area while he was working on the Harris campaign. He said Wetherington recounted that he spoke with Crist about a campaign matter and "one thing led to another and they had sex."
"No birthmarks, moles, or such," said the source. "He also said that it happened on more than one occasion."
The new source also told me, like the first, that the young aide boasted that he was in line for an appointment to Crist's administration after he won the governor's race.
And he said that Wetherington named Crist's long-term partner: Bruce Carlton Jordan. The source said he had no idea who Jordan was, but had jotted the name down so he would remember it.
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Both the sources are obviously telling the truth about Wetherington. That means that Wetherington, one of the most promising young Republican staffers in Florida, either had a sexual relationship with Crist or was lying about it.
There's no proof, just the ring of truth. Crist, meanwhile, is clearly in denial mode as indicated by his hollow claim that he doesn't remember Jordan. He tries to write the issue off as pre-election politics.
"It's the silly season," he said.
Maybe, but I don't think this issue is going away anytime soon.