The rumors about Florida Gov. Charlie Crist and the Green Iguana just wouldn't go away.
The story goes that the Florida governor frequented the Green Iguana, a bar in Tampa, back in the early 1990s when he was just starting his political career. He was less careful back then, people say, and during his partying at the Green Iguana, he was openly gay.
When I got Rick Calderoni, the bar's well-known owner, on the phone, I expected him to stonewall me about it.
Calderoni, who is gay, confirmed that Crist came into his bar quite often and that the two of them became friends.
Getting to the point, I asked him if he knew Crist to be gay.
"Yes," he answered bluntly. "I just wish he would come out and admit it. That would be a great thing if he did."
I asked Calderoni if he was certain that Crist is gay. He told me that Crist socialized with a gay clique of friends but conceded that he'd never actually seen Crist become intimate with another man.
So how can he be sure Crist is gay?
"The way he acted," Calderoni said.
How did he act?
Calderoni laughed and said, "Very feminine."
The Green Iguana owner then told me that he knew someone who could provide me more information and that he would have him call me. The call never came.
It wasn't proof. Just more circumstantial evidence that Florida's Republican governor is gay, a prevalent rumor in Tallahassee for years.
The topic may soon, however, get some national play. After helping to deliver Florida in the GOP primary, Crist is widely believed to be on the short list to become John McCain's nominee for vice president.
If he were to be chosen, imagine how interesting this presidential election would be. Not only would the American people be asked to vote for the first black president or female commander in chief, but, at least in terms of subtext, also the first gay vice president.
Are they ready for it? Do they even care?
Most voters will tell you they don't, that they couldn't care less about anyone's sexuality. Of course, they aren't telling the truth. Human nature demands that they at least be curious. But, absent a Jim McGreevy-/Mark Foley-/Larry Craig-type scandal, I don't think the issue would change an election. If anything, the buzz would only bring more intrigue to the candidate and possibly add to his support. Being boring is a lot bigger political sin than having sexual secrets in your closet. Americans knew full well that Bill Clinton was a poonhound before they elected him, didn't they?
Most Floridians had probably at least heard the rumors about Crist before they elected him governor. During the election, I reported about two male GOP staffers' boasts of having had affairs with Crist when he was running for governor in 2006. The stories burned across the internet and got a bit of play in the mainstream press. Crist won in a landslide anyway. Republicans homophobic? Not in Florida.
If McCain chooses Crist, it would be interesting to see how the voracious national press (as opposed to cautious Florida newspapers) would handle the issue. Would the New York Times put a small team of reporters on the story in an effort to dig up the truth?
I think so. Just last week, a writer with a major national magazine called me on the topic. He said he was doing a general piece about the recent spate of Republican outings and scandals, but the V.P. talk surely has given a bit of urgency to the project.
Finding the truth when it comes to Crist, though, is a slippery endeavor. For years, opposing candidates and private investigators have dug into the matter and found scintillating evidence. Just no proof.
My own efforts, as the Calderoni interview shows, have gone the same way. I began looking into the matter about 16 months ago, when a tipster in Fort Lauderdale told me that a young Republican aide had boasted to him at a dinner party that he was having an affair with Crist, who was then Florida's attorney general.
The tipster, who is gay, said he came forward because he found it terribly hypocritical that Crist opposed gay marriage and adoption by gay couples. Not to mention the whole pesky "living a lie" thing. I agreed, and before long, I had found numerous sources who said that GOP insiders Jason Wetherington and Bruce Carlton Jordan had boasted to them about romances with Crist.
Wetherington, who served as a regional director for Katherine Harris' U.S. Senate campaign and as a legislative aide for state Rep. Ellyn Bogdanoff, denied that he'd had an affair with Crist (though, after I started asking questions, he was taken under the wing of Hollywood lawyer Todd Payne and moved to Georgia until the election was over. Payne, a real estate attorney, wouldn't comment).
Jordan's story runs a bit deeper. A member of the pioneering Crum family in Central Florida's Sumter County, he's a longtime Tallahassee political operator, a childhood friend of Harris', and a convicted felon. His most recent political title was executive director of the Florida Funeral Home Directors Association. It was in that capacity that he snagged Crist as a fill-in guest speaker for a convention after then-Gov. Jeb Bush suddenly canceled an event in 2003.
Two years later, Jordan was fired after it was discovered he'd stolen thousands of dollars from the association for personal vacations. He was also convicted of two theft-related felonies.
After his arrest, he went to his old friend Harris and asked if she needed a hand for her U.S. Senate campaign. She quickly hired him as her personal travel aide.
Then Jordan began telling other campaign workers about having a long-term romantic relationship with Crist, who was then running for governor. Among those he told was campaign pilot Jay Vass, who has worked for numerous GOP officials, including Jeb Bush, Tom Gallagher, and Crist himself.
What Jordan didn't know was that Vass was friends with Gallagher, who at the time was running against Crist in the Republican gubernatorial primary. Vass and his girlfriend, Dee Dee Hall, gave Gallagher sworn statements about Jordan's detailed admissions. Hall even sat down for a videotaped deposition, which I obtained, in which she said that Jordan had told her that Crist was undergoing counseling because he was so conflicted about the relationship.
Since reporting the stories, I have spoken with an ex-boyfriend of Jordan's, who said he too had heard of the affair. He told me that even before the affair allegedly began, Jordan boasted of his friendship with Crist. The ex-boyfriend, who traveled in Tallahassee political circles, said Jordan and Crist may have been introduced by a mutual friend named Jennifer Faga, a wealthy socialite from the Hamptons who owned land in Florida and who lived for a time in Tallahassee.
He said that Faga and Jordan both had crushes on Crist and that Jordan apparently won out. I contacted Faga on the phone and asked if she knew Crist.
"I'm going to say 'no comment' because I don't know what you're calling about," she said.
Then I asked her if she introduced Jordan to Crist.
"No comment," she said before hanging up.
Jordan's ex-boyfriend led me to a Florida lobbyist who he said knew more about Jordan's alleged affair with Crist. I called the lobbyist, who commented on the condition of anonymity. He said that Jordan was dating Crist through much of 2006. He said that Jordan shared details with him about what they did together and where they met (at Jordan's rented carriage house in Tallahassee's Southwood development).
He said he was with Jordan on several occasions when Crist would allegedly call. Jordan would tell him "It's Charlie" and then run off to meet him.
But the lobbyist never actually saw Jordan together with Crist. He said that, while he assumed his friend was telling the truth, he couldn't be sure. Jordan, he added, boasted about a lot of things he sometimes couldn't back up, and he turned out to be a thief.
Jordan, for all his blabbing, has been publicly silent on the issue. On both occasions that I reached him, the last time being last week, he quickly hung up on me. When I called Crist about Jordan and Wetherington before the election, he denied not only that he was gay but that he even remembered meeting either man.
So what does it all add up to? Well, one thing that is certain is that Jordan and Wetherington ran in rarefied Republican circles and told numerous people, in some detail, that they'd had romantic relationships with Crist.
I find it hard to believe that both of them were lying about it, but it's possible. Could be that Calderoni was mistaken about Crist as well. Maybe his gaydar was off. Weirder things have happened.
Oh, well. Nobody cares anyway, right?