Crist launches inaugural festivities

Published December 14, 2006

MIAMI - Gov.-elect Charlie Crist kicked off a series of inaugural events Wednesday with a breakfast at which he renewed his campaign promises of higher teacher pay and lower insurance premiums.

"There's so much that we can do - so many people who need our help," Crist said. "And that is our mission."

More than 500 people attended the free event at Parrot Jungle, a family tourist attraction. The diverse, bipartisan crowd included South Florida civic and business leaders and politicians.

The no-frills menu of bacon and eggs, with free parking and no V.I.P. tables, replaced the previously scheduled breakfast at the elegant Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables, with its lush decor and pricey valet parking.

Over the weekend, Crist called off his planned big-bucks inaugural celebration in the wake of public and media criticism. While some supporters said Crist overreacted by calling off his inaugural ball, most said the Republican governor-elect made the right call by ending solicitation of donations from special interests of up to $500,000 at a time when many Floridians are struggling with high insurance and property taxes.

"I'm going to make mistakes from time to time, but the important thing is to recognize them and understand that we serve the people," Crist told reporters.

Several Democratic legislators at Wednesday's breakfast said they anticipated a better line of communication with Crist than with the departing Jeb Bush. "We have an accessible governor," said Sen. Frederica Wilson, D-Miami.

Crist's next public inaugural event is noon to 2:30 p.m. Sunday in Tampa, a free barbecue at Legends Field followed by an invitation-only youth baseball camp.

Steve Bousquet can be reached at bousquet@sptimes.com or 850 224-7263.