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Politics

Olmert asks for some of Crist's political magic

The Florida governor's approval rating draws envy from the beleaguered Israeli premier.

By STEVE BOUSQUET
Published June 1, 2007


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photo
[Getty Images]
Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, right, meets with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in Jerusalem on Thursday. Crist is on the third day of a five-day trip to promote business ties between Florida and Israel.

TEL AVIV - Gov. Charlie Crist had a pleasant 45-minute meeting Thursday with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, whose many problems make him the political polar opposite of the high-flying Crist. The meeting in Jerusalem was closed to reporters, but state Sen. Nan Rich, D-Weston, said Olmert was well aware of how Crist is doing back home.

"He said, 'I hear you have a 75 percent approval rating. I might need to borrow a little, '" Rich said. "It was cute."

* * *

Crist is known for "call-outs" in speeches in which he mentions people by name. It's his way of making people feel special, and the bigger the crowd, the longer the speech.

At a Thursday breakfast hosted by the Israel-America Chamber of Commerce, he came close to setting a personal record. Among those who got personal call-outs were lawmakers on the trip, "Adam, Dan and Nan" Rep. Adam Hasner, R-Delray Beach, Rep. Dan Gelber, D-Miami Beach, Rich, press secretary Erin Isaac, "Tom" (Kuntz, a banker and vice chairman of Enterprise Florida and "Nancy Riley, my friend" (a Clearwater real estate agent and president of the Florida Association of Realtors).

* * *

The breakfast was held at an outdoor hotel patio at the Hilton Tel Aviv, overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. "Can you believe this?" a wide-eyed Crist said, surveying the beautiful sea and cloudless blue sky above. "It looks like Fort Myers!"

* * *

The Israelis are hospitable people, and the food is delicious. Everywhere Crist went this week there were delectable spreads of food set out in advance. Just one problem: The governor dislikes meals during the day. An aide fetched a can of the Red Bull energy drink when Crist felt hunger pangs. He rolled his eyes after learning that the hosts of one event had set aside an hour for a midday meal.

* * *

Crist visited an aerospace company in Tel Aviv Thursday and left optimistic that the firm, Israel Aerospace Industries Ltd., would aggressively seek to expand its operations in Florida. The company chairman, Yair Shamir, is the son of former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, who served two separate terms in the '80s and '90s. Shamir said the company, which has $1.6-billion cash on hand, wants to partner or acquire a controlling interest in firms in Florida.

* * *

Crist has not fully recovered from a spider bite (he thinks it was a rare brown recluse) nearly two weeks ago while on a fishing boat in the Keys as part of a Republican Party fundraiser.

Acting on the advice of his father (a doctor), Crist sought the advice of a doctor in Israel who placed him on powerful antibiotics to ward off a possible infection. The governor is feeling okay, but he has had it with lame Spider-Man jokes.

* * *

When Crist visited the sacred Western Wall in Jerusalem Wednesday, it necessitated a quick change in his security arrangements. By tradition, men and women are segregated in prayer at the wall - men to the left and women to the right. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement agent assigned to protect Crist happens to be a woman. At one of the world's most historic religious sites, the FDLE had to dispatch one of the five male agents also traveling with the governor.

* * *

The governor has received positive reaction in Israel to the passage of a bill in Florida, sponsored mainly by Democrats, that would force the state to divest itself of all stocks in firms that do business with Iran's energy sector. Crist plans to take the effort one step further by writing to every other governor, urging those states to pass similar laws.

Steve Bousquet can be reached at bousquet@sptimes.com or (850)567-2240.

[Last modified June 1, 2007, 02:50:32]


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