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Politics

Man wields a powerful pen

A letter about his insurance premium got results for one man -- and only for him.

By STEPHANIE GARRY,Times Staff Writer
Published August 4, 2007


Stan Whitney writes letters to politicians when he's mad and always answers the phone. That's why his property insurance is about $500 cheaper than anyone else's on the block.
photo
[Willie J. Allen Jr. | Times]
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PORT CHARLOTTE - Stan Whitney writes letters to politicians when he's mad and always answers the phone.

That's why his property insurance is about $500 cheaper than anyone else's on the block.

In November, Whitney wrote then Gov.-elect Charlie Crist to complain that his insurance premium doubled in a year.

Soon, the 79-year-old became the poster boy for insurance reform. His Tallahassee nickname, "Stan the Man," buzzed around the Capitol. He dined at the governor's mansion and hobnobbed with legislators. Crist called him a "wonderful man."

"I really appreciate his effort to help us to begin the change that is necessary," Crist said Friday. "We will continue to fight for Stan's friends, too."

When legislators seemed stalled on insurance reform during the January special session, Crist urged them on with the catchphrase "Remember Stan."

And it was Stan who shook Crist's hand as cameras flashed during a ceremonial signing of the bill later that month.

All the attention led Whitney's insurer, Tower Hill, to give him a special deal, Stan says.

His annual insurance costs of $1,030 are about $600 cheaper than the initial quote he said he was given last year.

Most of his neighbors have resorted to policies with the state's more expensive Citizens Property Insurance.

"They got so much static from the governor's office they had to get us off their backs," Stan said. "I still say if they can write my insurance at that price, they can write everybody's."

- - -

Stan's 15 minutes of fame started in early January. His wife, Joan, 75, answered the phone. The governor was on the line.

She knew it wasn't a joke. She recognized Crist's voice from campaign ads.

Her husband had written to Crist in November saying they had to drop their policy after it jumped from $700 to $1,600. The couple live on a fixed income and couldn't afford it, Stan wrote.

He signed it, "Please help."

Stan took the phone, figuring a friend was playing a prank.

"Why I didn't make some wise-ass comment I'll never know," Stan said. "But I didn't. I just said, 'Hello.' "

Crist had been calling homeowners from a stack of angry letters about ballooning costs.

Stan was the first one he could reach.

They chatted, and Crist asked to use Stan's letter at a press conference.

Then came the understatement of the year, Stan said.

"After this press conference, you may get some calls from the press," he recalled Crist saying.

Stan and Joan were inundated. Stan gave dozens of interviews to media outlets across the state. He keeps a scrapbook of articles mentioning him. He plans to add this one, too.

When the Legislature passed an insurance reform package in January, Crist held a ceremonial bill signing on Stan's front lawn.

That was the first time Stan and Joan met the governor.

"I thought he was short, but he's quite tall," Joan said.

"He's a real politician," reflected Stan.

As the regular lawmaking session loomed, Crist invited the couple to the governor's mansion for the March State of the State dinner. Stan and Joan milled around the porch with about 100 cocktail-drinking, powerful guests. Joan was impressed by the lace napkins at dinner.

During his address the next day, Crist asked Stan, who was sitting in the audience, to "Please rise and wave to your employees," referring to the legislators. The line, a variation on Crist's theme that politicians answer to the people, appeared in newspapers across the state.

Two months later, Stan was leaving the Capitol after a press conference when his insurance company called.

The executive on the phone asked if Stan would talk with a Fort Myers agent about a policy.

- - -

Stan and Joan Whitney met nearly 60 years ago in Vermont, where both their families had lived for generations.

Stan saw a cute waiter at a diner, but she wasn't interested. Later, Stan saw her again. He asked her out; she agreed.

To his surprise, it wasn't the same girl.

It was her identical twin.

Stan and Joan married the next spring. They lived in Colorado while he studied business in college.

They had their first of four children before moving back to Vermont, where Stan managed a ski area.

After the kids grew up, the Whitneys traveled the Eastern seaboard in a motor home, selling Joan's handicrafts. They often ventured to warm Florida, which they loved.

They bought their current home, a 1960s single-story house, about eight years ago. They like going to dinner theater with friends.

Hurricane Charley caused only minor damage to the house in 2004, but their premiums rose.

John Gardner, the agent who wrote Stan's new policy, said he pulled no strings for Stan. Most premiums dropped after the legislation passed, he said.

He admitted it's rare for companies to insure homes like Stan's, which have a lower replacement value. It exposes insurers to more risk, he said.

- - -

Now that the lawmaking is over, the couple's lives and finances are back to normal.

A blue Coldwell Banker sign sticks out of their lawn. They want to buy a condo. There, they won't have to maintain the lawn where the governor once stood.

Their friends joke that if they ever have a problem, they'll have Stan write to the governor.

They know the insurance problem remains. Stan can't think of a single friend whose rates also went down. He blames a powerful lobby, not Crist.

"He's done everything within his power to try and work this thing out," Stan said. "He's up against a tough situation."

Stephanie Garry can be reached at (727) 892-2374 or sgarry@sptimes.com.

[Last modified August 3, 2007, 22:21:39]


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