Feeney apologizes for loser remark
By LUCY MORGAN
© St. Petersburg Times, published December 15, 2000
TALLAHASSEE -- House Speaker Tom Feeney says he has learned he'll have to give up "dumb jokes" for the next two years.
The Orlando Sentinel reported the comments were made at a GOP victory party at Po Boys, a restaurant a couple of blocks from the state Capitol.
"What a loser," Feeney was quoted as saying while he watched Vice President Al Gore's concession speech. Feeney also was quoted as calling it "an evil speech."
Feeney admits making comments about the speech, but insists it was all a joke among friends.
"People who know me understand that is not the way I feel," he said Thursday. "Actually I thought both speeches were terrific. The nice thing about both speeches was the finality of it all. There are no hanging chads.
"It was a great night until I started telling dumb jokes," Feeney said Wednesday morning as he sat at his desk in his fourth-floor Capitol office.
"We were at a private party, having fun," he said. "We were all in a jovial mood, it was a time to celebrate a victory. We were kidding."
Feeney said he blames no one but himself, adding he would never have made the remarks had he known a reporter was present.
"I have to quit telling dumb jokes on and off the record for the next two years," Feeney added. "I just have to assume that someone is spying on me all the time."
Feeney issued a public apology a few hours later when he appeared at a news conference with Gov. Jeb Bush.
"I apologize to the extent my remarks offended anyone," Feeney said when asked about the report. "I thought Gore's speech was very conciliatory."
Senate President John McKay said he didn't talk to Feeney about the comments, but did have some of his members express concerns about the remarks.
"I would not have made those remarks," McKay told reporters.
Senate Minority Leader Tom Rossin was so angry about Feeney's comments that he refused to attend a news conference by Bush to call for election reforms because Feeney was attending.
Rossin said he thought Feeney's remarks were inexcusable and he couldn't bring himself to stand next to him.
Instead, Rossin wrote a letter to Bush advising him that he would not attend because of the remarks.
"He showed all of us the letter and we agreed, don't go. Who wants to be with this guy?" asked Sen. Les Miller, D-Tampa, a former House member who served with Feeney. "Any respect I had for him is now gone."
House Minority Leader Lois Frankel joined Feeney at the news conference, saying she was not going to let his remarks stop her from doing the right thing.
"What he said embarrassed himself, what he did in the Legislature embarrassed all of us," Frankel said. "He has to live with his comments; they weren't smart."
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From the Times state desk
From the state wire