WEST PALM BEACH — Republicans were outraged when then Republican Gov. Charlie Crist hugged President Barack Obama in 2009 not because Obama is a Democrat but because he is black.
Crist made the comment in a speech to about 250 lawyers, dignitaries and others gathered Friday for the 13th annual William H. Holland Scholarship Luncheon sponsored by the F. Malcolm Cunningham Sr., Bar Association, a group of black lawyers in Palm Beach County.
Crist, who is seeking the governorship again, this time as a Democrat, spoke on the theme “Do the Right Thing,” the title taken from a Spike Lee movie of the same name. Speaking at the luncheon held at the Cohen Pavilion of the Kravis Center for the Performing Arts in West Palm Beach, Crist said he “did the right thing” when he embraced the president, who was visiting Fort Myers to promote his economic stimulus package.
He said someone took a photograph and sent it throughout the Republican Party. The hug, he said, crystallized the party’s discontent with him at a time when he was hoping to win the nomination in an election for a U.S. Senate seat.
He said it was no coincidence that, after the picture showing him “hugging a black man” was circulated, he lost the nomination to Marco Rubio. Crist said he would do it all over again.
“I don’t care what anybody looks like, where they’ve come from, or what language they speak … we are all children of God,” he told the nonpartisan group of lawyers.
After Crist lost the senate nomination, he ran as an independent candidate in a three-way race that also included Kendrick Meek of Miami, which Rubio, a tea party favorite, won.
Crist said he was originally a Republican simply because his parents were and he has become a Democrat not because he has changed but because the Republican Party changed.
“When you see things start to change, you can just go along to get along or you can go with your core principles and values,” he said.
Crist, who used the opportunity to promote his book, The Party is Over, asked attendees to help him win. He received loud applause and a standing ovation after he finished speaking.
“His speech was very touching. He seemed sincere in what he was saying,” said West Palm Beach Mayor Jeri Muoio. “He’s in touch with the people; he’s in touch with a diverse group of people,” Tracey Graham of West Palm Beach.
Jean Marie Middleton, president of the F. Malcolm Cunningham Sr. Bar Association, said the luncheon brought in $13,000 for law student scholarships. The annual event raises money for third-year minority law students as they prepare for the bar examination.
This year’s theme was “Continuing the Legacy through Educational Empowerment.” It was in part why Crist, also a former Florida education chief, was tapped as keynote speaker, Middleton said. “Crist made great strides as education commissioner,” she said.
Angela Vann of West Palm Beach said she supported the event because it awards scholarships to students preparing to become lawyers. “It’s for a worthy cause,” she said.
The following students received this year’s scholarships: Kaysia Earley, St. Thomas University; Francesse Lucius, University of Miami; Samuel Bryant, University of Florida; Devon Westhill, University of Florida; Kene Anusionwu, Florida A&M University; and Nesha Drummond, Florida State University.
PHOTO COURTESY OF CUNNINGHAM BAR ASSOCIATION
MEETING THE CANDIDATE: Democratic gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist, center, is flanked by executive members of the F. Malcolm Cunningham Sr., Bar Association. From left are Chioma Deer, secretary; Kalinthia Dillard, treasurer; Salesia Smith-Gordon, immediate past president; Jean Marie Middleton, president; David Prather, special advisor; and Nadine White Boyd, president-elect.