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Mike BarryEye on the Island

By Mike Barry
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The Newsmaker/Author’s ‘Write-Hand’ Man

A book with Long Island connections is making news this week in Florida and among political insiders nationally.

Former Florida Governor Charlie Crist’s The Party’s Over: How the Extreme Right Wing Hijacked the GOP and I Became a Democrat (Dutton), which was published on Tuesday, Feb. 4, was co-authored by Ellis Henican, a writer and commentator probably best known for his Newsday column. Crist is married to the former Carole Oumano, a Roslyn High School graduate.

The memoir, a detailed and entertaining look at the 57-year-old St. Petersburg native’s life, recounts key events during Crist’s one term as the Sunshine State’s attorney general (2003-2007), another as governor (2007-2011), as well as his two ill-fated U.S. Senate campaigns (1998 and again in 2010, as an independent). Crist, a lifelong Republican before re-registering as a Democrat at a White House Christmas Party in 2012, is seeking Florida’s Democratic gubernatorial nomination in 2014 to run against the incumbent, Governor Rick Scott.

“He’s in a completely unique position now,” Henican said, referring to Crist, who, if successful this year, will have been elected governor eight years apart, with the backing of two different political parties. “His [Crist’s] view is that he didn’t change much.”

The former Florida governor believes, Henican said, “the party stopped being hospitable to moderate Republicans like himself.”

This was something Crist strongly suspected in 2009, the book says, but it became clear to him in 2010 as Marco Rubio built a huge lead in the Republican primary election polls. Crist dropped out of the GOP race, and ran as an independent for the U.S. Senate.

My guess is much of the national political coverage will focus on the book’s disclosures of how close former President Bill Clinton came to talking then-Rep. Kendrick Meek, the Democratic nominee, out of the three-way U.S. Senate contest in 2010, allowing for a Rubio-Crist matchup. Now, why would the Clintons care about the outcome of a 2010 U.S. Senate race; perhaps because they know someone who could be running for president atop the Florida ballot in 2016, when one of the state’s U.S. Senators (Rubio) comes up for re-election?

Over a six-week period last summer, Henican relocated to St. Petersburg and met on a daily basis with Crist. They spent a few hours each afternoon discussing Crist’s personal and professional life. Henican taped the conversations, and then developed the drafts that would provide the basis for the final text.

“My job on a project like this is to tell a story,” Henican explained, and he did an excellent job of helping Crist lay out his the reasoning behind his party switch, and interest in returning to the governor’s mansion in Tallahassee.

Indeed, this book is the fifth memoir that Henican has co-written, three of which focused on sports figures, such as retired New York Mets pitcher Dwight Gooden, New Orleans Saints head football coach Sean Payton (Henican grew up in New Orleans), and race car driver Michael Waltrip. The latter, In the Blink of An Eye, made headlines when it was released in 2011 because the book shed additional light on how the late Dale Earnhardt’s fatal accident occurred in the 2001 Daytona 500, a race that Waltrip won. Henican’s collaboration with Navy SEAL commander Rorke Denver, Damn Few, explored the rigors involved in becoming a member of that elite military unit.

Many of these books have spent time atop The New York Times’ bestseller list. Given Crist’s high-profile appearances this week on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” and Comedy Central’s “Colbert Report,” The Party’s Over could land there, too.

“All of these are topics I really started out with no particular expertise in,” Henican said, adding that he quickly develops an understanding of his subject’s story after spending time with them.

So is there another big writing project in the pipeline for Henican?  Yes, but he explained he’s in the process of pitching a publisher. Having collaborated with politicians and military figures, he knows that loose lips can sink ships, and book deals.

Mike Barry, a corporate communications consultant, has worked in government and journalism. Email: MFBARRY@optonline.net