Gov. Charlie Crist rocked the political world today by announcing that hockey legend Mario Lemieux would complete the unfinished term of former senator, Mel Martinez. Crist is planning to run for the senate seat in 2010 when it comes up for re-election.
While political wags in Tallahassee had surmised that the governor would choose someone who would have no designs on running against him in 2010, no one could have guessed this choice. Names that were familiar in Florida political circles--Rep. Clay Shaw, Rep. Mike Billarakis, state Rep. Jennifer Carroll, UNF President John Delaney--had all been mentioned for the post, but were apparently disregarded by the governor.
With appointee Lemieux standing at his side, Gov. Crist made this statement regarding the appointment:
"Mario and I have been friends for some time now. He had mentioned to me recently that he had been entertaining the idea of running for political office back in Pittsburgh and I thought this would be a great way for him to get his political feet wet, so to speak. I see him as the perfect fit for this job. He has certainly proved himself to be not only a leader, but a winner, as well."
"He excelled on the ice and off. He's a fighter and a survivor. He put his career on hold to beat cancer and came back to play hockey for several more seasons. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame immediately upon his retirement. He is, literally, "The Great One."
"Florida needs someone in Washington who has the business sense to get this state and this country back on track. When Mario retired from playing, he took over the struggling Pittsburgh Penguin franchise, which had declared bankruptcy in 1998. The Pens, under Mario's leadership, have thrived to become one of the NHL's most solid profitable franchises. And that's what we're looking for him to do for Florida."
Reporters in the audience, desperately trying to process the announcement, asked Lemieux about his plans.
"Well, I intend to approach this new post like I faced all my other challenges," he said. "I won't wait for the easy shot, I'll be down there muckin' and grindin' in the corners, deke the goons, then try to kick the puck out away from the boards for the breakaway and the chance to go coast to coast, looking to bury the bisquit in the basket in either the five hole or the top shelf or maybe even take the wraparound, if it's there."
"And I won't be intimidated by Washington. I've played there lots of times."
When one reporter asked the governor if this wasn't an unusual move, Gov. Crist replied, "Look, if Dan Rooney can be appointed ambassador to Ireland, why can't I appoint Mario to the Senate? And, if you don't like it, maybe you should go out in the hall for a little one-on-one with Mr. Lemieux and drop the mitts."
"I talked to other candidates for the Senate job, but nobody else brought the Stanley Cup to an interview. Do you know how sweet that thing looks on my desk?" Gov. Charlie Crist