Paternity allegation plagues governor

Published: Friday, January 26, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 26, 2007 at 12:48 a.m.
TALLAHASSEE - On the day he was celebrating the first major victory of his young administration, Gov. Charlie Crist was facing an old political question: whether he fathered a child 17 years ago who was put up for adoption.
Following his signing of a bill to cut property insurance rates for Floridians on Thursday, Crist emphatically denied he was the child's biological father.
''There's nothing to it. It's absolutely false,'' he said. ''We're not going to play into it.''
But the issue has re-emerged because a St. Petersburg couple, Marshall and Cecilia Tucker, told the St. Petersburg Times that they believe Crist may be the father of their adopted daughter, who was born in 1989.
The Tuckers said they didn't want anything from the governor but had tried unsuccessfully to contact him after the Nov. 7 election to let them know their daughter was interested in meeting her biological mother, Rebecca O'Dell Townsend. Townsend, a lawyer who was then named Wharrie, has alleged that Crist is the father of the child.
The Tuckers' daughter - who was not identified because she is a minor - also told the Times that she was interested in meeting Crist.
''It's not that I want anything from him, but if he is my birth father I think my curiosity is justified,'' she said.
The Tuckers declined to elaborate on the Times report. But they did release a statement asking the news media ''not to violate our daughter's privacy further.''
''We always meant this to be a private and personal matter,'' the statement said. ''We only contacted the governor out of respect and as a professional courtesy.''
The paternity issue first arose in the week before Crist's Republican primary victory on Sept. 5.
Reporters received an anonymous e-mail on the Saturday evening just two days before Crist's victory over Tom Gallagher.
The e-mail contained copies of an affidavit signed by Rebecca Wharrie on June 24, 1989, claiming that Crist was the father of a girl born on June 23 in St. Petersburg.
The e-mail also contained a ''consent for adoption'' form signed by Crist in which he said: ''I deny paternity of this child and claim no parental rights in relation to the child.''
Another affidavit signed by Crist denied parenthood and added: ''Parenthood by myself is not possible as I never consummated the act necessary for parenthood.''
The issue did not come up during Crist's campaign against Democrat Jim Davis, but it wasn't the last time Crist had to address an innuendo about his personal life. In the waning days before the general election, Crist was accused of a homosexual affair with very little evidence. Nonetheless, news media around the state reported on the questions.
This week's story in the St. Petersburg Times adds little to the basic he-said, she-said nature of the allegation that Crist fathered a child. It does present a more difficult wrinkle in the public battle however.
Some Crist supporters had questioned Townsend's credibility, noting she had to undergo an involuntary psychiatric evaluation in 1989 after a domestic dispute and another police report in 1993 that showed she had taken an overdose of sleeping pills.
Townsend had also been a supporter of Gallagher's in the Republican gubernatorial primary. In September, Crist dismissed her allegations as a ''scurrilous'' attack indicative of a desperate campaign. Crist on Thursday adopted a more nuanced denial that omitted talk of the 17-year-old girl. However, he said he had no plans to take a paternity test to determine if he was the girl's father.
''No,'' he said. ''Obviously, you know, this is something, a product born out of a political attack in the fall. Story over.''
Crist has made adoption a high priority in his office.
On his Web site, Crist says that ''more should be done to promote adoption in Florida.''
He has promised to establish ''the Office of Adoption and Child Protection, which will be led by Florida's chief child advocate.''
University of Florida political science professor Richard Scher has written a book about the state's governors and could not think of a modern-day Florida governor who has drawn such attention to his private life. The only parallels Scher could think of were former Gov. Fuller Warren from the 1950s, who was rumored to be gay, and 19th century U.S. President Grover Cleveland who paid child support for a child he may or may not have fathered before being married in the White House.
Crist was married once for six months in 1979 and was dating a woman during last year's campaign. Scher said Crist's unusual status as a 50-year-old single man makes him an easy target for the slightest of rumors.
''It just pushes all the buttons for some of those folks who just can't stand the idea that he doesn't fit the mold that the sanctimonious folks would like to create for their governor,'' Scher said.

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