Simmering frustration over the Gulf of Mexico oil spill's potential damage to Florida tourism erupted Tuesday into blunt criticism of Gov. Charlie Crist, who defended the state's response and later trumpeted the arrival of $25 million from BP for television ads aimed at calming tourists' fears.
Crist said the money would be put to work within 48 hours to counter the economically threatening misconception that the entire Gulf Coast is tainted by the April 20 explosion of the Deepwater Horizon offshore drilling rig.
"Our Florida beaches are clean and clear, the fish are biting and the Sunshine State, including Northwest Florida, are open for business," Crist said.
The ads will appear in Southeast TV markets at a crucial time, as Panhandle officials and business owners say unwarranted fears of tainted seafood, oily water and ruined beaches could ruin their economy, and in so doing worsen the state's revenue picture.
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The summer tourist season kicks off this week with the three-day Memorial Day weekend, but with hotels losing bookings and restaurants short of customers, the state's chief financial officer, Democrat Alex Sink, joined Republican state Sen. Don Gaetz of Niceville in a blistering critique of the state's response as too little, too late.
"It's in days like this that I miss Jeb Bush," Gaetz acidly told reporters after he beseeched Crist and the Florida Cabinet for immediate help for his region.
Gaetz mocked Crist for seeking a special legislative session to constitutionally ban oil drilling off Florida's coast at a time when, he said, many fishermen, hoteliers and restaurateurs are worried about making this week's payroll.
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