Remember Reno -- she's larger than life!

First published: John T. McCann, Orlando Sentinel November 3, 2001

Remember Reno -- she's larger than life In name and deed, it pays to be larger than life -- which means former Attorney General Janet Reno likely will get the nod as Florida's Democratic challenger to Gov. Jeb Bush.

Will she beat him? There are 70,001 reasons that say she can:

"Privatize Jeb!" shouted a roomful of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. They're Florida's second-largest labor union, some of them meeting recently at a hotel in Lake Buena Vista.

They're loud. They're outspoken. They have no love for our governor, these people who acknowledge each other with a "Hey, brother" or "Welcome, sister," and it's not about church etiquette -- forget skin color.

"That's the solidarity," said Joseph Mills, among 70,000 AFSCME members across the state, and if there's any consistency in the meeting I attended with the rest of the organization, then Jeb's in trouble.

That particular union represents 70,000 of the 70,001 reasons Reno could beat Bush. Here's the last one:

Reno.

She has achieved that one-name ID thing reserved for the Oprahs of the world -- a Citizen Kane in a field of Democratic gubernatorial candidates that size up as Lilliputians.

That's not to dismiss Tampa attorney Bill McBride or state House Minority Leader Lois Frankel.

When I pressed Sen. Daryl Jones for specifics, he rattled off a list of reforms that sounded awfully good. There's just this one thing. . .

Reno.

Before the candidates spoke, an Associated Press photographer explained to me that the knock against Reno is her inability to relate on a blue-collar level, at which two glaring examples suggested otherwise.

For starters, there was no big entourage or security team, just her nephew Bob, a guy from Stuart who's as tall and gangly as his aunt.

Then, when Reno entered the room, she declined a seat up front and opted to sit toward the back, next to union member Robert Brown.

"She seemed like a very nice person," Brown said.

So nice and so down to earth that Reno clasped hands with Brown, and she extended her left one to another union guy, joining the crowd in singing "Solidarity Forever," about how ". . .the union makes us strong."

Reno would take the stage and poke fun at the Saturday Night Live comics who poked fun at her battle with Parkinson's disease.

With nothing to hide, she brought up, then stood behind, her decision to roust young Elian Gonzalez in the middle of the Miami night and send him back to his father in Cuba: "If you care about family values, you send the little boy to this daddy!"

The union folk leapt to their feet.

Now, that Elian decision will cost Reno some votes, and there's baggage linked to her association with Bill Clinton's tarnished presidency.

Some will wonder about the Parkinson's, and she'll attempt to erase doubts about her trembling hands by pointing to a president with polio.

"I think about Franklin Roosevelt with 10 pounds of steel on his legs," Reno said. "That's me. What you see is what you get."

Name recognition neither guarantees victory nor answers all questions about a candidate's mettle, but you must recognize Reno's appeal, whether on the national stage or at a local union meeting.

Understand that her handshake is firm, never mind the Parkinson's. Focus instead on her stare. It's piercing. The woman's stature? Imposing -- 6 feet, 1 inches tall, larger than life, literally and figuratively.

And ol' Jeb? With this economy?

Dude's in for a fight.

John McCann can be reached at jmccann@orlandosentinel.com or 407-420-6186. http://www.orlandosentinel.com/news/local/orl-locmccann03110301nov03.column?coll=orl%2Dnews%2Dheadlines%2Dlocal

Copyright 2001, Orlando Sentinel


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