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A leader appears early for HRS job

The search to replace Lt. Gov. Buddy MacKay at the state Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services has begun, at least informally.

The candidate most often mentioned as the next HRS secretary is Jim Towey, a top policy adviser to Gov. Lawton Chiles before taking over as HRS' district administrator in Miami last November.

The governor's office has had some "informal discussions" with Towey about the job, chief of staff Tom Herndon said Thursday.

But a formal search has not yet begun, Herndon said.

One thing is clear: MacKay isn't going to be around forever at HRS. He took over the troubled agency in March, after Secretary Bob Williams resigned, and has presided over a massive reorganization that will decentralize HRS and give more power to local social service districts.

MacKay wants to return full-time to the governor's office soon, probably some time this summer, said Ron Sachs, the governor's communications director. The governor will be looking for someone to carry the reorganization forward.

Towey is most known for his dedication to serving the poor and disadvantaged: Among other things, he has ministered to sick children in Mexico and worked for Mother Teresa, the Nobel Prize-winning missionary.

As HRS administrator in Miami, he has dealt directly with the people the state serves, walking with the homeless under interstate overpasses and listening to stories from drug-addicted mothers.

Towey was on vacation and could not be reached for comment Thursday. But the deputy district administrator in Miami, Anita Bock, said she knows he's the right person for HRS secretary.

Another name circulating for the job is Lois Frankel, an attorney and former state lawmaker from South Florida who was active in social issues. She ran unsuccessfully for Congress last fall.

Frankel all but ruled herself out on Thursday.

"It would not be something I'd undertake," she said. She said she hasn't spoken to anyone in the governor's office about the job.

"If I am being considered, no one has discussed it with me," Frankel said.

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