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Bush's 3-day party begins

With salsa and funk thumping the downtown high-rises, Gov.-elect Jeb Bush kicked off his three-day inaugural celebration with a fiesta in the hometown he adopted 18 years ago.

At least 10,000 people _ mostly Spanish-speaking _ cheered for Latin musicians such as Celia Cruz and Elvis Crespo, then crowded around Bush for autographs and hugs.

"I'm emotional," said a smiling Bush, looking relaxed in a green button-down shirt and light-colored khakis as he spoke with reporters beneath the palms at Bayfront Park. "I'm excited to be with my friends. . . . We want to celebrate amongst the people who are truly going to make a difference to make our state better."

As excited as he was, Bush was not seen dancing. "I'm trying to look more gubernatorial," he said.

Bush's inaugural tour continues this morning in Orlando with a children's program called "Profiles in Character." Tonight, he and first lady-to-be Columba host a black-tie ball and gala at the Tampa Convention Center. The events will cost at least $1.1-million, organizers say, and are funded by private donors.

Tuesday, Bush will take his oath of office at the Old Capitol in Tallahassee and make an inaugural address. He will be joined by his parents, former President George Bush and first lady Barbara, and his brother, Texas Gov. George W. Bush.

Gov.-elect Bush said Sunday his speech will likely include some sort of tribute to Gov. Lawton Chiles, who died suddenly Dec. 12 at the Governor's Mansion.

"I want to celebrate Gov. Chiles' life, because I believe his legacy is one of faith, and one of doing what he thought was right," said Bush, 45, who lost to Chiles in his first bid for governor in 1994. "That's a role model for everyone who serves."

Asked if he should tone down the festivities in the wake of Chiles' death, Bush added: "We can be solemn. We can be respectful, as I've been. But life goes on. (Chiles) wouldn't want the whole world to stop for ever and ever."

Bush was joined Sunday by Lt. Gov.-elect Frank Brogan and his wife, Mary. Brogan assisted by introducing the "queen of funk," Chaka Khan, by repeating the name of her hit I Feel For You.

Chaka Khan joined KC and the Sunshine Band, a Hialeah-based group whose hits include Shake Your Booty, as the evening entertainment.

The crowd included mostly South Florida residents, but some Bush fans drove hours to attend the free concert and party.

"He's going to do a lot for Latin people, for elderly, and for children," said Jose Amaro, 53, a social worker from Hialeah who was born in Cuba. "This will be a nice period to develop the economy in the state."

Marco Fazzini, an 18-year-old high school student, drove with his parents from Winter Haven. His father helped the campaign, he said, and wanted to take in the party.

"I met (Bush) a few times," Fazzini said. "I think he's really down to earth. He seemed pretty cool."

In some ways, Sunday's party was like the campaign all over again.

Instead of "Jebwear," vendors sold "Inaugural Wear," including hats with the Florida 1999 logo ($20), T-shirts ($10), and denim shirts (like the kind favored by Bush during the campaign, $45).

And Bush talked in generalities, promising diversity and unity. He pledged to make education his top priority, but also said fighting drugs would be his top priority. He repeated his campaign mantra that the best ideas can come from around the state, and not "Mount Tallahassee."

As he plunged into the crowd, people yelled "Jeb!" to get his attention. Several people thrust money into his face, mostly $1 bills but a few tens and twenties, for autographs. One man hoisted the Honduran flag in the air and yelled for attention.

In Orlando today, Bush will hand out college scholarships to the winners of an essay contest in which the participants wrote about what character means to them.

The elementary and middle school winners both come from the Tampa Bay area, though their names couldn't be confirmed Sunday.