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Bush ball competes with FSU football

Published Sep. 28, 2005

Streaming pink, white and green fireworks burst outside the Tampa Convention Center. Inside was another explosion _ of enthusiasm for Gov.-elect Jeb Bush.

But the lure of a national championship football game proved a formidable challenger.

Shortly after 9 p.m., Bush left his inaugural ball so he could fly to Tallahassee for today's swearing-in ceremony.

A stampede of Seminole fans left too, carrying their complimentary inaugural champagne glasses and growing excited about the second event of their evening _ watching Florida State.

Even though the ball lasted until 11 p.m., so many people left that the catering staff was clearing tables before 10 p.m.

Bush knew football was on people's minds and made a joking pledge that as governor, he would support any Florida football team vying for a national championship.

But people talked about politics as well as the pigskin.

Earlier, Republican faithful poured into Bush's inaugural ball in Tampa on Monday to cheer on a man whose career in elective office officially starts today.

On this heady night, even Democrats were saying nice things.

"He's young; he's got a long time ahead of him; he's got every reason to achieve," said Tampa Mayor Dick Greco, as he arrived at the ball with his wife, Linda McClintock-Greco.

Greco, who had campaigned for Bush's Democratic opponent Buddy MacKay, said,"Jeb Bush could be anything he wants, including president of the United States."

Bush, who will be sworn in as governor today, has been on the road since Sunday on a statewide series of inaugural events. The ball was the most highbrow, starched-shirt sort of event among those festivities.

People from across Florida gussied up and arrived at the convention center to celebrate, with some sneaking out to watch FSU in the Fiesta Bowl, which started at the same time as the gala.

Tampa boosters like Greco said they were thrilled Bush chose the city for the ball.

"How about having an inaugural ball in Tampa?" Bush asked the crowd of more than 5,000 people. "Sounds pretty good, doesn't it?"

Nondi Beyer wore a vibrant pink maribou and chiffon gown as she arrived with her husband, Brig Gen. Robert Beyer Jr. of Tampa. Black tuxedos and gowns were common on this chilly night, and so were dark mink coats that don't get much use on an average Florida evening.

It was a toss-up between suits and tuxedos for the men. The governor-elect opted for a blue suit, and savvy fellow Republican Tom Gallagher, the new education commissioner, followed his lead.

"If the governor's going to wear a coat and tie, so will I," he said.

Former ambassador to Australia Mel Sembler of St. Petersburg and former Florida Gov. Bob Martinez chose tuxedos. So did Ron Sacino of St. Pete Beach, but he owns a chain of tuxedo rental shops around Florida.

One surprise arrival was state Rep. Les Miller, the Democrats' leader in the state House, who arrived with his wife, Gwen, a member of the Tampa City Council. Miller became the House minority leader after the Democrats ousted another African-American state representative, Willie Logan, from that position. That move threw Democrats into disarray and probably widened Bush's margin of victory.

"This is my hometown," explained Miller. "I thought it would be best that I was here." Given that Bush is now the governor, he said he wanted to do what he could so that "at least things start with a good footing."

Bush won over some Democrats to his side, but he lost a few Seminoles on Monday. Hillsborough County Administrator Dan Kleman was planning to check out at halftime to watch the game.

"I love the new governor, but I love the Florida State Seminoles, too," he said.

It was a tough call for true believers like Rick Baker, a Bush campaign coordinator in Pinellas who is a die-hard Seminole fan.

"If they didn't have big-screen TVs, I would have a problem," Baker said.

Those who stayed dined on brandied New York Strip loin with horsey cream and au jus and chili turkey with avocado mayonnaise, as well as jumbo lump crab cakes, mesquite quesadilla rolls, Italian sausage en croute and bananas Foster flambe.

The crowd was heavy with active Republican supporters and campaign contributors, and included a mix of invited guests and people who asked to attend. The event was free.

Democratic State Rep. Rudy Bradley of St. Petersburg had hoped to attend Monday's ball with his wife, Terrye, but had to scrap it when he learned of a meeting he needed to attend in Tallahassee at 8 a.m. today.

Bradley had shocked fellow Democrats by becoming the first legislator in his party, and also the first African-American legislator, to endorse Bush for governor.

Others made special arrangements. Dr. A.M. Desai of St. Petersburg was planing to leave at midnight on a chartered plane so he could be in Tallahassee for today's inauguration.

As they mingled, many talked of their hopes for Bush's tenure in office.

Many spoke of their hopes for Bush's governorship. Clearwater's Jim Schelling, 55, worked on the Bush campaign in northern Pinellas County and said he is particularly happy about Bush's stated commitment to diversity.

"I'm a Republican, but a lot of the Republicans just turn you off," he said. "I think he's got a message of inclusiveness."

Some Bush fans grew frantic over the weekend when their free tickets for the event did not come in the mail as expected. Some were so upset they called Bush personally.

The tickets were handed out inside the convention center. With two holidays recently and tons of work to do, the inaugural committee couldn't get all the tickets out early, said Ann Herberger, coordinator of the Bush inaugural events.

"For two weeks we've been working 24-hour shifts," Herberger said, "which is why I'm looking so good right now."

However, she said organizers set up 1,800 extra chairs and vowed not to turn anyone away, whether they had tickets or not.

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Juan Armando Montes and his wife, Estela, dance on Monday while awaiting the arrival of Gov.-elect Jeb Bush at the Inaugural Ball and Gala at the Tampa Convention Center. Juan Armando Montes is deputy regional director of the state's Office of the Comptroller. The room, which seats 6,500, was filled.

Gov.-elect Jeb Bush, center, and his wife, Columba, right, greet supporters Monday night at the Inaugural Ball and Gala at the Tampa Convention Center. Big-screen televisions showed the band, Southtown Fever, while televisions in the lobby showed Florida State University playing in the Fiesta Bowl in Tempe, Ariz.