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Bush party draws both parties

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

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

But 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."

The choice of Tampa for the inaugural ball said as much about Bush's popularity as it did about the changes in Hillsborough's political landscape.

"Six years ago, the Democrats were in control, and now look at the Hillsborough legislative delegative," which is controlled by Republicans, said Republican activist Mary Ann Parker, who campaigned for state Rep. Rob Wallace, R-Carrollwood.

Even Democrats like Hillsborough Public Defender Julianne Holt came to show their support for the new governor.

Another surprise arrival was state Rep. Les Miller, the Democrats' leader in the state House, who arrived with his wife, Gwen Miller, a member of the Tampa City Council. Les 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," Miller said. "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."

Tampa boosters like Greco said they were thrilled Bush chose the city for the ball. "This is great for Tampa," he said.

City staff had worked for hours to make sure every detail, such as valet parking at the Tampa Convention Center, went off well.

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

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 event among those festivities.

People from across Florida gussied up and arrived at the convention center to celebrate _ with some sneaking out to watch the Florida State Seminoles play for the national football championship in the Fiesta Bowl.

Bush won over some Democrats to his side, but he lost a few Seminoles 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 explained.

It was a toss-up between suits and tuxedos for the men, with Bush opting for a suit, and savvy fellow Republican Tom Gallagher, the new education commissioner, following his lead.

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

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

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

The crowd held an equal number of elected officials as well as Republicans who lost recent races.

Former Hillsborough County Commissioner Jim Selvey, who lost a bid for tax collector, came in a tuxedo with a smart silver-and-black bow tie. "Not bad for a country boy," he said.

Former State Rep. Deborah Tamargo was still smarting from her loss in November's election. "I can walk away with family, and I know I didn't lie," she said. "I just think I was the sacrificial fly-out."

And, though Republicans came in high spirits, the crowd thinned out early.

"If you have to come, you might as well have fun," said GOP state Sen. Tom Lee of Brandon, as he left the bar with bottled water.

Hillsborough Circuit Judge Walter Heinrich looked subdued by 8:30 p.m.

"I have to be at work at 8 a.m.," said the judge, who handles first appearances for defendants arrested the night before.

"I'm pretty good until about 10 p.m," he said.

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Gov.-elect Jeb Bush moves through an excited crowd after speaking at the free party. "He's young; he's got a long time ahead of him; he's got every reason to achieve," said Tampa Mayor Dick Greco.

Attendees of the inaugural ball drift into the lobby to keep an eye on televisions showing Florida State University in the Fiesta Bowl in Tempe, Ariz. "I love the new governor, but I love the Florida State Seminoles too," said one attendee who was leaving at halftime.

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. There was a capacity crowd, with seating for 6,500 people.

Juan Armando Montes, a regional director for the state comptroller, 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.