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Affirmative action hearing moved

Today's Miami meeting moves to a 1,700-seat auditorium instead of smaller commission chambers.

A potentially heated hearing in Miami today on Gov. Jeb Bush's plan to overhaul state affirmative action policies has been moved to a roomier venue, but the change did not resolve a struggle between state politicians and the mayor of Miami-Dade County.

The meeting will be held at Miami's Gusman Center for the Performing Arts, which seats 1,700 people.

Opponents of the Bush plan have estimated that 2,000 to 3,000 people will attend the seven-hour hearing over the course of the day. They said such a turnout would overwhelm the original location, the 300-seat chamber of the Miami-Dade County Commission.

Miami-Dade County Mayor Alex Penelas declared the move to the Gusman center "a victory for all the people of the South Florida community who wish to be heard on this issue . . . and I'm glad the speaker's staff agreed."

Late Tuesday, Penelas, a Democrat, wrote to legislative leaders to inform them that the County Commission had moved the meeting to nearby Miami Arena, which seats 16,000. He made it sound like the decision was final.

But a spokeswoman for House Speaker John Thrasher belittled Penelas' influence. "Mayor Penelas is making the mistake of thinking that he has the ear of House Speaker John Thrasher, Senate President Toni Jennings and Gov. Jeb Bush," spokeswoman Katie Baur said.

As late as Wednesday morning, Thrasher was determined to use the commission chambers. He sent Baur and other members of his staff to Miami early Wednesday to prepare for the meeting, and to make a point. They met with Penelas' staff, who insisted the meeting would not be held in the commission chamber.

"Mayor Penelas cannot tell the Legislature and the governor where to have a meeting," Baur said afterward. "We wanted to have a responsible public meeting, not a spectacle."

Penelas, a supporter of affirmative action, said he acted in the interest of his constituents, most of whom are Hispanic or black. "It's a little different when you're on the local level and you're responsible to a community," he said.

The mayor denied trying to thwart Republican politicians who were presiding over the meeting. "Quite frankly, I don't know what is political about moving the meeting two blocks," Penelas said. "On the contrary, I did this to avoid a problem with the governor. I told him that last week. If people already are not in agreement, why give them another reason to be upset?"

A spokeswoman for Bush, Liz Hirst, said the governor has left control of the meetings with Jennings and Thrasher. She said Bush had no comment on Wednesday's developments.

Jennings "has encouraged maximum participation" in the hearings from the start, said her spokeswoman, Edie Ousley.

The governor plans to attend the meeting in his adopted hometown, but he still expects his One Florida plan to go forward with little revision.

The Miami hearing is the second of three public meetings hastily scheduled after two black lawmakers staged a 25-hour sit-in at the Capitol Jan. 18-19 to protest One Florida. Bush made the concessions after the lawmakers complained that Bush had not allowed enough input on his plan from black leaders.

The governor also agreed to delay a vote by state university system regents on aspects of One Florida that would eliminate race as a consideration in admissions. Bush has said he still expects regents to approve the plan Feb. 17.