tampabay.com

Newly sworn-in Cabinet is already a bipartisan effort

By JENNIFER LIBERTO and ALEX LEARY
Published January 3, 2007


TALLAHASSEE - With a knee-length cherry-red coat, a lilting Carolina accent and a hardened pledge to give new meaning to fiscal responsibility, Alex Sink stole the role of co-star of Tuesday's inaugural festivities.

Sink, 58, of Thonotosassa was sworn in as the state's first female chief financial officer and the highest-elected Democrat in state office. The retired banker is beginning her first tour of duty in the public sector.

Also, Bill McCollum, 62, a Republican from Longwood, was sworn in as attorney general. McCollum was a longtime congressman who ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate twice before. Charles "Chuck" Bronson, 57, also took his oath, returning as commissioner of the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

People may remember the swearing-in of Sink, a retired banker, for the moment that came after she concluded her oath, when family friend and Jacksonville Circuit Judge Charles Arnold turned to Sink's husband, 2002 Democratic gubernatorial candidate Bill McBride, and said: "Mr. McBride, you may kiss the chief financial officer."

"Alex, you look beautiful, welcome to Tallahassee," said Laura Arnold, a Tallahassee resident and former Tampa resident who hugged Sink warmly, as she walked from the Governor's Mansion toward the Capitol, after the inaugural parade.

Sink has pledged to review privatized contracts, with an eye toward accountability and performance measures. She has also been wading through different insurance reform initiatives in the runup to the special session in two weeks.

Sink got a nod during Gov. Charlie Crist's inaugural speech, when he vowed to work with her to fix the state's property insurance crisis.

"I think we're going to work very well together," Sink said after the ceremony. "I've been in banking for 30 years, surrounded by Republicans, so what's new?"

Sink's evening party, the only one open to the public, abruptly became the big to-do in Tallahassee after Crist canceled his inaugural ball planned for the same evening. Sink's event was at the University Center Club at Florida State University and offered a cash bar, coffee and dessert.

The doors opened at 8 p.m. with a television projecting the Orange Bowl football game on a giant screen, a priority for Sink, whose alma mater, Wake Forest University, played.

Sink's daylong festivities totaled about $210,000, said her inauguration treasurer, Richard Swann. Contributions were capped at $5,000, with donations coming from the same people, companies and lobbyists who gave to her campaign, with one caveat: Sink vowed to decline contributions from an insurance company that she now regulates.

McCollum's inauguration festivities came to about $15,000 to $20,000, with the Republican Party of Florida picking up the tab.

Both Sink and McCollum rode in the inaugural parade, then McCollum headed to the Governor's Club for a reception. When McCollum entered, dozens of supporters looked up from plates of shrimp and fresh sliced roast beef and broke into applause.

"Hello, general," said Mike Wells, Pasco County property appraiser and a longtime friend of McCollum.

"He brings an extraordinary knowledge of government and a bucketful of personal ethics," Wells said. "The state should be tickled to have him as attorney general."

McCollum said his top priority is to increase the size of the Child Predator CyberCrime Unit to 50 investigators from five. "I'm hoping legislators will give us those resources," he said.

McCollum wants to establish task forces on elder abuse and crime in each of the 20 judicial circuits. And McCollum is seeking to upgrade the office's technology.

Like Crist, whom he succeeds, McCollum has ties to the Tampa Bay area. He was born in Brooksville and graduated from Hernando High in 1962. He represented Central Florida in Congress for 20 years.

Sink held an open house from 3 to 5 p.m. at her offices in the Capitol, and a mix of supporters and employees packed her hallways, sipping tea and munching on cookies.