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With diplomat in governor's race, lawyer bows out

Orlando lawyer Jim Bacchus decides to remain with the World Trade Organization.


© St. Petersburg Times, published May 24, 2001

Orlando lawyer Jim Bacchus decides to remain with the World Trade Organization.

And then there were nine.

Pete Peterson's decision to resign his ambassadorship to Vietnam and return to Florida to prepare to run for governor prompted Orlando lawyer Jim Bacchus on Wednesday to take himself off the list of potential Democratic candidates.

Other Democrats considering a run for governor next year may soon follow Bacchus.

Tallahassee Mayor Scott Maddox said he will decide in 30 days whether to enter the race.

"I think Pete's an outstanding public servant," said Maddox, who shares Peterson's North Florida background. "I think right now the cast of characters is changing and will continue to change for the next several months."

In less than a week, Democrats have become energized about their chances of upsetting incumbent Republican Gov. Jeb Bush.

Former U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno's surprise interest in the race has been the talk of politicians and activists around the state and the country. Peterson's decision to resign his ambassadorship July 15 and return to Tallahassee to organize a campaign for governor added to the excitement.

"I enjoy watching this from the sidelines," said Attorney General Bob Butterworth, who is not expected to run but has not ruled himself out. "We have very, very good people who are very experienced and well-credentialed to talk on these issues."

Among the other Democrats considering a run for governor: U.S. Rep. Jim Davis of Tampa; state House Minority Leader Lois Frankel of West Palm Beach; Broward Sheriff Ken Jenne; state Sen. Daryl Jones of Miami; and Tampa lawyer Bill McBride, managing partner of Holland & Knight.

In Washington, a State Department spokesman on Wednesday confirmed Peterson's decision to resign and praised the former congressman's four years of service as ambassador to Vietnam.

"Ambassador Peterson contributed enormous personal energy to the normal relations with Vietnam, beginning with the issue of American personnel missing in action during the Vietnam War and culminating with the signing last July of the bilateral trade agreement," spokesman Philip Reeker said.

Bacchus, an appellate judge with the World Trade Organization, said in an interview from Geneva on Wednesday that he and Peterson have been talking about the governor's race for months. The two men shared an apartment in Washington when they were in Congress together in the early 1990s.

"He's my hero," Bacchus said of Peterson, a former prisoner of war. "Democrats want a winner, and Pete is a winner."

Instead of running for governor, Bacchus said he intends to serve out his term as an appellate judge at the World Trade Organization, which ends in 2003. Bacchus will become the chief judge later this year.

In Tallahassee, Maddox also considers Peterson a longtime friend. But few party activists believe there is enough room in the race for two North Florida Democrats.

- Times staff writer John Balz contributed to this report.

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