News Column

Miami's Marco Rubio Becomes New Florida Senator

January 7, 2011

Lesley Clark


Miami Republican Marco Rubio became Florida's newest senator just before 12:30 p.m. Wednesday in a ceremony rich with tradition -- and in a town brimming with friends and supporters.

Florida's senior Sen. Bill Nelson, in Senate tradition, accompanied Rubio as he walked down the center aisle of the Senate to take the oath of office. Also standing behind Rubio as he took the oath: former Florida Sen. Mel Martinez, a fellow Cuban-American whom Rubio is replacing after former Sen. George LeMieux temporarily filled in.

A serious Rubio, wearing a red, polka-dotted tie, briefly looked up as Vice President Joe Biden -- sitting as the president of the Senate -- administered the oath at 12:28 p.m. He carried a Bible and later smiled as he signed a swearing-in document.

Earlier Wednesday, Rubio met with reporters in his temporary Senate office -- a bare bones cubicle in the basement of a Senate office building -- and laughed off the hype that has accompanied his arrival in Washington D.C.

"It's a circus, you guys are part of the circus," Rubio said. "You understand, the stuff people talk about. They'll talk about somebody else next week. I'm here to be the United States senator from Florida and the best senator I can. I mean that, that's what I ran for, that's what I want to be."

He said the high expectations -- that he's vice presidential or even presidential material -- isn't affecting his job: "My expectations are very straightforward, I ran because I told people I want to be the U.S. Senator from Florida because I believe this country is headed in the wrong direction. I think both parties are to blame. I want to go to Washington DC . . . and offer a clear alternative. That's what I ran on, that's what I'm going to be for the next six years."

On the eve of the ceremony, Rubio basked Tuesday night in congratulatory hugs and kisses from a crowd that hailed from across the state -- with a decided emphasis on South Florida.

In attendance at "Florida House," the state's Capitol Hill embassy: Eduardo H. Muhina, the current mayor of West Miami -- where Rubio got his start -- and two former mayors, along with former Florida House Republicans Gaston Cantens and Carlos Lacasa of Miami.

"I look forward to walking down the aisle with you tomorrow," Rubio told Nelson, to laughter. He pledged to work with Nelson, a Democrat, on Florida issues, but cautioned the crowd: "After all the pomp and circumstance is over, we have a lot of hard work ahead of us."

He singled out three individuals as "key" to his success: his wife, Jeanette, and two other Miamians -- former West Miami Mayor Rebeca Sosa and Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Miami.

It was Ros-Lehtinen, he said, who "allowed me to work in her office as an intern back in 1991." And Sosa, he said, was West Miami mayor "when I knocked on her door in late December 1997 and asked her if she would help me run for the city commission.

"She helped me, I won and look what it's gotten us," said Rubio, whom the Washington Post dubbed one of the top 10 new senators to watch.

Rubio isn't the only Floridian already drawing cameras: Tea Party favorite Allen West early Tuesday became one of the first Republicans to join the heavily Democratic Congressional Black Caucus. He took his place right after Miami Democrat Rep. Frederica Wilson, who replaces former Rep. Kendrick Meek. Both new members were sworn in at noon, along with Miami Republican Rep. David Rivera.

West took the oath accompanied by former Rep. Clay Shaw, who had represented West's Broward/Palm Beach district before former Rep. Ron Klein, a Democrat, ousted Shaw in 2006. Wilson did not wear her signature cowboy hats, though a staffer carried one -- red and glittery -- by hand into the ceremony.

Rubio, who has sought to keep a low profile, rolled out his first wave of hires on Tuesday, including chief policy advisor and legislative director Sally Canfield, a former lobbyist at Sanofi-Aventis U.S. and a former senior program officer in the Global Health Division of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

He also named a number of aides with close ties to Washington, Tallahassee and several presidential campaigns, including his Senate campaign communications director, Alex Burgos, who was director of specialty media for former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney's 2008 presidential campaign.

Source: Copyright (c) 2011, The Miami Herald

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