The spinster called to bury nannygate

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The Independent Online
Washington - President Bill Clinton appears to have ended three weeks of turmoil over who should head the Justice Department by nominating Janet Reno, a Miami prosecutor, as attorney- general, writes Patrick Cockburn.

Unlike Zoe Baird and Kimba Wood, whose candidacies foundered because they had hired illegal immigrants to help with their children, Ms Reno is unmarried. She is also a proven vote-winner, having been re-elected to her job five times.

As a liberal Democrat from the largely Republican Dade County, Ms Reno has survived as state attorney for 15 years through race riots, political corruption and the growth of the drug cartels. She heads one of the largest prosecutors' offices in the nation, with 238 lawyers and a dollars 33m ( pounds 23m) annual budget.

'Too often, I think when you go to Washington you sometimes forget the communities and neighbourhoods of America,' Ms Reno said on Friday after returning from the capital. 'I think I have an understanding and experience of the day-to-day life of America - the problems, the frustration, the crime, the youth gangs, the violence that threads its way through all of America.'

Although personally opposed to the death penalty she has asked for it as prosecutor some 90 times. A workaholic who is know to take a sleeping bag to the office, she is described as a person of ramrod integrity.

The daughter of Henry Reno, a Danish immigrant who was for 40 years crime reporter for the Miami Herald, she was brought up on a remote farm in the swamplands of the Everglades and grew up with a love of nature. Her mother Jane liked to hunt and wrestle alligators.

Ms Reno said her trip back from Washington reinforced her desire to protect the environment. 'It was really something as the plane started to descend, to look out across that ocean and then to look west across Florida and see blue skies still existing,' she said. 'There are a number of areas where the environment is endangered, and I want to do what I can to vigorously enforce environmental efforts.'

Even Ms Reno's critics have weighed in strongly on her behalf. 'For a prosecutor, I think that she is honest, intelligent, qualified and competent and would make a good attorney-general,' said Jeffrey Weiner, a Miami lawyer and longtime opponent. 'She has much more respect for the Bill of Rights than any of the Bush or Reagan appointees, so finally there is some real potential.'

Ms Reno, 52, was first elected Florida state attorney in 1978. The only real blemish on her long career was in 1980 when she failed to win a conviction against four white Dade County police officers who had beaten to death a black insurance man, setting off severe rioting in the black section of Miami.

She referred to the setback at her Friday airport press conference. 'I've had the hard experiences with dealing with riots, with dealing with urban problems, and I think I can translate that into some national policies that I hope can be effective for local government.'

Since then she has been criticised for turning over too many contentious cases, particularly those involving police brutality, to federal prosecutors.

(Photograph omitted)