Reno's health magnified in governor's race after fainting spell


Thursday, January 31st 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6



MIAMI (AP) _ Janet Reno's fainting spell during a speech prompted concern Thursday among Democrats about her ability to run for governor and stirred fears that her Parkinson's disease might become a campaign issue.

The 63-year-old former attorney general is considered the front-runner among the Democrats vying to face Republican Gov. Jeb Bush. Reno has battled Parkinson's disease for seven years, and doctors have said repeatedly that it should not hamper her ability to campaign or serve as governor.

Reno had been speaking at a lectern for about 45 minutes at the University of Rochester when she collapsed Wednesday. She returned to Miami on Thursday after spending the night in a Rochester, N.Y., hospital.

``I feel great,'' Reno said, adding she is still ``gung-ho'' about running for governor.

Other Democrats seeking the nomination are lawyer Bill McBride, state Sen. Daryl Jones and state Rep. Lois Frankel. Frankel called the fainting a ``blip in the campaign'' but said Reno would need to address her health.

``She's going to have to answer the questions that anybody who's running for public office, anybody that's fainted or collapsed, would have to answer,'' Frankel said. ``What caused it? Is it life-threatening in any way and is it going to happen again?''

Bob Kerrigan, a Pensacola lawyer and Democratic fund-raiser, said he was concerned that Democrats have ``too many issues away from Jeb Bush.''

``We've got her health condition, things that took place during the Clinton administration that will be discussed as opposed to (Bush's) terrible, terrible record in Florida,'' Kerrigan said.

Reno has fainted at least twice before in public, in 1997 and 1998.

On Wednesday, she was unconscious less than a minute and suffered no injury, said Dr. John Franklin Richeson, who treated Reno at Strong Memorial Hospital. He noted that blood, heart and brain-scan tests all appeared normal.

``We discovered no link between the incident and her previously diagnosed Parkinson's disease,'' Richeson said. ``Other than her Parkinson's, we found Ms. Reno to be in excellent health.''

Dr. William Koller, an expert on Parkinson's at the University of Miami, said he believes the fainting spell was probably caused by exhaustion or dehydration.

``I highly doubt Parkinson's caused Reno's fainting spell,'' he said. He said Parkinson's can cause low blood pressure, but usually only after patients rise from a sitting position.

Parkinson's is a neurological disease that causes the progressive degeneration of brain neurons that control muscle movements. It causes Reno's hands and arms to shake.

An avid kayaker, Reno has said the disease has not stopped her from enjoying the outdoors and affects only her handwriting.

Lance de-Haven Smith, a Florida State University political scientist, said the images of Reno collapsing and lying behind the lectern would be difficult to shed by the September primary.

``She's got to be having some second thoughts about whether she can handle the rigors of the campaign because it hasn't even started yet,'' de-Haven Smith said.

After Wednesday's episode, Reno jokingly referred to the incident Jan. 13 in which President Bush passed out and suffered a bruise after choking on a pretzel: ``George Bush fainted. I don't have a bump on my cheek.''

In Miami, Gov. Bush noted that his father became ill during a trip to Japan, and said he had sent Reno a note of goodwill. ``I hope she makes a speedy recovery,'' he said.