Janet Reno, the first female U.S. Attorney General, has died at the age of 78. Reno suffered from Parkinson’s Disease which had been diagnosed in November 1995. Reno died at her home in Miami, Florida. Reno, a native of the Sunshine State, spent eight years as the attorney general of the United States during the Clinton Administration. During that time Reno made controversial decisions including the botched federal raid of the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas in 1993. The long siege involved hundreds of military and law-enforcement officers and left the compound in flames. The Branch Davidian’s leader, David Koresh, and 75 others died, one-third of which were children.
Reno also made the key decision in 2000 in the emotional return of Elián González, the 6-year-old Cuban boy who was found floating on an inner tube off Florida’s coast. González’s mother and 10 others drowned while trying to reach the United States from Cuba by small boat. The decision about what to do with the young boy sparked major controversy with the Cuban exiles in South Florida. They wanted González to stay in the U.S. because of their opposition to Cuba’s leader, Fidel Castro.
Reno took full responsibility for both controversial actions.
Early in 2001, after her term ended as Attorney General, Reno returned to Florida. In 2002 she made an unsuccessful run for governor. She was trying to unseat Governor Jeb Bush. She decided to name her campaign after a red pickup truck she had purchased. She traveled across Florida with her “Red Truck Campaign.”
One of her campaign stops was in Gainesville. After touring an after-school program for young African American girls she gave a campaign speech downtown at what is now known as the “Bo Diddley Plaza.” The late Bo Diddley even performed and changed up his famous guitar riff to include lyrics about Reno.
In 2002 Alachua County Commissioner Dave Newport introduced Janet Reno to the crowd.
After the rally at the downtown plaza in Gainesville Reno talked briefly with Donna Green-Townsend about whether her eight-year tie to the Clinton Administration would help or hurt her campaign given Bill Clinton’s sex scandal with White House Intern Monica Lewinsky.
Reno also gave another short press conference during her campaign stop in Gainesville where she outlined her priorities if elected as Florida’s governor and also addressed the issue of whether it would help her campaign if Bill Clinton would give his support to her campaign.
According to the New York Times, under Reno the Justice Department initiated prosecutions in the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center and in the 1995 bombing of the Oklahoma City federal building, helping to lay the groundwork for the pursuit of terrorists in the 21st century.
Under Reno the agency also prosecuted spies like the C.I.A. mole Aldrich H. Ames; it filed an antitrust suit against Microsoft, a milestone in the new-technology era; and it sued the tobacco industry to reclaim federal health care dollars spent on treating illnesses caused by smoking.
Before accepting the position of U.S. Attorney General, Janet Reno held positions in Florida as general counsel to the Judiciary Committee of the Florida House of Representatives and prosecuting attorney for the state attorney’s office in Dade County. In 1978 she was named by then governor Reuben Askew as an interim state attorney, the first woman to hold the position in Florida.