PALM BEACH COUNTY, Fla. - Palm Beach County's top prosecutor will not seek re-election. That surprise announcement by Michael McAuliffe is setting off a scramble among those with an eye on the suddenly wide-open State Attorney's race this year.
McAuliffe is turning his back on a campaign he already had up and running in favor of a job in the private sector. The personal decision may have a very public impact.
"The family makes all the difference in the end," he said during a news conference sitting beside Palm Beach County Sheriff Ric Bradshaw. "You do what's in your best interests and the interests of your family."
McAuliffe found himself in the spotlight many times since he was elected in 2008. Often, he appeared publicly alongside Bradshaw; a partnership the pair says lead to a crackdown on gangs, drugs, and corruption.
McAuliffe, though, received much public criticism after dropping charges against two West Palm Beach police officers in a 2008 beating case that was caught on tape. He was also criticized for sparing Paul Michael Merhige the death penalty after Merhige was convicted of murdering four of his relatives on Thanksgiving in 2009.
"People say it's sort of a no win position because there are people who are saying you're not tough enough and people who are saying you are too tough," said NewsChannel 5 legal analyst Michelle Suskauer.
McAuliffe said it was always his intent to return to the private sector. Soon, he will join Oxbow Carbon - a coal producer - as an executive and an attorney. Oxbow Corporation was founded in 1983 and is based in West Palm Beach. The company mines and markets coal, natural gas, and petroleum and distributes the materials in North America and globally.
The transition to his new job could come before McAuliffe's term is finished, meaning the governor would have to appoint an interim State Attorney in Palm Beach County.
"It really is about me and a professional future and an opportunity that presented itself," said McAuliffe.