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Public service for Romney

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Mitt Romney won't return to the business world after the 2002 Winter Games but instead will pursue public service, possibly elected office.

Romney, who made the announcement Monday, declined to say whether he intends to seek office either in Utah or Massachusetts, where he was managing partner and CEO of Bain Capital. He said he would not return to the venture capital firm as originally planned.

"I can't rule anything out," Romney, a Republican, said when asked what type of public service he intended to pursue. "It may be something I run for. It may be something I'm asked to do. It may be something I volunteer for."

For example, Romney said he may devote more time to the Points of Light Foundation. He serves as vice chairman of the volunteer recognition organization created by former President George Bush. But he also wouldn't rule out taking another run for a political office. He unsuccessfully challenged Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., in 1994 and has been mentioned as a possible candidate for Massachusetts governor.

"There's tugs in both directions, both Utah and Massachusetts. The kids and grandkids are increasingly in Utah. But the snow, the horses and the mountain are here," he said.

Romney, 54, was a golden boy of Massachusetts politics in the early 1990s when he ran against Kennedy and made a good showing.

Romney was seen as a moderate candidate, and there has been recent controversy about any office he may seek in conservative Utah because of his stands on abortion. Romney says he is, and has been, pro-life, although he was described as less-than-an-ardent pro-life candidate in that race.

Romney was upset over some of the newspaper accounts of his abortion stands this summer, calling reporters to "set the record straight" about his pro-life credentials.

Monday, Utah House Speaker Marty Stephens, R-Farr West, who has often been named as a possible gubernatorial candidate in 2004, said he is a bit surprised that Romney is making statements about his future now.

"No one would run a 3 1/2-year campaign for any office in Utah. I'm surely not, and I imagine Mitt is not either," said Stephens. He said Romney's stand on abortion could well be an issue in any GOP contest in the state but that various interpretations of his abortion stands in his Massachusetts Senate race "may not preclude him" from seeking any office in Utah.

GOP Gov. Mike Leavitt is just starting his third four-year term. Leavitt could, under Utah's current term-limit law, run for a fourth term in 2004. But he would almost surely be challenged within the Republican Party.

Stephens, who sits on SLOC's executive board, said Romney has "done a fine job in running the Olympics" and would likely be considered a viable candidate for high office in Utah in the future.

Although Romney continues to maintain a home in the Boston area, he and his wife have been living in their Deer Valley vacation home since Romney took over as Salt Lake Organizing Committee president in early 1999.

Romney said reports that he was reaping a "huge windfall" by selling his interests in Bain Capital were not true. He founded the firm in 1984, and today it has over $12 billion in assets.

Although he has been touted as a likely candidate in next year's Massachusetts gubernatorial race, Romney said again Monday he will not challenge a fellow Republican. The current governor, Jane Swift, a new mother of twins, was lieutenant governor when she assumed the top spot after the Bush administration named GOP Gov. Paul Cellucci as ambassador to Canada.

Romney took a leave of absence in 1999 as chief executive officer of Bain Capital Inc. to take the helm at SLOC.

Bain is one of the nation's biggest private equity firms with 26 partners.

Earlier this year, Huntsman Corp. announced a deal in which Bain invested more than $600 million in the Salt Lake City-based chemical company.

Under terms of the deal, Bain gained a minority equity stake in Huntsman Corp., which assured the deal had nothing to do with Romney.

E-MAIL: lisa@desnews.com ; bbjr@desnews.com

Contributing: Max Knudson