Secretary of Limbo

The most notable example of Jones's poor attitude, Estis and others say, was his response to a critical evaluation prepared in March 1990 by his commander, Maj. Thomas Dyches. According to service records obtained by New Times, Jones penned a three-page letter to Dyches's commanding officer rebutting each of the criticisms. In military culture such an action is almost unheard of, Estis notes.

Jones suggested he was being treated differently because he is black. He wrote that he believes "the standard required of Daryl Jones (perhaps unconsciously imposed) is much higher. I do not object to this. Such has been the case throughout my life. I was naive to expect any different treatment here."

The personnel file shows that Dyches responded with his own memo. "I was very concerned about what I perceived as a very thinly veiled accusation of racial discrimination, contained in the concluding remarks of his letter, and I told Daryl so," Dyches wrote. "I asked him if he really believed that my actions were based on racial prejudice. He was very evasive, and wouldn't give me a direct answer. I told him that I refused to be put on the defensive by such remarks, and that if he had the slightest doubt about my integrity as an instructor pilot, he should go directly to the [inspector general] and file a formal complaint. He said that he didn't think that would be called for. My opinion is that Daryl is trying to use the threat of a racial discrimination incident or action as a lever to get what he wants. He hopes to intimidate me and possibly others by having this threat hanging over my head."

As these records were made public, members of the Armed Services Committee have become increasingly wary of Jones's nomination. Some senators on the committee found it troubling that members of Jones's own flying unit were questioning his fitness for command. In January the committee asked the FBI to reopen its background investigation of Jones. This second review (the first was completed last summer) was concluded in February. The material -- which is confidential and included interviews with nearly everyone Jones flew with at Homestead -- was forwarded to the Senate.

In mid-February Jones told New Times his confirmation hearing was scheduled for February 25. But that was postponed because the senators wanted more time to review the second background report, according to DeCrosta, the committee spokesman.

Now the committee is waiting for information regarding the Dade County bond deal. "There has been more negative information about this nominee than most of the others we deal with," says one Republican staffer who asked not to be identified. The staffer adds that given these problems, there is no sense of urgency to schedule a hearing for Jones, who, if confirmed, would be the first black Secretary of the Air Force.

To avoid allegations of racism, opponents of Jones on the committee may decide to postpone his nomination indefinitely rather than publicly scrutinize his past during a confirmation hearing. "I think most members of the committee thought we would have dealt with Jones's nomination by now," says another staffer. "Now we don't know.

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