Only Himself to Blame

The nomination of Daryl Jones to become Secretary of the Air Force may be dead, but his transmogrification into a martyr -- crucified on a Republican cross of racism -- is proceeding nicely. Indeed, the reaction to Jones's rejection by the Senate Armed Services Committee last week was both predictable and sad.

"It's very hard for me to understand why they rejected him," said U.S. Rep. Carrie Meek. "I hate to play the race card. But as I play all these things in my mind, race keeps coming back to the surface. The Republicans don't want to see the Clinton administration get a star African American in the cabinet right before the election."

State Rep. Beryl Roberts-Burke of Miami, chairwoman of the Conference of Black State Legislators, agreed, telling the St. Petersburg Times: "I wonder if they would have gone into that detail [of criticism against Jones] if he had not been black?"

This past Sunday Miami Herald political editor Tom Fiedler appeared ready to nominate Jones for sainthood. Fiedler was openly awestruck that Jones showed no signs of being embittered or angry. He noted that "Jones had accumulated a handful of nitpicking critics who, in the poisoned partisan climate that Washington, D.C., has become, were given a forum by the GOP-dominated committee to trash their former wingmate."

Fiedler then treated his readers to this priceless exchange:
I asked: Aren't you outraged by the petty allegations?
"Not at all," he replied. "I know the truth about who I am."

And he seemed sincere, a man at peace. I'd invited him for a beer. He ordered cranberry juice. "I'm driving," he explained, ever the straight arrow.

Also this past Sunday Jones appeared on Channel 10's This Week in South Florida. Michael Putney, the program's host, asked Jones why he thinks the committee rejected him. "I've pondered over that for some time," he answered. "And I've wondered what we could have done different to make a difference and I'm not sure that there was anything we could have done to make a difference."

How about this: You could have told the truth.
The questions about Jones's character were neither trivial nor petty, and if anyone at the Herald had ever taken the time to scrutinize him, his demise would not have come as such a shock.

The Herald wanted to see only Jones's good side, and there is a great deal in his life that is admirable. But there are serious flaws as well, and the way he dealt with them cost him the job as Secretary of the Air Force. I'll dwell on just two: the end of his flying career and the Dade County bond deal.

The Herald has never bothered to reprint this key exchange from Jones's June 16 confirmation hearing, but I don't mind doing so -- for the second time:

SEN. JOHN WARNER (R-Va.): And your statement to the committee was "I decided to relinquish the flying status." Is that correct?

JONES: That is correct.
WARNER: Now, prior to that decision, did any of your commanding officers or those who had responsibility to supervise you tell you that it was their decision that you were going to be relieved of flying status?

JONES: No, sir.
That was a lie. The moment Jones uttered those two words, his nomination was doomed. There were other problems with his testimony -- questions about whether he had tried to pressure enlisted men to buy Amway products, the number of hours he had actually flown, his unjustified receipt of flight pay -- but none of these would have resonated if it weren't for his lie when he answered Warner.

That response prompted the Armed Services Committee to hold an extraordinary nine-hour hearing July 16, in which Jones's former commanding officer, Col. Thomas Dyches, testified that Jones had misled the committee. Dyches made it perfectly clear he had indeed told Jones he was not going to allow him to fly any more because he had become a danger to himself and others. Jones could accept the decision, in which case Dyches would help him move into a job with the air force reserves, or he could fight it, in which case the matter would go to a review panel that could take his wings away permanently. Jack Connelly, a retired lieutenant colonel, also appeared before the senators and corroborated Dyches's version of events.

Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) tried to minimize the affair by saying it was a matter of semantics. He compared it to an employee who is given a chance to resign before being fired. Levin said when that employee applies for a job somewhere else, if he's asked, "Were you fired from your last job?" the employee can honestly answer "No."

Levin's analogy, however, asks the wrong question. The question should have been "Prior to resigning from your last job, were you told you were about to be fired?" If the person is honest and truthful, he would have to answer "Yes." And if you don't think truthfulness is a serious matter, ask Kelly Flinn, the air force's first female bomber pilot. The offense that ultimately caused her to be drummed out of the service wasn't sexual impropriety but the fact that she lied about it.

Worse for Jones, his was a stupid lie. All he had to do on June 16, in response to Warner's question, was acknowledge that Dyches had threatened to ground him. If Jones had done that, there never would have been a July 16 hearing in which his character was decimated and the bipartisan opposition to his nomination solidified.

So why didn't Jones tell the truth? Two reasons: arrogance and ego. Jones was arrogant enough to believe that nobody would challenge him, and his ego simply wouldn't allow him to admit that he had failed at something so miserably that his commanding officer had to threaten him with grounding in order to make him stop flying.

"I believe there are serious questions about Daryl Jones's personal integrity," Dyches testified on July 16. "I believe that service before self is a fundamental disconnect in Daryl's life. His life, in my opinion, is governed by his own personal goals. His actions speak to that, loud and clear."

Senators agreed. "We don't expect him to be perfect," said Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.), "but we do expect him to be honest."

Now the bond deal. In 1997 the county selected Douglas James Securities as an underwriter to sell $200 million in bonds to help finance expansion at Miami International Airport. The county's professional staff and financial advisers had recommended against using Douglas James, arguing that the small Miami Beach-based company had neither the experience nor the capital to guarantee successful completion of the deal. To alleviate these concerns, Craig James, founder of the securities firm, hired Jones to help persuade county commissioners to award the contract to Douglas James.

Forget about allegations that Jones's role as a lobbyist should have been disclosed in financial documents or that his political campaign contributions violated rules of the Securities and Exchange Commission, which is conducting an inquiry into the bond issue.

Look instead at the deal itself. During his testimony before the Armed Services Committee, Jones said he became involved in it because a larger company was trying to steal the business from Douglas James. "I was fairly miffed about this," Jones declared. "I didn't think it was right." Jones portrayed himself as being indignant that a small, minority-owned firm was being attacked and that he went to Douglas James's defense because he knew it was the right thing to do.

His righteous indignation certainly didn't get in the way of his raking in a $90,000 fee for meeting with county staff and various commissioners. He acknowledged he had nothing to do with pricing the bonds, marketing the bonds, or selling the bonds. He didn't draft or review any of the transaction's legal papers. All he did was lobby.

What made Jones the ideal lobbyist before the county commission? Perhaps it had something to do with his being a state senator in line to become Secretary of the Air Force; as the head of the air force, Jones would be in an ideal position to expedite the transfer of Homestead Air Force Base to Miami-Dade County -- a transfer commissioners have been seeking desperately.

Jones should have known that his actions would raise the specter of him trading on his name and political office for personal financial gain. His recklessness was striking, and once again betrayed his arrogance.

It also seems strange that, at a time when the Miami Herald has decided to unleash its own jihad against the evils of lobbying, Daryl Jones's actions would conveniently escape its attention. The Herald wanted Jones to be confirmed because it would enhance Miami's image. Those views are fine as long as they are confined to the editorial page. When they spill over to the manner in which Jones is covered -- or in this case not covered -- as a news story, the Herald is failing the community it is supposed to be serving.

On Friday I'll be participating in a panel discussion on government ethics hosted by the City of North Miami Beach. Others on the panel include U.S. District Court Judge William Hoeveler, Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle, U.S. Attorney Tom Scott, Miami-Dade County Manager Merrett Stierheim, and Robert Arnold Meyers, executive director of the newly created Miami-Dade County Commission on Ethics and Public Trust. The moderators: Tom Fiedler and Herald columnist Robert Steinback.

The symposium begins at 12:30 p.m. at the North Miami Beach Performing Arts Center, 17011 NE Nineteenth Ave. If you're interested in attending, call 305-948-2900.

These days we spend a lot of time talking about the ethics -- or lack of them -- manifested by our elected officials. That's good. But it's easy to condemn politicians caught on videotape stuffing money into their pockets in exchange for a vote on a particular contract.

The more challenging question: What should we do with a politician like Daryl Jones?

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