DECONCINI'S DEAD END

The first time Dennis DeConcini left home it was to attend the University of San Francisco.

As a college undergraduate, he was a wealthy young man who quickly turned playboy in the big city. Poor grades and a plummeting checking account spelled it out. DeConcini's parents decided he was a flighty young man who couldn't be trusted to perform well so far from home.

They dragged him back to Tucson. He entered the University of Arizona, where they monitored his activities. Under their watchful eye, DeConcini settled down and managed to get through both college and law school.

In a way, you might say that DeConcini's life pattern is repeating itself now in Washington, D.C. He is too far from home and he has strayed from the path.

DeConcini, in his middle years, has become not only greedy but scatterbrained.

First, there were his duplicitous and self-enriching land deals. He was able to pull them off because of his insider's knowledge of government purchasing plans.

DeConcini enriched himself by millions of dollars in those deals. I find it amazing that they are now mostly forgotten.

And there has been his strange relationship with Charles Keating. Of all five senators in the savings-and-loan scandal with Keating, DeConcini's role is the most blameworthy.

Remember, it was DeConcini who called for the two meetings of the senators and the government regulators in his Senate office. It was DeConcini who went right down to the wire defending Keating. Until the end, DeConcini attempted to help Keating escape from the Lincoln Savings and Loan debacle by selling it off.

DeConcini now blithely insists he was merely trying to help a constituent. No one bothers to mention the fact that the Lincoln scandal occurred in California. It is a bad business.

Nothing DeConcini says in his own defense is convincing. The picture is clear. He blatantly allowed himself to become Keating's main man on Capitol Hill.

Unlike the others who will go before the Senate Ethics Committee in the days ahead, DeConcini never needed the $81,000 in campaign contributions he accepted from Keating. He is one of the richest men in the Senate.

In fact, those who defend DeConcini's infamous land deals offer a remarkable excuse. "Dennis has so much money," they say, "that he didn't need the few million bucks the land deals bought him. To Dennis, that was really small change."

DeConcini is reminiscent of the small-time embezzler who took "a grand here and a grand there and before anyone knew it you're talking about big money."

His career in the Senate is crumbling around him, but DeConcini continues to put up a brave front.

Recently, he emerged from a four- hour session with the Senate Ethics Committee to announce bravely:

"I wouldn't run an obituary for Dennis DeConcini if I decide to run again. I am confident the truth will prevail and I have confidence the committee will exonerate me."

Here is a man whose political viability ended six months ago. He is a dead man who refuses to fall down.

You might compare him to George Raft playing Guido Rinaldo in the classic gangster film Scarface.

In one of the most famous scenes in film history, Guido stands mortally wounded in his silk bathrobe, defiantly flipping a half-dollar piece as the final seconds of his life ebb away.

It has been said that it's easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to get into heaven.

For DeConcini, one of Arizona's richest men, it will be easier for him to pass through the gates of heaven than to win another election.

What is there left for him to cherish now? Perhaps he can take great satisfaction from the letter he received from Brad Boland, Keating's son-in-law:

"The Keating family will never forget those who have helped us. You too have been on the firing line and have taken an awful lot of criticism for your unselfish efforts in trying to prevent this travesty from taking place."

Boland was referring to the seizure of Lincoln Savings and Loan on April 14, 1989.

We could feel compassion for DeConcini, but he's still professing his innocence. He places the blame at the feet of his accusers.

"It's a great disappointment that I should have to go through this," he says. "This is something I'll have to address when I have to raise $4 million to campaign in 1994.

He is still talking a good game. But deep inside, Dennis DeConcini must realize that he's a political dead man.

His Keating connection has turned him into an outcast. DeConcini's reputation for integrity as a lawmaker is akin to that of the captain of the good ship Exxon Valdez as a navigator.

Wherever he goes, the memory of Keating and the savings-and-loan scandal stalks him. People he encounters are polite in deference to his position as a senior senator.

The fact that they don't bring up the Keating case to his face must be more and more unnerving as time goes by.

His appearance before the Ethics Committee will be an ordeal. Even if he escapes, his departure from Washington is inevitable.

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