FOR DECONCINI, POLITICS WAS AN ENRICHING EXPERIENCE
It seemed a flawless setting. Dennis DeConcini visualized this as his final great moment in Arizona politics.
Such presumption was not surprising. Over the years, the senior senator's opinion of himself has been inflated in direct correlation to the swelling of his bank account.
He was fresh from a single term as Pima County attorney and was a man of modest academic accomplishments when he entered the United States Senate back in 1976.
It was an upset. No one expected that he would beat Congressman Sam Steiger, but the religious right had done a terrific job dirtying Steiger. DeConcini surprised everyone by sneaking in.
Now, 17 years later, DeConcini had worn out his welcome. His wife had walked out on him. The voters had grown to detest him. And so he was forced to announce his departure.
Only now, DeConcini had the consolation of knowing he had become one of the very richest members of the United States Senate.
So the tree-shaded courtyard outside DeConcini's political headquarters on Roosevelt seemed perfect. It was such a simple setting. It would be so picturesque on television, almost like a scene from a history book with Washington or Jefferson.
There, in the center of the screen, would be the beloved senator surrounded by his devoted office staff and close friends. It would be duly noted by those marvelous lightweights, Kent Dana, Patti Kirkpatrick and June Thomson.
The crowd gathered early. Political crowds always do. They desire more than anything to see and be seen. They must huddle. They must gather and disseminate expertise.
And why not get there early? In politics, you never know when you'll make a valuable contact. So they all stood there in the courtyard talking softly. They even mingled with the press. Who knows when one of them will give you some good ink?
High on the pecking order was the grizzled, still-eloquent lawyer John P. Frank. As usual, Frank sported his trademark bow tie. Long ago, he played a role in the famous Miranda decision of the U.S. Supreme Court. Frank has never let anyone forget that.
John Frank and Janet Napolitano helped to guide Anita Hill through the rocky shoals of the Clarence Thomas hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee. DeConcini, who was on that panel, voted against Frank that time. But he made Napolitano U.S. Attorney.
Aggressive Melody Jackson, with a name like a gospel singer but the hard instincts of the political animal, moved through the crowd in an electric-blue dress, pumping hands and exchanging what in these circles pass for witticisms.
And there was DeConcini's older brother, Evo, wearing a weird, wide-brimmed hat and hanging with both arms onto a branch of a tree. Evo, the brains of the family, has been in several key real estate deals with Dennis. He is also a multimillionaire.
DeConcini's late father had been Democratic party chairman and a state Supreme Court judge as well as a good friend of Joe Bonanno, the inspiration for The Godfather, when Bonanno took up residence in Tucson.
@body:Dennis DeConcini came through the front door of his office with his shoulders hunched over. He went directly to the microphones.
There was a ripple of applause. DeConcini looked out at the crowd and gave a forlorn wave. He did not look well. In fact, he looked awful.
He has lost weight. He wore an ill-fitting suit and a striped shirt with a collar two sizes too large.
And when he began to speak, his voice caught. The words came out sounding both bitter and spiteful at the same time.
"Quite frankly," DeConcini said, "I've had enough of it. I don't blame anybody for that, but I have just had enough of all the BS . . ."
He was supposedly talking about fund raising, but he was also talking about everything else, too.
"People ask me why I put myself through it. I ask myself that question, too," he said. "This might sound boastful, but I'm good at it."
Of course he's good at it. But Earl Katz, his chief fund raiser, is actually better at it. And DeConcini made Earl Katz's son a judge to thank the father for his expertise and energy in that area.
Of course, fund raising is hard for DeConcini now. People don't give money to candidates they know won't win.
And that's the category in which DeConcini's dealings with Charlie Keating placed him.
But still it was shocking that a man who had a free ride of three terms in the United States Senate and grown so prosperous in the process would bow out this way.
The key to DeConcini's resentment is, of course, that he wasn't leaving of his own volition. Obviously, he had been given notice to announce his decision now if he wanted any kind of appointment from the White House in the future.
He has already bought a farm in Virginia. His future is on the Potomac. He hasn't owned a home in Arizona for years.
During this farewell, DeConcini went out of his way to attack Arizona Secretary of State Richard Mahoney, who has had the temerity to announce he might run against DeConcini in the primary.
In fact, DeConcini opened his remarks with a tasteless, bullying crack directed at Mahoney.
"Thank you," he said. "I'm here to announce that I'm going to run for Secretary of State in 1994."
The remark was greeted only by nervous laughter.
But DeConcini wasn't finished with Mahoney.
"I've been a friend of his family for years," he said. "His sister has worked for me for 17 years and still does. I don't think he'd be a strong candidate, and I don't think I could vote for him."
DeConcini was talking about a political foe who is, practically speaking, without funds. The elephant was stomping a mouse.
Here was DeConcini leaving the Senate with a fortune estimated at $25 million and still he is bitter enough to take shots at the little people on his way out the door.
In reality, DeConcini managed a greater profit from real estate deals made while in the Senate than Keating did wheeling and dealing here and in California. The only difference is DeConcini gets to keep his.
And now DeConcini can't stand the realization that voters view him as a self-serving conniver.
There were reporters in the courtyard from all the daily newspapers, as well as the television and radio stations. Many stood to the left of the speaking lectern, where the microphones had been set up for DeConcini to speak. They were lined up, notebooks in hand, like soldiers ready for inspection.
When DeConcini finished, the questions were all disappointingly respectful.
No one asked why his wife walked out on him or why he didn't just smile and admit he succeeded in ripping off this state's taxpayers for more money than any other senator in state history.
No one asked why he groveled so enthusiastically before men like Charlie Keating throughout his entire time in Washington.
Nor did anyone inquire as to the actual reason he voted to put Clarence Thomas, that incompetent, bullying sexist, on the Supreme Court of the United States.
Nobody asked questions like that. Here in Arizona, that's not considered to be gentlemanly behavior.
But still, DeConcini moved away from the microphones and into his office at the end convinced he'd been ill-treated by the press.
You would think this star turn ended it for DeConcini. No, it was just the beginning.
For the next two days, he made the rounds of the television and radio stations, repeating the lie that he was quitting because he was tired of the mess in Washington.
And nobody ever said a mumbling word to contradict him. Nobody ever told the emperor he had no clothes.
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