We have to distrust each other. It's our only defense against betrayal.
--Tennessee Williams

If I had never trusted Dennis DeConcini, things would never have gotten so bad. That's why it's so hard to be around him these days. You sense the aura of approaching doom.

His eyes are set deep in their sockets. He walks in a slouch, almost like a man in a trance. His shoulders seem perpetually slumped. There are no longer any signs of self-worth.

Dennis DeConcini is a beaten man. His failings as a senator have overwhelmed him. Derision dogs his every step. Those who do not scorn him revile him. The rest consider him a laughable figure.

DeConcini has broken every promise he ever made to the voters of Arizona. This includes the most important one of all. "I will not run for more than two terms," he once said proudly, "because that would put me out of touch with the voters back home."

Even DeConcini's termagant wife, Susan, who fell in love with the power of being "Mrs. Senator," has finally departed from his side. Their long marriage is over.

So Dennis must trudge this final and lonely campaign trail alone. It is like the last trip of a tired and crooked sheriff to a shoot-out in the town square. Everyone knows it will end for him in a slow ride to Boot Hill.

And DeConcini obviously realizes it, too. That's why he sold out last week on the budget. He can't stand to leave Washington, D.C., now. He will lose his job as senator, but President Clinton will surely appoint him to some face-saving, meaningless post. For Clinton, picking mediocrities is easy.

DeConcini's actual ratings with voters are much lower than the polls show. It would be considered an act of mercy for Richard Mahoney to run against DeConcini in the primary and defeat him. Anything to end the carnage.

Susan DeConcini endured the Charles Keating Senate hearings. She stood feisty at her husband's side, demonstrating the defiance of a Mafia wife.

She held the family together through that crisis, directing each member of the family where to sit to garner the most sympathetic attention from the media and the cameras. It was Susan who decided on which days Dennis would be handed a grandchild to fondle during an intermission for the television cameras.

Her brash show helped get DeConcini through the hearings. The Senate didn't expel him from his seat as it should have.

But his reputation was left in tatters. His pride was shattered. The man who has posed as a candidate for head of the FBI and a seat on the U.S. Supreme Court had been exposed as the cheapest of political hustlers.

The storm ended. It was assumed DeConcini would finish out his term and leave office. But then a surprising thing happened.

After the hearings were over, Susan waited a decent interval, then walked out on him and their decades-long marriage.

Most can understand why. Susan was tired of living with a public lie.
You see, in order to be around Dennis DeConcini, you must live with the fiction that he actually did contribute something important to this state by being in the United States Senate.

The truth is that he was always in the minus pool. He has been a joke from the start.

So when Dennis announced to Susan that he felt there was a genuine need for him to run for one more Senate term, Susan snorted. She voted instantly with her feet. She packed up her things and moved out of their home in McLain, Virginia.

Sing no sad songs for Susan. This is not one of those marriages where you have to worry about one partner being caught on the short end financially.

Both Dennis and Susan have more money salted away than either could spend in a lifetime--even if they had bought heavily into Keating's bogus bonds.

Susan took a walk because she knows better than anyone that there are no urgent calls for Dennis to run again. She knew there were no calls because she was the one who answered all the phone calls that counted.

So she knew that the only man calling was Earl Katz of Tucson, DeConcini's chief fund raiser and bagman. It was like the sound of one hand clapping.

Sure, Earl Katz wanted Dennis to run again. Katz remains convinced DeConcini's wonderful because DeConcini wangled Katz's son, Paul Katz, a seat on the Maricopa County Superior Court bench. Overnight, DeConcini turned an inexperienced lawyer into a sitting judge.

This is just one example of the magnificent things DeConcini accomplished for this state. Friends like Earl Katz were rewarded. Friends like Charlie Keating were protected. Ron Ober is another who wants DeConcini to run again. Don't ever forget Ron Ober. Slick Ron has been one of DeConcini's campaign managers off and on through all the senator's years in Washington, D.C. The only people following DeConcini these days are those still on his personal payroll. These are people who depend upon him for continued Washington employment. Their loyalty to DeConcini is the same as an employee of General Motors or IBM who wants the firm to stay in business.

So we watch DeConcini trudge through his desultory, trancelike television and radio appearances in places like Flagstaff and Sun City, wondering how he can stand it. How many times can he tell Pat McMahon that he feels he has done the honest thing?

There was once a time when DeConcini could hold his head up. He wasn't a genius, but, at least at the start, he didn't appear to be dishonest.

But greed took over. DeConcini used the information he gained in the Senate to work land deals that turned million-dollar-plus profits for his own pocket.

When people complained that he was making millions on inside information, he said with a grin: "But real estate is my family business." He never understood how dishonest that was.

Then he was bought by Keating. The two biggest purchases Keating made during his grab for power were the Phoenician resort and Dennis DeConcini.

So now, unfortunately, it seems DeConcini's entire stewardship in the U.S. Senate has been nothing more than a series of dirty little incidents.

In recent years, there have been only shame and embarrassment attached to his nonperformance as a United States Senator.

It is not easy to write these things about a man who clearly has some decent instincts. Dennis DeConcini is a good family man. He has never been known to be cruel to animals or children. It is only that the sum of his record is a study in mediocrity.

Dennis DeConcini is a politician making his final, obligatory run for an office he never deserved in the first place.

And now he does not even possess the strength and dignity to quit and walk off the stage without being given the hook.

@body:I remember the day DeConcini came to my house, telling me it was important that we talk. It was just after he had won election for his third term.

I told him it wasn't a good idea, but he insisted. A week later, he arrived at my front door with Susan at his side.

We sat down in the living room. DeConcini had assured me the meeting would be private. Ten minutes after it started, a DeConcini aide arrived. Obviously, the aide would sit in to serve as his witness.

DeConcini began going through a pile of papers, attempting to set me straight.
He wasn't in Keating's pocket, he insisted. In fact, Keating had never really given him money, but only raised it for him. We all now know how ridiculous that alibi was.

What grated on him most were references to the friendship of his father, a Tucson judge, with Joe Bonanno, the Tucson don who was the model for the Marlon Brando role in The Godfather.

"All we were told about Joe Bonanno," Dennis said plaintively, "was that he was a cheese maker from Wisconsin."
If the conversation had to run on this level, then it was obvious we could never have agreed. Maybe he was too sincere and I was too cynical.

Just when I thought the meeting was over, DeConcini turned to his wife and said: "And now my wife, Susan, would like to speak."

Susan DeConcini spoke with a fire that Dennis lacked. That wasn't surprising. She always assumed a more authoritative posture than he did.

"There's a difference between television and newspapers," she said. "It can be on television and then it's gone. But once it appears in newspapers, Dennis' enemies can keep reprinting it."
She hesitated:
"I do not accept errors," she said with great emphasis.

Then she spoke of the great damage wrought by repeated references to the DeConcini family's closeness to Bonanno and the Mafia.

As we walked toward the front door, Susan indicated a large, carved, wooden fish sitting on top of a coffee table that sat between us all during our talk.

"Did you put that fish there for a purpose?" she asked. She was not smiling.
I was puzzled. I didn't know what she meant. The wooden fish was a decoration sent by my sister-in-law as a Christmas present. I had never given it a thought.

Shortly after the DeConcinis' visit, I saw The Godfather again. There is a scene in which a large fish, wrapped in paper, is delivered to the family of Don Corleone.

A war is raging between the Mafia families. Luca Brazi, the muscle man for Don Corleone, has been garroted in a barroom by the other side.

"What does the dead fish mean?" someone asks in the film.
"It means that Luca Brazi sleeps with the fishes."
There is no need to wrap a dead fish these days to signal that Dennis DeConcini is dead. That funeral took place a long time ago.

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Tom Fitzpatrick