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Jones' charisma draws admirers on campaign

Published November 3, 2006


At campaign stops throughout the state, Daryl Jones exudes the kind of cool, confident presence that inspires clapping and whistling fans and groupie-like gatherings.

The Miami Democrat is running for lieutenant governor alongside Jim Davis, a Tampa congressman running for governor.

At a recent campaign stop in Tallahassee, meant to encourage early voting, Jones star-struck Tallahassee city Commissioner Andrew D. Gillum, a political presence in his own right. In 2003, Gillum was the youngest man, at 23, to be elected to serve on the commission.

"Who you going to vote for?" Jones asked Gillum, as the commissioner trotted off to early vote.

"Daaaaryl Jones," Gillum said with a big grin. "Oh, and Jim Davis too."

In appearances with Davis, Jones connects with voters in a more casual manner. He jokes around more. At public events, his suit jacket is often unbuttoned. Davis' jacket is always buttoned, all the way.

Friends, political supporters and opponents agree that Daryl Jones exhibits a natural charisma and charm that Davis strives for.

The oldest of four children born to two teachers, Jones grew up in Jackson, Miss., during the civil rights movement. At a young age, his parents instilled in him the importance of education, which Jones thinks is the most important issue of this governor's race. It's the issue he talks about most on campaign stops.

"Because you can't do worse than we're doing, because we take away the future of the kids of our nation by doing what we're doing," Jones said in an interview with the St. Petersburg Times.

Jones, 51, has excelled in most everything he's done. He was valedictorian of his high school class, won a middleweight boxing crown during his Air Force Academy years, and was president of the Student Bar Association at the University of Miami, where he got his law degree.

He was the first African-American from Mississippi to attend any U.S. military academy. He was the first African-American to be nominated for Air Force secretary. He would have been the first African-American governor in Florida (he ran in 2002) and would be Florida's first lieutenant governor of that race.

"He's the type of person who looks at a challenge as an opportunity masked in work clothes. And that's really the beauty of Daryl Jones," said Miami Circuit Judge Beth Bloom, who went to law school with Jones.

He met his wife, Myoushi, while stationed in the Philippines. They have three kids: Derek, Durel and Michele.

In 1981, Capt. Jones became a flight teacher at Homestead Air Force base in Miami. He decided to stay, and earned his law degree from Miami in 1987.

In 1990, Jones was elected to the state House, then went on to serve in the Senate for a decade.

Like Davis, Jones is generally considered a moderate. The highlights of his legislative career include securing money to help South Florida recover after Hurricane Andrew and persuading colleagues to pay $2-million in reparations to the survivors of the 1923 racial massacre at Rosewood, a black town destroyed by a white mob.

He also took some unexpected stands. In one, he agreed to head a task force to investigate inequities in public school funding, signaling his support of Bush's controversial plan to do away with some affirmative action policies.

Later, under pressure from constituents and other lawmakers, Jones changed his mind and stepped down from the task force.

Jones' reputation survived a tough 1998 U.S. Senate committee hearing in which members refused to confirm him as President Clinton's Air Force secretary. The vote was 9-9.

Jones and his supporters say partisan politics fueled the questions about his military record, including whether he was a reckless pilot and whether he had pressured underlings to buy Amway products.

Undaunted, Jones gained notoriety again when he made his last political run for governor in a rough 2002 Democratic primary, in which Janet Reno and Bill McBride battled. Jones received about 11.6 percent of the vote, winning respect for his aggressive attacks on Bush education policies.

When he wasn't working as a politician, Jones spent most of his working career as a lawyer. After his failed gubernatorial bid, he returned to law for two more years at Adorno & Yoss law firm in Miami, and left on good terms, according to his boss, George Yoss. "He's welcome back," Yoss said.

In 2004, he gave up the law to start a few companies, which allowed him to spend more time with his family, Jones said.

In one, he sells legal insurance policies for Pre-Paid Legal Services Inc., a publicly traded company that has recently settled hundreds of lawsuits accusing it of deceptive trade practices. In another business, Jones puts together real estate deals, leasing homes to people with bad credit who want to become homeowners.

Jones has served in the military for 29 years and is now a colonel in the Air Force Reserve. He's the top reservist in the Air War College at Maxwell Air Force base and is awaiting word whether he'll make general. "The one quality I learned from him is that if you say you're going to do something, do it the best you can," said Edgar Duarte, 38, who worked for Jones in the Senate and now works for his family's construction business.

Last week, Jones was practically given an open invitation to bash a fellow lawmaker, when asked by the media about the defection of Democratic state Sen. Mandy Dawson of Fort Lauderdale to Republican candidate Charlie Crist. Jones wouldn't say a word. He just smiled and shook his head.

[Last modified November 3, 2006, 01:39:02]

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