This Week's Hero: Sen. Bill Nelson
You dont treat a genuine American hero like a loser. Or so I thought.
Then along comes Jose Melendez-Perez -- as heroes go, about as big as they get.
Melendez-Perez, now 64, is the immigration officer at Orlando International Airport whose experience and instinct and eye for the bad guy stopped the 20th hijacker from entering the United States.
If this officer hadnt intercepted Mohamed al-Qahtani in August 2001, United Airlines Flight 93 would have had a fifth hijacker, probably enough to overcome the passengers and reach the target presumed to be either the White House or the U.S. Capitol.
Melendez-Perez won national acclaim. He was lauded, applauded and feted coast to coast. And today al-Qahtani captured later in Afghanistan is locked up in Guantanamo.
But this spring the immigration officer with 44 years of service slipped up. Against policy, he took a U.S. Customs and Border Patrol vehicle home with his agency computer and gun inside. The vehicle was broken into, the items stolen, and now Melendez-Perez whose record is otherwise clean as a whistle is persona non grata in the Department of Homeland Security.
He was removed from the Orlando Joint Terrorism Task Force months ago.
He faces a two-week suspension and a demotion, which he has appealed. The appeal is set to be heard Tuesday.
Heres where my hero, U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, comes in and in fairness, other friends of Melendez-Perez are going to bat for him, too. They just dont have the clout a Democratic United States senator has under a Democratic president and administration.
In a Sept. 20 letter pleading his case to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, Nelson proclaimed, Mr. Melendez-Perez is a true American hero. And last week Nelson was still following the case, working behind the scenes to get the officer a break.
One of Nelsons Washington staffers, who asked not to be identified, told me Friday, The senator considers the treatment of this man petty bureaucratic badgering.
Mr. Melendez-Perez is guilty of a moments bad judgment, but not of any heinous crime. Here's a man who's proven himself on the front line in his job. Is there a single American in this country, who remembers the horror of 9/11, who wouldnt want Mr. Melendez-Perez on his Terrorism Task Force? Why would you take him off it? Him, a genuine hero of one of the worst days on American soil.
Oh, yes, of course Sen. Nelson is still very much motivated to be involved.
These are cynical times. People are more apt today to blow off heroics and national pride than they were a decade ago. Not Bill Nelson.
Whatever you think of Nelsons politics, you cant fault his resolve in the matter of Jose Melendez-Perez. At least for this single, warm moment in time, the senator is one worthy hero protecting another.
This Weeks Zero: Jon Ausman
I didnt know Jon Ausman before Friday. Perhaps throngs of Democrats far and wide did, and I just travel in the wrong circles. Ausman does, after all, introduce himself as the longest serving member of the Democratic National Committee in Florida history.
But when I saw him wander into the Florida Press Center like a puppy looking for a cuddle, I pegged him as some candidate's lapdog. I just didn't know which one.
He sure does love a stage and a microphone.
It didnt dawn on me that hes for real, that nobody holds his leash, that hes perfectly capable of putting on his own offensive show, thank you very much. I had no idea until I looked him up that Jon Ausman, who lives in Tallahassee, has been an unpredictable troublemaker for the Democratic Party of Florida for a very long time.
I suspect he was again Friday.
Who holds a press conference on the Friday before the start of early voting to announce the Democrats need a new strategy in the U.S. Senate race?
Who publicly challenges former Sen./former Gov. Bob Graham, probably his state partys greatest living success symbol, to jump in and broker something between Kendrick Meek and Charlie Crist so one or the other will drop out of the Senate race?
Doesn't Ausman look at the calendar? The ballots are already printed. Some 1.6 million of them have already been mailed to absentee voters, and 575,000 of the mailed voters are registered Democrats.
If Graham is going to jump to the task, he'd better be pretty quick.
How crazy is this whole notion?
Bob Graham and Kendrick Meek are all-Democrat. Both of them. And last I heard, they like each other.
Partyless Gov. Charlie Crist, on the other hand, is a parasitic interloper. Though he spends an inordinate amount of time kissing up to Democrats, especially rich and/or powerful ones, just seven months ago he was professing his undying love for the Republican Party.
Now, I'm as up as anyone on the politics-and-strange-bedfellows thing. But can you see Bob Graham asking good-soldier Meek to "fall on his sword" for a man without a political soul?
During the press conference, Ausman said of Meek and Crist, "One of them's got to be the adult and say, 'I'm going to support the other guy.'"
Tell Kendrick Meek -- who campaigns nonstop, who has the president, the vice president and former President Bill Clinton working the state for him -- that quitting the race is the "adult" thing to do. Tell his campaign staff. Tell U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings who has already promised to nuke every Democrat Meek detractor off the face of the earth.
Kendrick Meek is the only African-American running in an upticket race in the United States this November, and to many Democrats -- if not the limousine liberals like Ausman or the trial attorneys or even the teachers -- that really means something.
Ausman, two-term vice chairman of the Florida Democratic Party, actually issued a very public primary endorsement of Jeff Greene the day after Greene cut him a check for $4,000. The very next day.
Maybe that's where Meek went wrong. He didn't take his checkbook out for Ausman.
Reach Nancy Smith at email@example.com or at (850) 727-0859.