Award Announcement

Texas Congressman Henry B. Gonzalez Receives the 1994 John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award

Boston, MA, September 11, 1994 - At a ceremony held today at the John F. Kennedy Library, members of the Kennedy family presented the fifth annual John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award™ to Texas Congressman Henry B. Gonzalez for his landmark investigations of both the savings and loan scandal and the sale of U.S. arms to Iraq in the late 1980's and early 1990's.

Congressman Gonzalez was presented with a $25,000 stipend and a silver lantern designed by Edwin Schlossberg, Inc., and made by Tiffany & Co., which represents the ideals of the Profile in Courage Award.

"During his 41 years in public office, Congressman Gonzalez has demonstrated political courage on many occasions by taking strong stands on issues he believes in, often risking the wrath of his colleagues in both parties," said Caroline Kennedy. "With his well-known insistence on ethical conduct, tireless pursuit of the truth, respect for the Constitution, and opposition to powerful special interest groups, Congressman Gonzalez personifies the high purpose and value of public service."

Senator Edward M. Kennedy, Caroline B. Kennedy, and John F. Kennedy, Jr. participated in the ceremony, which commemorated the 77th anniversary of the birth of President Kennedy. According to Senator Kennedy, "Congressman Gonzalez has distinguished himself as a leader of unwavering honesty, principle, and integrity. I commend him for the continuing courage he has demonstrated in opposing powerful interest groups and so ably serving the people of his district and the nation."

Beginning in 1979, as a member of the House Banking Committee, Gonzalez predicted and spoke out against the misconduct of the savings and loan industry. As early as 1982, he testified before his House colleagues that further liberalization of the regulations governing the industry would have dire consequences for taxpayers, but his testimony and speeches on the subject were largely ignored.

In 1989, as chairman of the committee, Gonzalez launched a series of dramatic hearings on the savings and loan crisis, which resulted in far-reaching legislation to clean up the mess and reform the industry.

Later that year, acting on evidence of improper handling of a failed thrift, he began an additional investigation of several failed thrifts and the improper intervention of lawmakers with federal banking regulators. The hearings led to the resignation of Danny Wall, head of the Office of Thrift Supervision, in December 1989. In September 1990, Charles Keating, chairman of the failed Lincoln Savings and Loan in Irvine, CA, and a key target in the investigation, was indicted for defrauding 22,000 investors of more than $250 million. Keating was later convicted of 17 counts of fraud and sentenced to 10 years in prison. Five senators were later criticized by the Senate Ethics Committee for intervening with regulators on Keating's behalf.

Gonzalez also was cited for his political courage in investigating the involvement of high-level officials in the Reagan and Bush Administrations in the sale of U.S. arms to Iraq before the Persian Gulf War in 1991.

Despite the intense opposition of the Bush Administration and efforts by some House colleagues to censure him, Gonzalez pursued the "Iraqgate" investigation and discovered that, from 1986 to 1989, U.S. agricultural credits and illegal loans had been used to help the Iraqi government pursue nuclear and chemical weapons development and purchase military hardware leading up to the 1990 invasion of Kuwait. As Gonzalez said, "...not only did our own service men and women face military material that had been exported from the U.S., the U.S. military itself relied on these Iraqi front companies for some of the military goods they used" during the 1991 Persian Gulf War.

The award takes its name from Profiles in Courage, the 1957 Pulitzer Prize-winning book by John F. Kennedy when he was a U.S. Senator from Massachusetts. The award was established by the Kennedy Library Foundation in 1989 to honor examples of political courage in contemporary public life. The book describes events in U.S. history in which courageous elected officials took principled stands on difficult issues and risked the wrath of their constituents and powerful special interest groups. In the book, President Kennedy described such officials as persons "whose abiding loyalty to their nation triumphed over all personal and political considerations...who showed the real meaning of courage and a real faith in democracy."

James J. Florio, former Governor of New Jersey, was the 1993 award recipient. On May 30, 1990, under Governor Florio's leadership, New Jersey passed the strictest gun control law in the nation, banning the sale and severely restricting the possession of assault weapons in the state. For the next three years, Florio vetoed legislative attempts to weaken the bill and created an unprecedented coalition to support the ban. Finally, in March 1993, the state senate voted unanimously to uphold his veto. The action was a significant legislative victory for Florio, who also was engaged in a public and political battle over his reforms in the state tax and education systems.

Governor Lowell Weicker of Connecticut was the 1992 recipient of the award. In 1991, one month after his inauguration, Governor Weicker sent shock waves through the state by proposing a personal income tax as part of his fiscal year 1992 budget to deal with the state's $963 million deficit One of only 10 states in the country without an income tax, Weicker risked his career by challenging the popular bipartisan anti-income tax coalition. Despite threats to his safety, large scale bitter protests, and six months of deadlock in a rancorous battle, Weicker's budget package was approved by the state legislature.

Charles Weltner, a justice on the Supreme Court of Georgia, was the 1991 recipient of the award. As a United States Congressman from Georgia in 1966, Weltner signed a Democratic loyalty oath to support the entire state party ticket in the general election that year. When Lester Maddox, an advocate of segregation, emerged as the party's nominee for Governor, rather than "compromise with hate," as Weltner put it, and support Maddox, Weltner placed principle above ambition and withdrew from his own race for re-election. Justice Weltner died on August 31, 1992.

The recipient of the first Profile in Courage Award, in 1990, was former United States Congressman Carl Elliott of Alabama, who was selected for his leadership in civil rights and federal aid to education in years when those stands were extremely unpopular in the South. He fought and lost a bitter race for re-election in 1964. Elliott's experiences are detailed in his 1992 book entitled The Cost of Courage: The Journey of an American Congressman.

The chairman of the Profile in Courage Award Committee is Richard K. Donahue, vice chairman of NIKE, Inc., and former special assistant to President Kennedy. Members of the committee include: Jill Ker Conway, history scholar, and former president of Smith College; T. Jefferson Coolidge, Jr., businessman, and president of Thomas Jefferson Forum; John C. Culver, attorney, and former U.S. Representative and Senator from Iowa; Charles U. Daly, director of the Kennedy Library Foundation, and former special assistant to President Kennedy; John S. Dyson, deputy mayor of New York, and former chairman of the New York Power Authority; Antonia Hernandez, president and general counsel of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund; Elaine Jones, director-counsel, the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund; Caroline B. Kennedy, attorney, and president of the Kennedy Library Foundation; John F. Kennedy, Jr., attorney, and vice president of the Kennedy Library Foundation; Paul G. Kirk Jr., attorney, and chairman of the Kennedy Library Foundation; Sumner M. Redstone, CEO of National Amusements, and chairman of Viacom International; John Seigenthaler, chairman emeritus of The Tennessean (Nashville), and chairman of the Freedom Forum First Amendment Center at Vanderbilt University; Theodore C. Sorensen, author, attorney, and former special counsel to President Kennedy; and Fletcher H. Wiley, attorney, and chairman of the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce.

Further Information:
Shelley Sommer