By Lisa de Moraes
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, August 18, 2009
Former House majority leader Tom DeLay, who fell from political grace after a lobbying scandal, is going to samba his way back into American homes this fall as one of the celebrity hoofers on ABC's popular ballroom competition series, "Dancing With the Stars."
"Well, it's official . . . I am going to compete on Dancing with the Stars!" DeLay said in a Twitter message Monday morning, shortly after ABC's announcement. "This is going to be so much fun. I will need your support."
The news marks a return to the spotlight, of sorts, for the man known as "The Hammer" for his ironclad style of rule over House Republicans. The Texas politician surrendered his leadership position nearly four years ago.
DeLay will be among a cast of 15 celebrity contestants -- many of them with waning or faded careers -- as the show enters its ninth season; others include onetime stars Donny Osmond and Melissa Joan Hart, and former supermodel Kathy Ireland. Paired with professional ballroom dancers, celebrity contestants are thrust into a spotlight that offers enticing prospects for a career comeback.
Viewers and a panel of judges decide which couple gets the boot each week; the winning star is awarded a trophy that resembles a disco ball. Last season, "Dancing With the Stars" was the country's second-most popular TV series, behind "American Idol."
DeLay will make his TV dance-floor debut when the show begins Sept. 21. The series will run through November. Depending on how many rounds he survives, DeLay could earn about $200,000 -- or slightly more -- based on industry reports about compensation for the contestants.
Conrad Green, the show's executive producer, said ABC had been trying for some time to get a politician to join the list of other celebrities who have competed. "We very much wanted someone who was a household name, someone people had opinions about -- someone who wasn't a wallflower," he said.
The producers approached DeLay, 62, a few weeks ago in what Green called "a bit of a Hail Mary." To Green's surprise, the former congressman agreed immediately and started workouts to improve his technique. Green added that DeLay's biggest advantage is "he's a man who knows how to get the vote out."
Dani DeLay Ferro, DeLay's daughter and his former campaign manager, said her father has lost 12 pounds and begins rehearsal Tuesday in Sugar Land, Tex. In a few weeks, he will relocate to Los Angeles.
"He's been working hard all summer trying to get in shape, improve his flexibility, endurance, etc.," she wrote in a Facebook message. "He's taking this very very seriously and we are all sooooo excited! People probably don't know that he's a really good dancer!"
Ferro added that she's most excited "for America to get to know the funny, caring man that I've grown up with and worked for. They won't know what hit 'em!"
DeLay had a relationship with lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who pleaded guilty to fraud, tax evasion and conspiracy to bribe public officials, in a deal that required Abramoff to cooperate in an investigation into his dealings with members of Congress.
After stepping down as majority leader, DeLay gave up his reelection bid in 2006. He is under indictment in his home state on charges stemming from a campaign finance investigation. He has pleaded not guilty and the case has been mired in procedural challenges.
"Half the country probably wants him to fall on his bum," Green said of DeLay. "Half is going to root for him. Politicians always polarize -- but he's got broad shoulders. Let the battle commence."
In Washington, both the right and the left spent the day trying to figure out what it all means.
"I hope he can dance -- this may be a whole new career for him," said American Conservative Union chief executive David Keene. He said he knew something was afoot when DeLay, an ACU board member, said he could not make an upcoming board meeting, adding that Keene "will soon know why."
"I guess he'll be dancing that day," Keene speculated.
Government reform groups seized the opportunity to issue pun-laden statements. "It would be interesting to see if Mr. DeLay can do the Perp Walk. Does he know that step," said Andrew Wheat, the research director of Texans for Public Justice, the watchdog group whose work helped spark the criminal prosecution of DeLay.
"Once upon a time, Tom DeLay was the powerful Majority Leader, jetting off to St. Andrews [golf course in Scotland] on a private plane with uber lobbyist Jack Abramoff," said Melanie Sloan, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. "A few years later, from the comfort of his prison cell, Abramoff can watch DeLay as a TV reality show contestant. Who says there's no justice?"
DeLay seems to have been a fan of the show for years. In the fall of 2006, shortly before "Dancing" debuted its new season, he had sent out a blast e-mail asking people to vote for country crooner Sara Evans, who competed against Jerry Springer, among others. In the e-mail DeLay said that Evans "represents good American values in the media" while "ultra liberal talk show host Jerry Springer" did not.
Asked to comment on DeLay's decision to compete on "Dancing," Springer said in a statement, "It was a great experience for me, and I wish him only the best."
Washington Post staff writer Mary Ann Akers contributed to this report.