WHY FIFE'S HISTORY

When New Times broke the story, Fife refused to dignify" the accusation with a response. Still, he categorically denied it.

At the time, the local dailies distanced themselves from the story. The Phoenix Gazette refused to acknowledge the revelation. Columns around the Valley were spiked," pulled from the papers. Back then, the Arizona Republic mockingly opined, what looks like a `smoking gun' is really just a water pistol."

Of course, when Newsweek prominently featured the story in its November 4, 1991, issue, the Governor no longer could rely on his Ôtabloid journalism" excuse. In the following issue, Newsweek published his carefully crafted letter to the editor.

In that letter, Symington denied that I am conducting a personal affair with my executive assistant." He did not deny, however, that he had conducted a personal affair with Alvarez, whether on the campaign trail or otherwise. Symington went on to attack the magazine's lack of proof." He also argued that most of the Arizona media chose to downplay or criticize the story." For example, he quoted the Republic's water pistol" line.

Fife and his handlers must have felt pretty good about their exercise of damage control-back then. A few neatly worded denials. Some imperial indignation. There, it was over.

Never once, mind you, did Symington or Alvarez deny the authenticity of the love letter. Not once did they seek retraction of the stories. Not once did the Governor allow his dark-eyed miss to respond to questions about the international chaos she'd wrought. Or about the letter.

Stonewalling was the preferred tactic; umbrage, his decoration for the brick wall.

Last month Symington was featured in the Sunday Los Angeles Times as the latest in a succession of Arizona's political embarrassments. When asked about the Alvarez affair by the Times' Paul Dean, Symington resorted to his old trick-blast New Times, keep the head down and keep blasting: [Alvarez] is here to stay and she is terrific and that New Times stuff is total baloney, and we realize that we're just going to have to put up with it."

It didn't move Mr. Dean in Los Angeles. Why should it? Here to stay"? Two weeks after his remark to the Times, Alvarez was history.

Yet a year ago Fife's double talk might have worked. In fact, with the help of a few million dollars from his mother and his wife, answers like that got him elected.

Symington may say it's total baloney," but instantly two things began to change after we printed the story. One, Alvarez's sphere of influence shrunk from the entire planet to the Mexican nation, our neighbor to the south. Only her salary remained unchanged at $60,000 a year. Two, the Governor and his wife, Ann, started showing up together in public more often. The days of Bachelor Governor were over.

But his denial had been so categoric. His indignation so imperious. What would he say when the Mesa Tribune discovered two weeks ago that he'd paid some $9,000 in campaign funds to the IRS to satisfy Alvarez's delinquent taxes?

Before entering government, Alvarez had been Symington's press secretary. Never mind that, by her own admission, she had no idea what a press secretary's duties were. In time she would be replaced by a guy with a better grip on the subject.

This time, Symington couldn't blame New Times. He could try blaming the federal government, just as he'd blamed the RTC, but everybody's got to pay taxes. No, that wouldn't wash.

In a thoughtless moment, while Symington was away skiing in Telluride, Alvarez spoke to the press. She said she'd earned the money working on the campaign as a consultant." In addition to the $9,000 and her $450 weekly salary, Alvarez claimed to have earned another five grand in the final hours of the campaign consulting" with Fife.

This was all too much-even for Symington. When he returned from the Colorado slopes, he came up with a different tale. It went like this: Since Alvarez was two years in arrears to the federal and state revenue departments, the IRS had levied" her wages from the campaign. He had no choice but to pay the levy. Still, he maintained, she had earned the money. It was merely coincidence that the campaign issued the checks to the IRS only two days before he took officeÏand just after the liens were filed.

Symington's indignation, his categorical denials, were quickly becoming a faded mask. The intimacy that he had denied-in the face of Annette's love letter and other evidence of their special relationshipÏwas becoming his undoing.

Last week New Times offered more evidence of Symington's wobbly judgment. We revealed that the Governor had taken Alvarez with him to New York City last May, supposedly to meet with financial reporters, foreign diplomats and investment bankers. They stayed at the posh Hotel Westbury, and Fife paid for Annette's room with his personal credit card. The bill came to more than $900.

So far, so good. But she sought and received reimbursement from the state for expenses he had incurred. And he'd already submitted his own reimbursement form for his room on the trip. (Fife and Annette had adjoining rooms, 501 and 502, at the Westbury, a fact that figured into Steve Benson's devastating cartoon in last Friday's Republic.)

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