THE BEST OF FIFE

HE BROUGHT US AN RTC LAWSUIT, A GRAND JURY INVESTIGATION AND A "CAR OF THE PEOPLE." NOT TO MENTION GEORGE LECKIE AND ANNETTE ALVAREZ. OH, WHAT THE HECK, WE'LL MENTION THEM.

As election day nears, so dawns the realization that by this time next week, we might not have Governor J. Fife Symington III to kick around anymore.

As a public service befitting the gravity of the occasion, New Times has marshaled its vast resources to reflect on what we and other publications have written, to take stock of all the governor and his faithful followers have done.

We're calling it "The Best of Fife," and we trust our readers will find it to be the definitive, mind-boggling guide to the Fife Years.

One of Fife's first official acts as governor was to stop answering questions posed by New Times writers. But if we could get him on the phone today and ask him one simple question, that question undoubtedly would be:

FIFE, HOW DID YOU GET AWAY WITH THIS SHIT?

Best Stuff That Happened on Fife's Watch
Best economic rebound: Fife's finances fluctuate faster than Oprah Winfrey's waistline. Fife was a god in the Phoenix real estate market in 1990, carrying a personal financial statement worth $12 million in his back pocket.

That wealth suddenly evaporated when the federal Resolution Trust Corporation decided to sue Fife and other Southwest Savings and Loan cronies for contributing to the $1 billion failure of the thrift. Fife was a member of the Southwest board from 1972 to 1984, a tenure that allowed him to arrange a $30 million investment from the S&L to purchase land and pay $13 million in predevelopment costs on the Camelback Esplanade project.

By January 1993, with RTC lawyers breathing down his back, Fife announced that he'd lost everything, becoming the state's only pauper with bodyguards and a $75,000 salary.

Never mind Fife's four family trust funds, which are worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. Or the slick real estate maneuvers that resulted in six-figure commissions for Fife when his Camelback Esplanade complex was sold earlier this year. Fife was broke. So the RTC settled its lawsuit against Symington in May, saying blood couldn't be squeezed from a turnip.

Surprise! The next thing you know, Fife finds enough spare change to pump $175,000 of his own money into his reelection campaign.

"For a while, I had less than zero," he told a Phoenix daily in July. "Now I'm doing okay."

Best attempted shakedown: Tapped out and caught in a costly crossfire between an RTC civil lawsuit and a federal criminal probe of his business dealings, Fife in January 1993 floated the idea of establishing a legal defense fund. Son of a guv Bob Fannin, a heavyweight lobbyist, was to be in charge of fund raising. After savage press reviews, the idea was dropped a week later.

Best use of "love loans": When Fife needed cash to fund his 1990 campaign, he stuck to the developer's No. 1 rule: Use Other People's Money. So he borrowed $1.3 million from his wife and mother, even though state campaign laws restricted loans to candidates to $550.

Once Democrats and the press squawked about the legality of the loans, Fife, with some help from Republican Attorney General Grant Woods, came up with a unique defense. The loans, Fife's spokesman Doug Cole said, weren't given to Fife to fund his campaign, even though documents clearly show that was the case.

"They were given because the governor asked them and because of the love of his mother for her son and the love of his wife for her husband," explained Cole.

Woods agreed, saying Fife had the right to borrow money from family members as long as the money was not used "to influence the outcome of the election."

One-point-three mil? Naaah!
As usual, Fife made money on the deal. He collected $115,907 in interest payments from the campaign stemming from the loans made by his wife and mother.

Fife claims he repaid the loans to his wife and mother during the last year, but refuses to show proof. Many wonder where he got the money, since he was telling the RTC he was broke.

Best personal protection: Fife doubled the size of the DPS security detail guarding him.

Best use of a state car: The DPS officers assigned to protect the governor and his family are supposed to be the elite of the elite. Yet two of the officers were chastised for using state time--and vehicles--to visit a female drug informant with whom both were romantically involved (they had met her before they were transferred to Fife's team). DPS was not eager to turn over reports detailing the incident and whited out most of what they did finally produce.

Best shadowy memo: The so-called Countershot memo surfaced in December 1991, two weeks after the RTC filed a civil suit against Fife and other Southwest Savings and Loan directors. The four-page missive purportedly details Fife's strategy to defend himself against the RTC civil charges as well as a plan to defuse a federal criminal probe (still ongoing) into his dealings with the ill-fated thrift.

The memo, which includes a "press friends" and "press enemies" list, contains detailed knowledge of the RTC suit that only a handful of people knew. While it appears to be authentic, the writer of the memo has never been identified and its complete contents have never been published.

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