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.

But the memo became the focus of a U.S. Senate Banking Committee hearing in October 1992. Michigan Senator Don Riegle raised questions about one section that suggested "launch[ing] a pre-emptive political strike" against the FBI and Justice Department to derail the criminal probe into Fife's dealings with Southwest Savings.

Fife and his top aides deny writing the memo; they say it was fabricated in an attempt to harm the governor. Fife has accused the RTC of cooking up the memo, which was leaked to the Washington Post and Tribune Newspapers by an unknown source.

Best use of state retirement funds: Highballing appraisals and lowballing the tax man is one of Fife's favorite fiscal policies. He worked the technique perfectly in a development project that cost the Arizona State Retirement System $350,000 after he defaulted on a $975,000 real estate development loan in 1991.

Fife's office building at 1002 East Missouri fell $50,000 behind in loan payments by the end of 1991. Rather than foreclosing on the property, which was worth only $625,000, and seeking a judgment to collect the difference from the governor, Bank One, the investment adviser to the retirement system, opted to take back the property, absorb the loss and let Fife walk away from the debt.

The Missouri Avenue project not only shortchanged state pension fund members. Fife also slighted Maricopa County residents. In May 1987, the month Fife convinced the Retirement System to make the loan based on a $1.25 million appraisal, Fife told the Maricopa County Assessor's Office, which determines tax payments, that the property was worth only $432,357.

Best effort to spread the wealth of the state retirement system: Last year, John Stiteler, a real estate investment broker and member of the Arizona State Retirement System Board, conferred with Fife's No.1 crony, George Leckie, then began leaning on fellow board members to begin shunting state pension funds into Arizona investments. Board chairman Ronald Pelton blew the whistle on the risky buy-local movement; Pelton wound up resigning from the board in disgust.

Best use of Teamsters pension funds: What do you do when you owe the Teamsters $8.8 million? Anything they want.

While Fife has given the slip to Japanese banks and the RTC for untold millions, the Teamsters aren't satisfied to walk away empty-handed.

The union wants Fife and his wife, Ann, to make good on their personal guarantees to cover losses connected with Fife's disastrous Mercado development in downtown Phoenix. The union's pension fund lent Fife $10 million to build the Mexican-themed marketplace. Settlement negotiations have been ongoing for a year.

If having the Teamsters on your ass isn't enough, a federal grand jury probing Fife's business practices has subpoenaed documents related to the Mercado deal.

Best Keystone Kops routine: In the wake of a botched drug bust in southern Arizona, Fife, at the urging of staff member Gary Phelps, suspended Department of Public Safety Director Rick Ayars and deputy director Randy Serna. A week later, Fife reinstated Ayars and Serna and forced out Phelps, a former assistant DPS director himself. The state continued to pay Phelps for a month after his ouster.

Best populist move: Fearing that his chauffeured Lincoln Town Car cast an elitist image, Fife in May 1993 traded down to a new, chauffeured, four-wheel-drive Chevy Suburban, equipped with tinted windows, grille lights, cellular phone and police radios. Price tag: $30,000. When questioned by reporters, he said he'd chosen a "Car of the People." Best stonewall: In late June, state Democratic party honcho Steve Owens asked the Governor's Office for a host of public records--from computer files to calendars to phone logs--with the intention of demonstrating that state employees (specifically, members of the governor's staff) were running Fife's reelection campaign from the Ninth Floor. After months of terse correspondence and threats of lawsuits, Owens got what he asked for--sort of. Fife's staffers are "redacting huge amounts of information without any justification," Owens says. Luckily for Owens, there wasn't much attention to detail. "They whited out a lot of things, but they missed a few," the Democrat says with a chuckle.

Best bandwagon jump: Fife donned a gorilla suit in honor of the Phoenix Suns' 25th anniversary last year, surprising the Capitol press corps. After hugging Arizona Republic reporter Mary Jo Pitzl, the gorilla took off his mask and, according to an account in the daily press, thanked those assembled for "allowing me to expose my true instincts" and "letting me hug and kiss so much of the audience."

Gross.
Best way to piss away the paltry tax cuts Fife's pushed through on the state level: He opposes the freeway tax and tobacco tax, and opposed the education tax (ACE initiative) and ValTrans tax, but Fife supports the Maricopa County baseball stadium sales tax, to the tune of $238 million.

Best guess as to why Fife supports the stadium tax: Jerry Colangelo, godfather of Valley basketball--and soon, he hopes, baseball--is a big Symington campaign contributor. Can you say, "Great seats?"

Best quickie: There were many fans of Fife's 100-day legislative sessions, particularly the big-business lobbyists who used the frenetic pace to ram through goodies for their clients. One longtime lobbyist described the 41st Legislature (the most recent) as "just like a candy store."

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