ARIZONA'S LONGEST-RUNNING COMEDY
:I, for one, am going to miss Fife Symington.
When he's gone, there will be so many priceless and amusing incidents to remember.
Take the latest tale, the one about the governor's surprise birthday party. It was thrown for him by his wife, Ann, and his staff. It was set up in his office.
The party was a disaster. Most lamentable for Symington, it will probably be one of those marital memories that last forever.
Unfortunately for him, Symington had decided to spend part of his birthday with Miss Annette Alvarez, his former specialist in foreign affairs.
Miss Alvarez is a distraction in the Symington household. Unfortunately, the middle-aged governor has made no secret of his continued attraction to the coquettish younger woman.
The incident in which he sang "You're 16, you're beautiful and you're mine" to her at a recent crowded gathering from one knee has been oft-repeated.
Despite the governor's denials about their relationship, the story of his continued flirtation with Alvarez has even been noted in national magazines.
That's why this latest incident, coming on his birthday, was so . . . let us say . . . awkward.
Symington and Annette just happened to be spending some time together when he received word from his staff to come to his office on an urgent piece of business.
Naturally, Symington brought Annette along.
Symington and Annette walked into the office, arm in arm.
"Surprise!" shouted his staff.
They began singing "Happy Birthday to You."
No one could tell later who was most surprised. Was it Ann Symington, who was standing in the center of the group?
Or was it Fife, standing there with Annette on his arm?
Knowing Symington as we all do, it's predictable that he had a ready explanation for the situation. He always does.
@body:Perhaps this constant bumbling and blundering is one of Fife's most endearing traits. He never seems to realize that anyone is on to him.
Miss Alvarez is, after all, the same young woman Symington transported around with him on his campaign, the one he fobbed off to potential voters as a campaign adviser.
Once he was elected governor, Symington named Annette his chief of international relations and put her on the payroll at a salary of $60,000.
It turned out that the extent of Miss Alvarez's international expertise consisted of the ability to travel with Symington to places like Japan, Hawaii and New York City and dine out with him.
During this period, Symington reportedly even considered appointing Miss Alvarez's father, a Douglas-based lawyer, to an opening on the state Supreme Court. It soon became obvious that Miss Alvarez had absolutely no skills in foreign relations. States like New Mexico were taking foreign business from Arizona.
Miss Alvarez's skills, of course, have always been in interpersonal relations.
When the heat got so hot that it became necessary to bid Miss Alvarez a fond adieu, she moved out of the capitol building and into a ninth-floor office in Symington's Esplanade property.
Miss Alvarez reportedly now has her own public relations business there.
Several months ago, she turned up doing undercover detective work for Symington. The unfortunate truth about Symington is that he's one of those men of inherited wealth who always attempts to avoid paying his bills.
The type is actually more common than one might suppose--especially in Arizona. It's not surprising that many of them turn into real estate hustlers, the way Symington did.
By now Symington has been revealed as a total fraud. He is beset on all sides by his toppling real estate investments.
Symington's latest financial peccadillo is trying to squirm out of the downtown Mercado project. On the hook for more than $1 million of his own money, Symington is attempting to reach out and have the City of Phoenix bail him out. When the details hit the newspapers, Symington was immediately on the telephone, calling Pat McMahon of KTAR Radio.
Symington complained that his Mercado project was killed by the nearby Arizona Center project.
"I warned Terry Goddard that would happen if they made that Arizona Center project too big," Symington said.
"Was it politics?" McMahon asked.
"You can't help it," Symington replied.
Not all of the headlines about Symington are about people trying to collect money from him.
There was the truly amazing story of James Feltham, Symington's own campaign manager.
Feltham was a vice president at the firm of Rauscher Pierce Refsnes, Inc., which made a clear profit of $700,000 in refinancing bonds for the state. Several days later, the officers of the company made contributions to Symington's campaign.
When the news surfaced, Feltham was forced to resign as Symington's campaign manager.
As soon as the story hit print, Symington raced for the nearest radio microphone to declare his total innocence.
"This is what I call 'gotcha' journalism," Symington declared.
He opined that the newspapers are "basically printing negative story after negative story about me and my administration.
"I'm just flabbergasted."
See what I mean about how irrepressible Symington can be? His own inflated sense of self-importance will never allow him to admit he's wrong. He struts about even when he's sitting down.
This slick operator who sold himself to the voters as a sound businessman is finally unmasked as a complete failure and a fraud.
@body:But it is Symington's handling of the Native American gaming issue that has sealed his fate with the voters.
He rushed headlong into the issue without looking first, and he will be decapitated by it.
Knowledgeable observers recall that it was a similar gaffe by then-governor Howard Pyle that brought about Pyle's demise.
Hearing about polygamy in the northern Arizona town of Colorado City, Governor Pyle dispatched the National Guard and brought people back as prisoners.
The Mormons never forgave Pyle, and he was defeated in the next election.
Symington not only injected himself in the Native American issue, but he then made the fatal mistake of picking Burton Barr as his negotiator.
Symington didn't realize that Barr is well-known by the Native Americans as a slippery pol who has carried water for the dog-racing tracks in this state for decades.
Barr, they realize, can't be trusted. Those who didn't know about his connection to the dog tracks will remember how he sold everyone out on the Indian School land swap.
While supposedly working in the best interests of the City of Phoenix, Barr suddenly turned up as the ally of the Florida corporation seeking to wrest the property away from the Native Americans.
To make the whole thing even more incongruous, Barr is the man who served as Terry Goddard's closest adviser in the Goddard-Symington gubernatorial campaign.
@body:You could make a highlight film of Symington's appearances during which he has announced victory in the face of certain defeat.
There was the day he shouted defiance at the government because the Resolution Trust Corporation was suing him for his role in the Esplanade project.
All Symington had done was engage in "blatant self-dealing" while he got away with millions of dollars from Southwest Savings and Loan.
He spoke for more than an hour, slipping and sliding his way through a question-and-answer period.
First, he claimed the Esplanade was worth "several hundred million dollars."
But he had earlier fought an assessment saying it was worth $78 million, and was unable to explain why it is valued on the books by the Maricopa County Assessor's Office at $48.9 million.
Finally, he announced he was going to devote the rest of his life to fighting the RTC. "Some people play golf for recreation," Symington said. "I'm going to recreate myself by going after the RTC."
The last thing we heard was that Symington's lawyers were in federal court trying to slip their way out of the suit on a technical point.
This is a governor who has been forced to circle his wagons so tightly that it is impossible for him to govern.
The only thing he has time to do is to slip through the fire lines every once in a while for a rendezvous with Annette.
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