Mayor Phil Gordon Can Run, But -- Senate Bill 1070 or Not -- He Can't Hide
Where was Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon on the evening of July 27, 2009?
If you look at Gordon's official calendar, he was dining with his girlfriend and developer Steve Ellman at the Parlor, the hot new pizza place at Camelback and 20th Street.
But, as it turns out, there's a second version of that calendar — the version that Gordon's office released last month in response to a public records request from my colleague Monica Alonzo.
In that version, Gordon's girlfriend is nowhere to be seen. It's Gordon and Ellman, dining alone.
Arizona Coyotes vs. San Jose Sharks
TicketsTue., Nov. 1, 7:00pm
Phoenix Suns vs. Portland Trail Blazers
TicketsWed., Nov. 2, 7:00pm
Arizona Coyotes vs. Nashville Predators
TicketsThu., Nov. 3, 7:00pm
Arizona State University Sun Devils Hockey vs. University of Michigan
TicketsFri., Nov. 4, 7:05pm
Initially, staffers at Gordon's office insisted to Alonzo that they hadn't redacted anything from the calendar other than contact information. And she might have believed them, if not for a fluke: I just happened to have notes from a previous records request that contradicted their statements.
Even though city officials apparently had forgotten all about it, I'd requested Gordon's calendar last fall, long before it was public knowledge that Gordon was dating Elissa Mullany. At that point, nobody redacted anything, and my notes clearly showed Mullany at the dinner with Ellman and Gordon.
So why redact now? Gordon's spokesman, David Leibowitz, insists that it was a mistake. A young assistant was overzealous — she thought it was her job to redact items related to Gordon's personal life — and erased more than she should have.
Surely, I could understand that.
And I could, maybe, if only Gordon's girlfriend really was just part of his personal life. Or, perhaps, if the facts surrounding the redactions weren't so damning.
Just after receiving the calendars, Alonzo questioned the very assistant who did the redactions. Had she removed anything other than phone numbers? "Just phone numbers and residential addresses," the assistant e-mailed back.
The assistant wrote that, we now know, after she'd already removed in their entirety several entries mentioning Mullany.
This wasn't an omission: It was deceit.
It's interesting, too, that the deceit just happened to include two dinners with Ellman, one in July and one in August. Gordon's staff was well aware that New Times was asking questions about his girlfriend's ties to the powerful developer. Alonzo already had questioned the mayor's spokesman on the matter and received nothing but evasions.
This was clearly information that Gordon's team didn't want getting out.
Indeed, even if it sounds innocuous that the mayor would bring his girlfriend to dinner with Ellman, it wasn't. For despite what Gordon may want us to believe, it's increasingly clear that Mullany's role in his life has just as much to do with business as with pleasure.
Mullany is Gordon's fundraiser and the biggest beneficiary of his numerous political action committees. In the past two years, even though Gordon hasn't been running for office, he's raked in a half-million dollars in donations — and funneled $215,000 of it to Mullany's limited-liability company.
Meanwhile, Gordon's also appointed Mullany to his now-defunct "global trade initiative," which earned her company another $12,000 in fees. And he helped her get a job as a fundraiser at the Downtown Phoenix Partnership, netting her business another $100,000.
Now New Times has learned that at the same time she served as Gordon's fundraiser, Mullany has taken on clients who do business with the city. She represented Ellman for a six-month period last year.
And that's not all.
In January, the city voted on a new contract for the transportation company Veolia, which has long managed bus service in Phoenix. The five-year contract was worth a staggering $388 million.
Gordon had to declare a conflict of interest and recuse himself from the vote. The reason, I'm told, is that Mullany had been hired by Veolia. (A Veolia spokeswoman didn't respond to my request for comment.)
In light of that, you can see why I'd be suspicious about any redactions from the mayor's calendar.
The personal and the professional aren't just vaguely connected for Phil Gordon and Elissa Mullany these days. They're Siamese twins, and there's not a surgeon in town who could separate them.
When I called the mayor's current spokesman, Leibowitz, last week to talk about all this, he was more than a bit patronizing.
"You're a great journalist, Sarah," he told me. "This story is beneath you."
I'd beg to differ on his assertion (although, hey, if anyone wants to tell me I'm awesome, I'm all ears). Gordon's girlfriend is an incredibly regular presence on his calendar, and not just during the dinner hour. She sits in on meetings about downtown development. She serves as a conduit for people trying to get face time with the mayor. She travels with him, and her bills are paid by his campaign-finance committees.
There's no question that the taxpayers deserve to know who else is paying her — and what those people are getting from City Hall.
Yet Gordon and his staff are acting as though this were the height of absurdity. For months now, they've been intent on stonewalling and changing the subject and playing dumb whenever Mullany's name comes up. They simply refuse to answer the simplest of questions.
Take, for example, Mullany's work for Ellman. My colleague Alonzo is an unusually dogged reporter with years of experience. (New Times was lucky enough to steal her recently from the Arizona Republic.) But when Alonzo asked Gordon's then-spokesman Jason Rose about the Ellman connection, he tried to play her like a kid right out of high school.
"You asked if Elissa is representing Ellman," Rose wrote to Alonzo. "No."
Alonzo came back at Rose.
"I know she's not representing Ellman," she wrote. "Sounds like that would make her an attorney. I wonder if you could confirm whether she is working for Ellman in any capacity, such as a consultant?"
Rose responded that he meant "representation" in a broader sense. Then, he repeated, "She is not representing Ellman."
Smelling a rat, Alonzo kept pushing. Had she done work for him recently? In past weeks? In the past year? Ever? At that point, the rapid back-and-forth conversation stopped with silence on Rose's end.
Alonzo wrote back four hours later, wondering what was up.
"Believe it or not, not at the top of my list of things to do right now for reasons I have already stated and because I have a few other things going," Rose responded. "Am driving now . . . I will respond shortly, again, wasting more time on your bad source."
Alonzo said thanks and waited.
And then she got this:
"Do you actually believe I or someone with Ellman would hire [Mullany] in order to influence something in the city of Phoenix? That would be idiotic."
Interestingly, Rose never actually answered the questions — and the e-mail trail shows more attempts on Alonzo's part. Rose kept dodging. He simply refused to be pinned down on the issue of whether Mullany had worked for Ellman in the past.
Two weeks ago, Rose quit his job flacking for Gordon on this issue. He said he had a conflict, although he wouldn't tell me what it is.
And last week, Alonzo discovered an e-mail buried in a stack of other city records, confirming that Mullany did, in fact, work for Ellman. The document suggested it was a six-month contract that ended in November 2009 — and that Gordon was about to admit as much in a statement his team was crafting a few weeks ago. But as best I can tell, they never came clean.
Even faced with that evidence, no one at City Hall has been forthcoming about anything. Gordon's new spokesman for this issue, Leibowitz, originally told Alonzo that she would have to put any questions in writing. When she did write them down, they sat unanswered for more than two weeks.
I called Leibowitz Friday to ask when he was going to answer those questions. First he claimed that he had done so already. Then he admitted that everyone had been horrifically busy — SB 1070, blah, blah, blah.
I asked him flat-out about Mullany's clients. He said he didn't know who they are. Okay. Well, then, how about asking the mayor? Would the mayor release his girlfriend's client list — or at least a list of those clients who do business at City Hall?
"I don't believe the mayor thinks it's his business to release anyone's client list," Leibowitz told me. He suggested I call Mullany.
I did. Her cell phone went straight to voice mail.
Records show that Mullany is not a registered lobbyist with the city of Phoenix. And, because she isn't married to Gordon, she isn't required to reveal her business interests on his financial-disclosure form.
But it's downright disingenuous for the mayor to pretend that this is none of our business. Mullany had been in the mayor's suite so frequently that she basically had an office there. We deserve to know who she's shilling for.
These days, I know, the mayor is devoting his energies to blocking the poisonous Senate Bill 1070, which Governor Jan Brewer recently signed into law and which will force police departments across the state to become as obsessed with illegal immigration as Sheriff Joe Arpaio. Gordon is right to fight that, and I'm glad to see him using his bully pulpit for good.
But I can't help wondering whether things might have turned out a little differently if Gordon had been more focused on this issue before Brewer lit the powder keg that's finally getting Washington's attention. Neither he nor de facto police chief Jack Harris showed up at the Legislature to lobby against the bill. And, two years ago, when his own back was against the political wall, Gordon agreed to gut a controversial order that banned Phoenix cops from asking about immigration status in many cases.
Gordon also formed a political action committee just after his re-election in November 2007, hoping to "educate Congress on the needs in Phoenix." That committee hauled in an impressive $375,561.
But Gordon used pitifully little of his capital to win friends in Congress — friends who might come in handy now. By my calculations, his committee has spent less than one-third of its collections on donations to congressmen and political parties. The committee actually gave more to Mullany's business in fees than to all members of Congress combined — and, for that reason, its operating expenses dwarf its contributions by a ratio of more than 2 to 1.
That's a wasted opportunity.
Even beyond that, I don't care how busy the mayor is. And I don't buy this crap about how no one knows Mullany's client list except Mullany: Obviously, Gordon had to know she was working for Veolia to recuse himself from the vote. I'm told that she's turned over her list to the City Attorney's Office to prevent just such possible conflicts of interests.
So why not disclose it to the public? As long as Mullany is in and out of the mayor's office, it's hard to suggest we're asking too much.
Gordon can keep stalling and telling his staffers to stonewall our requests for information. But he can't pretend this isn't any of our business. He's made it our business.
And while I may be on to another topic next week, I can assure you, I know a certain former Republic reporter who isn't going away. Mayor Gordon might as well deal with her now; his silence has done enough damage already.
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