Mayor Phil Gordon Doesn't Like Questions About His Girlfriend's Role at City Hall or Her Gig with a Phoenix Developer
Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon continues to face scrutiny for entangling his personal and professional lives and for lacking transparency in how he conducts certain business in his office.
Gordon hired the sister of his girlfriend's business partner on a roughly $4,000 a month contract to work as his administrative assistant. Phoenix developer Steve Ellman hired Gordon's girlfriend, Elissa Mullany, in 2009. Gordon also put the 20-something son of Cate Wunder, Mullany's business partner, on the city payroll in 2008.
"The city shouldn't just be hiring people out of the blue because they know someone. There should be a competitive process," former City Manager Frank Fairbanks told New Times.
But individuals close to Gordon have benefited from their relationships with him.
Mullany has pocketed more than $335,000 since 2006, raising money for and managing PACs (political action committees) with ties to Gordon. Most of the money came after she started dating Gordon in March 2008.
Her earnings include about $100,000 for raising money for the State of Downtown fund, an account tied to Gordon's annual speech to downtown business leaders.
Gordon's Downtown Fund also paid more than $100,000 in 2009 to Patty Johnson, CEO of Connections Marketing and Communications. Johnson is the wife of Gordon's longtime friend Paul Johnson, the former Phoenix mayor.
Gordon defended hiring Sue Lindmeier, Wunder's sister, saying Fairbanks and City Attorney Gary Verburg reviewed and approved her contract. Fairbanks, who retired in November, said he did not approve Lindmeier's contract.
"I've never heard of her in my life," Fairbanks says. "I did not approve [any contract]. And I didn't say no, either. I simply didn't know about it. But my guess is, if I had known about it, I would have had some serious concerns."
Verburg did not return phone calls seeking comment.
A spokesman for Gordon later said he misspoke when he said Fairbanks had reviewed Lindmeier's contract.
While Lindmeier was working in Gordon's office in June and July, she was also a fundraiser for Phoenix Councilman Sal DiCiccio.
The Phoenix City Charter prohibits any person employed by the city from participating in political campaigns tied to city elected offices "in any way beyond voting and privately expressing personal opinions."
But City Manager David Cavazos said the rule doesn't apply to Lindmeier because she is a contract employee, not a full-time city employee with benefits.
Mullany was not an employee at all, but while she was working for Ellman in 2009, she was also involved in economic development and international travel discussions in Gordon's office. She and Gordon recently traveled to Qatar together at that government's expense.
During the same period, Ellman was part of a Phoenix delegation that went with Gordon to Mexico City to explore investment options, and he met here with Gordon and Saudi Arabian dignitaries.
Notably, Ellman is also gearing up to usher a Camelback corridor redevelopment project through the city's planning process.
Gordon has deferred questions about Mullany and her client list to Mullany.
Mullany did not return phone calls seeking comment.
Gordon is also remaining mum on a $3,000 expense by the State of Downtown fund to the National Football League in 2008. The Super Bowl was in the Valley that year, but Gordon's aides say they do not know what the money was used for, that Gordon hasn't told them.
Gordon's office told New Times it would have to file a Freedom of Information Act letter for that information. That request was filed April 19, but remains unanswered.
Private corporations and public entities, such as City of Phoenix Aviation Department and Metro Light Rail, contribute money to the fund for the promotion and marketing of downtown Phoenix.
Ignoring requests for information has been Gordon's tactic for dealing with what he has called a steady "drumbeat of usually anonymous negativity."
Indeed, once New Times and the Arizona Republic persisted in asking questions about Mullany's role at City Hall, the mayor said he would no longer speak personally about the matter with the newspapers. Instead, he said, all questions had to be submitted in writing to his office.
In a recent op-ed column in the Arizona Republic, Gordon blames criticism on political opponents who want to see him fail. He laments that "we live in a tabloid age, where salacious accusations are more newsworthy than stories about elected leaders trying to right a city's economy."
Gordon has hidden certain details of his administration from the press and the public.
The mayor continues to withhold his security-detail logs, which show where his publicly funded team of Phoenix police officers picked him up and dropped him off — as well as who traveled with him.
Also, a version of Mayor Phil Gordon's 2009 calendar released this month to New Times was missing some bits of information that were present last year.
At first, Gordon's calendar revealed that, on at least two occasions, Mullany was the contact person for a dinner between the mayor and Ellman. The records received this month omitted that information.
Even though Debra Stark, Gordon's chief of staff, told New Times that the Mayor's Office would redact only phone numbers and addresses, it also removed his ex-wife's and girlfriend's names in some instances.
Gone was his ex-wife's name from an entry on October 20, when he had dinner with her and former Phoenix Mayor Johnson and Johnson's wife, Patty. The city also removed a calendar entry from August 13 that notes Gordon picking up his ex-wife at the airport. Mullany's name was also removed from a June 6 entry in which Gordon was bringing his son to a birthday party for Mullany's son.
In a later conversation, Stark acknowledged that such additional redactions had taken place but contended they weren't ill-intended or part of a "conspiracy." She said a staffer was supposed to remove just phone numbers but instead eliminated contact names and numbers and some information she viewed as personal.
During his time in office, Gordon has created various PACs that raise money to support a cause — including Friends for Phil, Phil for Phoenix, Phoenix Election Consolidation Committee, Building Our Future, and Moving Phoenix Forward — and Mullany has been a significant beneficiary of contributions to these funds.
Gordon, through former spokesman Jason Rose, said Mullany received only a standard percentage of what she raised. But public records show heftier-than-usual payments.
Consider a $20,000 payment for "administration" that Gordon gave Mullany in March 2009 from his campaign fund. There had been no activity on that account for more than a year.
She also received a $10,000 payment for "fundraising" in January 2009 from a PAC called the "Phoenix Election Consolidation Committee." Records show that it didn't raise any money. Instead, money was transferred to it from two other PACs: "Friends for Phil" and "Phil for Phoenix."
Mullany also pocketed $8,000 a month for a year to manage Moving Phoenix Forward, a federal PAC that is supposed to benefit Phoenix by allowing Gordon to make financial donations to congressional candidates. Mullany kept about $104,000 (65 percent) of the $164,361 raised for that fund.
He also paid her $10,000 for "fundraising services" in May 2008 from "Building Our Future," a PAC that had been formed to support a Phoenix bond election that ended two years earlier in March 2006.
That $10,000 conveniently came at the same time that the now-defunct Phoenix Global Trade Initiative paid for Gordon to travel to Israel. Mullany also went on that May 2008 trip, but Gordon's spokesman pointed out that she paid her own way.
The mayor predicts that his detractors will continue their steady drumbeat of negativity against him, and that he will be vindicated of all accusations.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you’ll never miss Phoenix New Times' biggest stories.