Backed to the Wall, Snarling

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This despite all evidence to the contrary. Anyone with any sense of symmetry needs only glance a moment or two at the three mismatched buildings on the corner of 24th Street and Camelback and groan.

It turns out we lost an excellent Christmas-tree lot only to assuage Symington's monumental ego.

From the start, Symington sold everyone a bill of goods. Now he is being called upon to defend his actions.

It is amazing how detached Symington can be from reality.

He was the first to call for former Governor Mecham's resignation because his problems would make it impossible to govern properly. The truth of the matter is that Symington's problems are much more severe than Mecham's ever were.

Someone asked Symington about an FBI investigation of him.
"The FBI is one of the great institutions and known for its objectivity," Symington shot back. "I welcome the inquiry. They're real professionals. Let's go."

The most amusing of Symington's defenses was his claim that the attack on him is political.

This is a deal that's being ramrodded by his own Republican party, and there is nothing for anyone to gain by attacking Symington merely because he holds the office of governor of Arizona.

On a national scale, the governor of Arizona is just so much warm beer.

The only logical reason for Resolution Trust Corporation to go after Symington is because the agency is convinced he truly was a "blatant self-dealer" who got away with millions from Southwest Savings and Loan.

"I spent two years of my life to build this magnificent property you see here today," Symington said toward the end.

"I was the only one who had the guts and talent to put a project like this together."

It was uncanny to hear Symington speak like this.

He sounded just like Charlie Keating did in the final days before the government shut him down.

After it was over, Symington and his wife walked out through the Ritz-Carlton lobby. It was like a scene out of Dickens. There were all those Christmas decorations and all those fawning employees. The governor and his wife were surrounded by camp followers and photographers. I stood off to the side to watch the crowd pass.

I don't ask questions at press conferences. They do no real good except for the television viewers. Besides, unless you know a politician inside and out, it's next to impossible to trip him up in his own area of expertise--himself.

Any politician worth his salt knows how to slip off a potentially embarrassing question and parry it with an answer that merely seems to be addressing the matter head-on.

Symington spotted me at the edge of the crowd and made a detour toward me. He had already attacked everyone else on his list during the press conference. I assumed I was next.

"Have you ever met Tom Fitzpatrick, Ann?" Symington asked his wife.

At this climactic moment, in the presence of the august governor and his first lady, I couldn't take my eyes off the military decoration Symington always wears in his left lapel.

It is the Bronze Star, which Symington was awarded during the Vietnam War. His constant wearing of this war ribbon tells much about his character. He is like the benchwarmer on a successful football team who insists on wearing his letter sweater every day of the year.

You see, there are two kinds of Bronze Stars: One is for bravery, and the other is for meritorious service. Symington's is for the latter. He was a loading officer in Laos who received his decoration for doing a workmanlike job of telling people which bombs to load on which airplanes.

Compare this to Kansas Senator Robert Dole, who wears a Purple Heart ribbon in his lapel. Dole was recovering in a hospital for three years after being wounded in World War II and is still unable to use one arm.

Compare it to Hawaii Senator Daniel Inouye, who also wears a ribbon in his lapel. Inouye is missing an arm.

Fleetingly, I thought of asking Symington when he was going to introduce me to his girlfriend, Annette Alvarez. She had already left the hotel alone. But even for me that would have been a bit rude.

I asked Symington instead about the possibility of a criminal action against him that might stem from a loan he took out from the American Savings and Loan Society in Salt Lake City while he was still sitting on its board of directors.

"Ann," Symington said, "didn't we take that loan out on our house?"

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Tom Fitzpatrick