Longform

Mayor Gordon May Be Remembered Most for Compromising His Ethics for the Woman He Loved

It's election night, and the crowd is exuberant inside the auditorium at Civic Space Park on Arizona State University's downtown Phoenix campus.

The celebration on August 20 is about the re-election of Councilman Michael Nowakowski and the victory of Greg Stanton, a mayoral candidate who ended the night with the most votes, securing a spot in a November showdown with runner-up Wes Gullett.

Though he has been working the crowd, Mayor Phil Gordon seems glum.

Gordon's all-business security detail keeps a watchful eye on him as he pauses briefly to shake a hand, pat a shoulder, and exchange a few words.

A reporter spots him and, with notebook in hand, weaves through the crowd to elicit the mayor's thoughts about the election results and the two men who are competing to replace him.

Gordon isn't happy to see the member of the press. He has three months left in office, and his future plans are uncertain. It's also getting circulated that his romantic relationship with political fundraiser Elissa Mullany is over.

Like ASU's downtown Phoenix campus, which he helped make a reality and where this event is taking place, Gordon's love affair with Mullany will define his two terms as mayor of America's sixth-largest city.

Mullany publicly raised eyebrows when she ascended from Gordon's political fundraiser to his well-paid girlfriend. As the romantic relationship developed, she landed consulting gigs with executives — including high-profile developers, an international transportation firm, and foreign dignitaries — who benefited from their ties to Gordon.

Gordon barely looks up at the reporter, continuing to move through the crowd, only more quickly now. He doesn't respond to her request for comment about the election, only slightly shaking his head. He grabs a few more hands and, eyes cast down, scurries through the auditorium's double doors.

In the hallway, he runs into Greg Stanton. The two shake hands as the trailing reporter pulls out a camera in an attempt to capture the moment: one man winding down his city political career and another winding his up. Gordon spots the camera and guides Stanton farther down the corridor to avoid getting photographed.

They chat for just a few seconds before Gordon leaves the building, climbs into a dark vehicle driven by one of the Phoenix police officers charged with his safety, and disappears into the night.

Gordon didn't always duck the media.

During his first term and in the early days of his second, he gladly allowed reporters to roam his space on the 11th floor of City Hall. He was happy to share his daily calendar with anybody in the press who requested it.

Friendly Mayor Phil became secretive Mayor Gordon in 2009, when uncomfortable questions were first raised about whether Gordon was mixing city business with his personal life. Specifically: Did the mayor use the influence of his office to get his girlfriend and her company a financial and professional edge? Did he make it possible for her to get paid by powerful companies doing business with the city?

One of the companies that employed Elissa Mullany while she was Gordon's girlfriend was Veolia Transportation, which has a five-year, more-than-$380 million contract with the city to operate its bus fleet.


Mayor Phil Gordon first professed support for Veolia Transportation to win the city's huge bus contract at a June 2009 City Council meeting. The mayor's endorsement came even before competing business proposals were on the table and during a time when his relationship with Elissa Mullany was the stuff of City Hall rumors.

Causing concern, after the mayor said he wanted the contract to go to Veolia, was that the company had hired Mullany, his then-alleged love interest, as a consultant in 2007 and still was cutting her checks as it competed for the city's business.

Though Gordon insisted that she was just a good friend, Mullany spent a lot of time at the Mayor's Office as the contract was getting decided. Sometimes wearing revealing attire, she would flirt with the mayor in front of office staff.

The truth wouldn't stay hidden for long.

Gordon tried desperately to shield himself from questions about his relationship with Mullany, about what role she played in city business he conducted. He worked hard to keep documents secret that would expose what was going on.

But information about how their personal and professional relationships were commingled leaked in 2009 from sources with ties to Gordon.

It became public that Mullany was indeed Gordon's girlfriend and had gotten paid to represent, as a consultant, companies doing business with the city — that, during his travels allegedly on behalf of the city, Gordon solicited jobs for her and tried to help her establish connections for new business ventures.

The smitten Gordon's behavior was a far cry from the image he had cultivated for himself as a folksy neighborhood-watch politician and tireless cheerleader for Phoenix.

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Monica Alonzo
Contact: Monica Alonzo