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SWUNG ON AND MISSED

If three strikes are out, Arizona has finally touched the bottom of the barrel.

First, there was Evan Mecham, whose eccentricities became such a cause celebre that the Arizona State Legislature voted him out of the governor's office after a lengthy impeachment trial that enthralled the entire nation.

Mecham was followed by Rose Mofford, whose term was made memorable only because of the shopping trips she made on state planes to San Diego department stores and the appointment of old cronies like Ralph Milstead, former director of the Department of Public Safety, to her inner sanctum.

Now we have Fife Symington, a transplanted blue blood from the Maryland shore who is a developer by trade.

Symington has been called, by his friends, the "Winston Churchill of real estate." The friends make it plain that they are referring to Churchill in his "down period."

In our infinite wisdom, we have now chosen as governor this businessman who is so skilled in the art of the deal that he is $220 million in debt. And this is his own estimate.

Seemingly, Symington must plan to barricade himself in the ninth floor governor's office in an effort to avoid the army of lawyers certain to come to collect on his unpaid business obligations.

A recent event may have provided us with a view of just the tip of the iceberg.

Summoned to give a deposition, Symington ordered that the room be cleared of reporters before he would agree to testify.

Six hours later, Symington finally finished answering questions for the deposition. However, our newly elected governor declined to discuss what had taken place inside the room.

"It was no big deal," he assured reporters and refused further comment.
This is the man who gave us the "World-Class Esplanade" at the corner of 24th Street and Camelback. It might prove to be an interesting project for the general public if enough of them could ever find a way to enter the property and park their cars.

According to the Senate Judiciary Committee, there are problems with the Esplanade that are more serious than confused parking patterns. The committee charges that Symington violated conflict-of-interest laws when he took $30 million from Southwest Savings and Loan Association while sitting on its board of directors.

The committee also cites the fact that Southwest Savings violated the basic requirement that an appraisal of the property be made before the money was invested.

Jerome Hirsch, once a co-partner in the Esplanade, wrote a letter in 1983 predicting that the project would become "the most expensive white elephant in the world."

It may still turn out to be that way, in which case the people who stand to be hurt the worst are the Japanese investors who have sunk millions into the project.

Symington still insists there was no conflict of interest in this business transaction with Southwest Savings and that the institution always made money while he was associated with it.

Like a lot of things that Symington says, this is not true. Documents released by the Senate committee show that Southwest Savings lost $8.3 million in 1981 and $10.4 million in 1982. Symington left the board in 1984.

It happened so long ago that people now forget how Symington tried to buy an election for a Phoenix City Council candidate who could deliver an important vote his way on the Esplanade project.

Symington poured money into the man's campaign and attempted to camouflage his actions by listing it as funds from the state Republican party.

At the time, Symington was the state party treasurer.
The matter was investigated by Attorney General Bob Corbin, a fellow Republican, who declined to indict Symington.

Southwest Savings, like so many other Arizona savings and loan institutions, failed after falling millions of dollars in debt.

As a developer, Symington has been teetering on the brink for years.
His was the vision behind the downtown Mercado shopping center on Van Buren Street, which has by now become a virtual ghost town when compared to the Arizona Center on the other side of the street.

Several stores have already closed their doors because of lack of business. Others are barely holding on, hoping for a miraculous upturn in the economy.

Arizona itself is teetering on the brink. Public confidence is at an all-time low. The AzScam scandal was the last thing the legislature needed at this point.

Symington, a dilettante under constant siege from his own monumental financial problems, is unquestionably the last man on Earth who should have been elected governor at this time.

We have now chosen as governor a businessman so skilled in the art of the deal that he is $220 million in debt.

Symington's was the vision behind the downtown Mercado shopping center, which has by now become a virtual ghost town.

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Tom Fitzpatrick