News

THE GOVERNOR'S 800-POUND GORILLA

Page 5 of 13

Dowd's strategy is compatible with Symington's long-term predilection for bully-boy tactics. In 1983 the well-respected city councilmember Ed Korrick represented the Phoenix district where Fife Symington and Southwest Savings wanted to erect the Esplanade. Symington wanted a zoning change from the city that would have allowed him to turn the massive project into one of gargantuan proportions. When residents of the area objected, Ed Korrick listened.

That was enough for Symington. Serving as Republican party treasurer, Symington slipped $15,000 into the campaign of Korrick's opponent Jim Gardiner. At the time this was a remarkable sum of cash to give to a council race. "Symington took five contributions from fellow developers on Camelback who, like Symington, wanted council approval to expand their project," recalled Korrick in a recent telephone call. "That was DevCor, right across the street from Symington's Esplanade. Symington laundered the funds through the Republican party and gave $15,000 to Gardiner so that you wouldn't be able to tell where the cash came from. At the time, that size contribution in a council race was pretty much limited to the Charlie Keatings."

Symington denied any wrongdoing at the time and the attorney general refused to prosecute.

Although Korrick won, the point is that Symington was prepared to crush the experienced councilmember and foist upon the City of Phoenix a monumentally naive candidate, Jim Gardiner, a gentleman whose qualification for the post was that he was a security guard. Later, when the Esplanade was erected, Symington was ruthless once again. He moved the only tenant from one of the smallest properties he managed, the Missouri Court, into the Esplanade. The switch killed Symington's partners in the Missouri Court, a project that quickly went into default.

The eight investors in the Missouri Court, who felt they were sacrificed by Symington for the ambitious Esplanade, say they faced threats when they voiced their concern.

"He told us that we wouldn't be seeing the lease and that if we pressed this question, or brought up this situation publicly and made a big deal about it before the election," one investor told New Times, "he would hit us individually with suits. I don't have time or money to fight the bottomless jar of lawyers that Symington could sic on me to file nuisance suits.

"All of this may not be illegal. Hell, he might even consider it good business. But it sure is unethical in my book. And it shows you that you don't need a mask and gun to hold somebody up."
Symington's instinct for heavy-handed diplomacy suggests that when he found an attorney, John Dowd, who was capable of roughhouse tactics, it was more than a marriage of convenience. These two respond to what they perceive as unjust criticism of the governor with legal violence the way victims of Tourette's syndrome bark: instinctively, loudly, helplessly.

@rule:
@body:How effective has Symington and Dowd's campaign of press intimidation been?

Dowd's most impressive victory was with the Mesa Tribune, which repeatedly crossed swords with the governor. After firing off a letter of demand for retraction, Dowd and Washington, D.C., publicist Jay Smith met with the Tribune's editors and journalists in the paper's Mesa office on February 18.

Reporter John Dougherty, who'd written articles critical of Symington, soon got into a heated discussion with Smith and Dowd. At one point the remarks escalated into argument and then degenerated into shouting.

Dougherty and Smith actually stood up and prepared to take their differences into the parking lot.

What followed was alarming.
Instead of allowing Dougherty to defend his honor--and then cutting the reporter a bonus check for understanding that journalists actually do have reputations worth protecting--the paper's executives escorted Dougherty from the room and took him off of the Symington story.

Once Dougherty allowed himself to be provoked, the paper became vulnerable to charges from the governor's men that the Tribune's reporter was simply a hothead out to avenge himself upon Symington.

The Mesa Tribune wanted to make sure readers had no questions regarding Dougherty's continued ability to be fair.

But this was not the end of the dustup.
When interviewed about the confrontation, Jay Smith said that it was the reporter who initiated the call to fists.

So Symington's team first attacked Dougherty's professional skills, then accused him of picking the fight. In the February 29 edition of the media trade publication Editor and Publisher, Smith said, "He [Dougherty] asked me to step outside. It is not my habit to invite people outside to fight . . ."

KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Michael Lacey
Contact: Michael Lacey