J. Fife Symington III grew up on a 500-acre estate in the blue-blood Maryland hunt country. There were neighbors with names like S. Bonsal White Jr. and Benjamin Howell Griswold IV.
Symington went to Harvard. His father went to Princeton. The family owned a steel mill.
Symington is a man of inherited wealth who has never had to do a serious day's work.
Symington's million-dollar television campaign is currently blanketing the local television market. Each time we flick the channel we see Symington's smiling face. Each time he is telling us how sincere he is about making Arizona better.
The real Symington is not the one you see on your television screen.
The real Symington is a slippery sort, who played fast and loose with the campaign-spending laws during his term as secretary of Arizona's Republican party. Symington demonstrated during those days in 1985 just how willing he is to spend money to get his way.
Symington's last big television campaign took place that year when he was trying to sell his Esplanade project at 24th Street and Camelback to the members of the Phoenix City Council.
A leading member of the council at that time was Ed Korrick, who lived in the Biltmore district. Korrick opposed the building of the Esplanade project because of the increased traffic it would bring to the area and the disruption to its residents.
Korrick wasn't alone. Symington's Esplanade was widely opposed at the time. There certainly was no popular ground swell of people who ran around demanding they have a branch of the Ritz-Carlton hotel at the nearest corner.
Symington attempted to deal with Korrick by having him defeated at the polls. He surreptitiously donated $30,000 of his own money to the campaign of Korrick's opponent, James Gardiner.
Since Symington was secretary of the Republican party, he made it look as though the money had been donated to Gardiner by the party rather than Symington.
At the time Symington donated $30,000, the campaign limit for an individual was $200.
Symington broke the campaign donation law in a big way. The case was brought to Bob Corbin, the attorney general. Corbin, being a staunch Republican, refused to prosecute.
Symington now tells us that if elected governor, he will make Arizona a better place to live.
When he was attempting to sell his Esplanade project, Symington ran a similar campaign on both radio and television.
Paid actors were hired to impersonate citizens who were enthusiastic to see the Esplanade project built.
There was much talk of a "world-class project" in a campaign that cost $500,000 and employed four public relations agencies. In addition to Joanne Ralston, there also was First Tuesday, Earl DeBerge and his Behavioral Research Center, and Rick DeGraw and his Roots Development Company.
One night, Symington and his lawyers met with residents of the Arizona Biltmore neighborhood who were fearful of the increased traffic at 24th Street and Camelback.
Symington's lawyer, Buzz Slavin Jr., told the crowd something I never forgot. "The actual traffic at that intersection," he said, "is much different than the perception of traffic." Symington has always been able to resort to spending money to get his way. At one point during the Esplanade battle, he offered residents opposing him a total of more than a million dollars if they gave up their opposition.
Symington finally got his way with the Esplanade, but the project which exists there today is a far cry from the one he promised.
It is far from being world-class. It isn't even a shopping center. What we have there now is a transient hotel which does minimum business and a few restaurants. The cost to the area in terms of quality of living has been brutal.
Try doing something as simple as walking across the street at 24th and East Camelback. It's nearly impossible. Thanks to Symington's project, the intersection is in a constant state of gridlock.
I suppose that's not real traffic out there, only a perception.
Symington has always been able to resort to spending money to get his way.
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