News

WHAT SYMINGTON IS HIDING

These days it takes a blood lust to run for public office. In time, the candidate must forsake time-honored virtues. He must lie. He must cheat. Sometimes he must do both.

Three weeks ago New Times ran an investigation of Fife Symington's real estate empire. Like many others, we wondered whether Symington's kingdom was just another house of cards.

After all, with Arizona's economy in a graveyard spiral, all those vacancy signs in Symington's windows might spell trouble. Even for Fife.

It's no secret how the mighty have fallen in this state. Start with Charlie Keating, Gary Driggs, Gene Rice and move down the line.

Symington has sold his entire candidacy on the premise that Arizona needs a businessman as its next governor to guide the state out of its economic slump. He touts his financial success as qualification enough for the job.

We decided to examine Symington's record.
Our probe revealed:
* Symington's Missouri Court property in Phoenix was foreclosed last October after the building's investors (led by Symington, who was the co-managing general partner of the project) defaulted on a $1.9 million loan. Several of the project's limited partnerships blamed Symington for the failure and accused him of sacrificing them to bolster his trophy project, the Camelback Esplanade.

* A few weeks later, another Symington property, the Scottsdale Centre, slipped into default when Travelers Insurance Company sued one of Symington's many limited partnerships over its failure to make payments on a $23.5 million loan to build and manage the property.

* Large blocks of the downtown Mercado--a Symington project heavily subsidized by the city, state and federal governments--remain vacant, and its tenants are frustrated with Symington's broken promises to promote the project actively.

* In total, Symington's eighteen Valley development projects and business ventures have $200 million in outstanding loan debt.

One barrier, however, to knowing whether Symington's troubled empire is any more solid than Keating's is Fife himself--he won't reveal his tax returns or financial statements, and he's not discussing any of the particulars. Now Symington's talking about our story.

Now Symington's lying.
And now we know why.

It all happens so smoothly. The candidate wears his navy blue suit, flashes his button-down smile and offers his best side to the camera. He begins by telling KTSP's Dave Patterson how the campaign's going. He tells stories of the child who sends her weekly five-dollar allowance to his campaign; of how he appears unannounced in her classroom. Patterson the interviewer is obsequious. He assures the candidate his question is posed not as a Democrat, but as a "person." Finally, the television host musters the nerve to ask Symington about the New Times article. Symington grins appreciatively. He's obviously eager to dismiss any concerns about his financial woes. The candidate then dons the look of the inconsolable patrician and fires his opening shot. "They didn't ask for a comment," Symington says with a straight face. This is his way of dismissing the questions about his business setbacks.

This is a lie.
It was told on Sunday, February 3, to the audience of KTSP's Face the State.

In fact, Darrin Hostetler, the article's author, telephoned Symington no fewer than seven times in the weeks preceding the story's publication for comment. He faxed two letters to Annette Alverez, the candidate's press secretary, requesting a telephone interview with Symington to discuss the developer's "finances." That's one nice thing about technology: We still have the fax receipt.

I even tried calling Symington twice before the story ran. Still no reply.
Sure, it's not the biggest lie we've heard from politicians lately. But it's a lie that underscores questions about Symington's integrity. What makes a candidate covet an office so completely that he'll lie to the voters? What makes Symington's lust for power so overwhelming that he'll do anything--even lie to the people--to keep his business deals a deep dark secret?

Symington tells Patterson he's having his lawyer write New Times a letter. Patterson says he'd like a copy of the letter. The talk-show host also says he'd like to travel with Symington in the final, balloon-filled days of the campaign. Sure enough, a letter from Symington's lawyer arrives. Its five pages consist of legal doubletalk, technical nitpicking and the closing admonition to "see the glass as half full and not half empty." Words of wisdom, true, but for most of us, they won't wash down at the bank.

Symington still won't talk about his financial situation, but the letter's draftsman offers himself as surrogate spokesman. I call him.

It seems the candidate's "biggest gripe" is with our statement that his company did not break ground on the Scottsdale Centre project until 1987--what one national financial analyst called a "clear miscalculation on Symington's part" given the local economic nosedive. The lawyer claims the project was actually completed sometime in 1984 when times were flush.

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David J. Bodney