This is not a love story.
Nor is this about the lives of private persons.
In fact, the story of Annette Alvarez and Fife Symington is a public disgrace. It's an old tale about the bigness of little things, of petty crimes that become a person's undoing.

If the Symington Administration crumbles, it will be due to something small. Like a lie. Whether it's a white lie or The Big Lie doesn't really matter. What's gotten this Governor a recall petition in record time and cost him the public's confidence is the cover-up. Like I said, it's an old story.

Twenty years ago, when a cover-up undid President Nixon, the Monday- morning armchair advisers all said, He should've burned the tapes." No evidence, no crime.

But these tapes won't burn. They're indelibly printed in the minds of even those who most wanted to see this administration succeed.

Mostly, they show Symington pulling the covers over his head and denying that he's in the room. The punch line, of course, is that the taxpayers are paying for the room.

During his 1990 gubernatorial campaign, he got away with this tactic. New Times challenged the central pillar in his house of cards by questioning his skills as a businessman. Remember, Symington sold himself as the guy who would run government like a business.

And the public bought it.
When we showed that this well-heeled developer was presiding over an empire in dire financial straits, and predicted that his term in office would be consumed with investment failures, lawsuits and potential conflicts of interest, Symington dismissed it all as the mad ravings of tabloid journalism."

When the Washington Post subsequently ran its story last August about the federal lawsuit waiting in the wings over Fife's role in the Southwest Savings and Loan debacle, Symington broadened his attack. The media," he roared indignantly, were the real culprits, for they had sprung the leaks."

Sure enough, when the Resolution Trust Corporation named Symington as a defendant in the multimillion-dollar suit, the Governor and his bully-boy advisers again went on the offensive. This time, the RTC was the opposing team, and Symington chastised the federal prosecutors for not giving him opportunity enough to settle the case out of court before it was filed.

Again, some people bought it, though the list of the gullible kept getting smaller.

Meanwhile, Symington was running government like a business. Like his business. Like a business in trouble. Like nobody's business.

The Governor filled the highest echelons of state government with all the thirtysomething Symington Company employees that public money could buy.

Annette Alvarez was one of them. A beauty. Symington paid her $60,000 a year and made her his top assistant in charge of Arizona's international trade.

Just because she had no experience in foreign trade didn't matter. She hadn't graduated college, either. Perhaps she had some special skill that qualified her for the job.

But in short order, it became clear that Annette was a lost ball in high grass. In her first month in office, she'd cost the state a multimillion-dollar trade opportunity with the Japanese, and insulted its diplomatic emissaries in the process.

What's more, she'd frittered away precious time in establishing a trade outpost in Mexico City. In the process, she offended top Arizona business persons who'd wanted to boost commerce between the state and its Mexican neighbors. More money down the drain.

When New Times was researching the foibles of this appointee, we asked ourselves how Symington could have picked this woman for the job. Along the way, we discovered a love letter she'd written My Dear Fife" in the early hours of the campaign, back in December 1989.

In that handwritten letter, Alvarez professed her undying love for Symington. ÔI do know I love you," she wrote, and it will be forever, but I don't think it's the kind of love I'm looking for."

As the letter went on, she described the pain of a previous relationship she'd had with a married man. She said she didn't want to live out any more secrets." She waxed on about the hummingbird Fife had given her. Bright, vibrant and free."

And she said: My Dear Fife, I am slowly going under by allowing this heightened intimacy to continue. I've changed the faces but the behaviors are constant."

Last October we published a story that catalogued the millions of dollars in lost opportunities Alvarez had cost the state. We also offered the only logical explanation of how this college dropout had risen so quickly to the top of the Symington Administration. It spoke volumes about the Governor's judgment.

And his hubris.
While we said the letter suggested an intimate affair between Symington and Alvarez, we also admitted that the missive, at a minimum, showed Annette's emotional dependency on Fife. All in all, it was not a healthy way to conduct the state's foreign affairs.

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David J. Bodney