Mayor Gordon: Romance and poor judgment
by Monica Alonzo-Dunsmoor - Jan. 2, 2010 06:18 PM
The Arizona Republic
Elissa Mullany was a familiar figure around Phoenix City Hall.
That much was known.
Mullany wasn't a city employee, but for more than a year, she often used an office just a few doors down from Mayor Phil Gordon as his political fundraiser. As his fundraiser and later as his girlfriend, Mullany enjoyed the kind of access to Gordon that many contributors surely prized. At the same time, it was profitable work for Mullany, who earned more than $235,000 and saw her profile raised by Gordon.
Gordon, through an outside spokesman, has released a highly controlled trickle of information about his relationship with Mullany. But he continues to withhold other public records that might shed light on exactly when their relationship began and on whether Gordon's publicly funded security detail often drove Mullany around the Valley.
As questions swirled about Mullany's relationship with Gordon this past year, the atmosphere on the 11th floor of City Hall became awkward. Some staffers cringed, some cracked jokes. It was clear the relationship was more than professional. The mayor and his fundraiser - both separated from their spouses - were romantically involved.
Gordon's advisers grew uneasy. With good reason.
Mixing romance, campaign contributions and politics can be explosive. At the very least, it presents an unprofessional image that could hurt the public's impression of the Mayor's Office. It gives the impression of poor judgment, lack of restraint and presents the potential for abuse.
Gordon, whose divorce is close to being finalized, recognized last fall that questions about his romance with Mullany were growing. Gordon, 58, and Mullany, 38, say they started dating in March 2008, but many insiders saw signs of a relationship emerging months earlier.
Just before Thanksgiving, Gordon hired Jason Rose of Rose & Allyn, a public-relations firm known best for sharp elbows and extravagant spin.
In a Dec. 8 news release, Gordon announced that, out of "an abundance of caution," he was asking Phoenix City Attorney Gary Verburg and former Arizona Supreme Court Chief Justice Thomas Zlaket to conduct a legal review of Mullany's ties to the Mayor's Office.
Verburg, who represents the mayor and council, declared Gordon did nothing illegal. Similarly, Zlaket cleared Gordon this past week of any legal wrongdoing even as he cautioned him that "perception is sometimes as important as reality."
In a letter Monday to Gordon, Zlaket also wrote that "legitimate questions" may be prompted by "certain actions or payments."
There is clearly more to maintaining integrity in public office than merely following the law.
For months, this newspaper, among others, had been asking questions about Gordon and Mullany's relationship. The mayor probably knew that one day he would be reading about his girlfriend in the newspaper. With Rose's guidance, he got a jump on the headlines and began trying to manage the story and the fallout.
Gordon and Mullany declined to comment for this column.
Over the past few years, Mullany earned a living off political contributions to the mayor's campaigns and political-action committees with ties to the mayor.
Since 2006, Mullany has made more than $235,000 raising money for and managing PACs with ties to Gordon. Most of the money came after she started dating Gordon, in March 2008.
Mullany received an $8,000-a-month salary for 12 months in 2008 to manage Gordon's federal PAC, "Moving Phoenix Forward." That PAC was formed for the benefit of Phoenix and its residents. It brought in money from local power brokers and allowed Gordon to make financial donations to congressional candidates. Mullany pocketed about 65 percent of the money raised by that PAC, records show. That hardly compares with the 10 to 35 percent that fundraisers typically receive.
All told, Gordon's federal PAC, formed in December 2007, paid $104,497 to Mullany's company for committee management, fundraising and travel expenses. During the same time, it contributed just $54,700 to congressional candidates.
Rose, Gordon's spokesman, said Mullany's earnings from the federal PAC were based on what they anticipated she would raise. That goal wasn't met, but Mullany still got paid handsomely.
Public records also show Mullany collected:
• A $6,000 "winning bonus" in December 2008 from "Friends for Phil," a PAC that raised money to fight an attempt to recall Gordon. Opponents didn't even submit enough signatures to force an election.
• A $500-a-month "retainer" from "Phil for Phoenix," Gordon's own campaign war chest, for a year after his re-election from December 2007 to December 2008.
• $20,000 for "administration," in March 2009, also from Gordon's campaign PAC. The payment came after that fund had been dormant for more than a year.
• $10,000 for "fundraising" in January 2009 from the "Phoenix Election Consolidation Committee" even though records show the PAC didn't raise any money. Instead, funds were transferred to it from two PACs: "Friends for Phil," and "Phil for Phoenix."
• $10,000 for "fundraising services" in May 2008 from "Building Our Future," a PAC that had been formed to support a Phoenix bond election that ended two years earlier in March 2006.
Were these over-the-top perks for the mayor's girlfriend? Or fair compensation for a hardworking fundraiser and civic-minded businesswoman? The public - and the donors who gave to his funds - are left to wonder.
Raising a profile
In addition to serving as his fundraiser, Gordon raised Mullany's profile by appointing her to commissions such as the Phoenix Global Trade Initiative in August 2008.
As a board member, Mullany traveled to Dubai in 2008. She was also paid $12,000 to organize a fundraising event for the global-trade group. Trip expenses were paid for by donations made to the Global Trade Initiative from area businesses and a $5,000 contribution from the Phoenix Aviation Department in 2008. The trips were intended to help promote international investment, link flights between Phoenix and Dubai and strengthen the city's economy.
Before it disbanded, the Global Trade Initiative also paid to send Gordon to Israel in May 2008. Not coincidentally, Mullany was also in Israel at that time, but Rose says she paid her own way.
Although Gordon would like to appear transparent to the public with his call for a self-review, he continues to withhold public information.
On July 17, I requested a log kept by the mayor's publicly funded security detail that tracks his movements, including where he is picked up in the morning and dropped off at day's end. It includes stops made in between and names of passengers.
The request struck a nerve with the Phoenix mayor.
Only minutes after e-mailing my request to the city, I got a phone call from Gordon. He pressed to know why I wanted the security logs.
What had been an almost instant reaction from the mayor turned into a two-month slog for information. My numerous calls to the city to get the records proved unsuccessful in the end.
My request was denied, just as Gordon said it would be during that July 17 phone call. He told me the logs would not be released for "security reasons," then abruptly hung up.
The city based its denial on, among other things, concern that anyone wishing to do the mayor harm could establish a pattern of his movements. It was a surprising argument because the city routinely trumpets Gordon's weekly schedules to Valley media, including the times and locations of his appearances.
Keeping the records away from the public is part of his political maneuvering.
That's also why it was Gordon himself who put out the first serious news of the relationship. His news release about the legal review came blazing out of the blue.
The release suggested it had been spurred by news reports of U.S. Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., caught recommending his girlfriend for a prestigious U.S. attorney job. Gordon wanted to assure the public that his very different circumstance should not be compared to the Montana senator's.
But Gordon's relationship had not been publicly discussed, so what was there to compare?
The news release only served to reveal Gordon's determination to keep his professional and personal worlds from further colliding.
Mayor starts to change
When he was elected in 2003, Gordon cast himself as the neighborhood mayor with his front-porch bench initiatives to combat crime.
He donned an apron to serve coffee or sandwiches at local shops promoting causes and campaigning.
Gordon never seemed as concerned as his staff about the wrinkles in his suit, a messy hair day or misplaced pauses when he delivered his speeches. He was a likable guy who drank too much coffee, couldn't sit still and wanted great things for downtown Phoenix.
He successfully pushed for a public-safety tax that provided more resources for the police and fire departments and a nearly $1 billion bond election that included money to build an Arizona State University campus in downtown Phoenix.
But after his re-election in 2007, Gordon began to change. He began wearing trendy and tailored suits, primped and pressed. His hair was styled, not just cut.
Suddenly, the man who hated to travel was jetting around the world to places like Chicago and New York, Philadelphia, Israel, Saudi Arabia and Dubai - his fundraiser and girlfriend often in tow.
In the same news release he used to introduce Mullany to the public, Gordon said he had "done everything possible" to serve his office with integrity.
The Rose spin suggests this is a mayor highly attuned to ethical matters.
But he clearly was deaf for months to the gossip and tittering in his own office while blind to the conflict of interest suggested by Mullany's high profile at City Hall. Gordon may have done nothing illegal, but he surely demonstrated a tin ear for proper conduct.
In other ways, the mayor seems different these days. He's thinner. Seems distracted. His suits are ill-fitting. He looks haggard.
Maybe the pressures of a crumbling marriage, a complicated relationship with Mullany and an uncertain political future (after failed attempts to extend his time in office) have taken their toll.
Unfortunately for the mayor, it's not only his suits that aren't fitting well. These days, his sense of judgment is also looking pretty disheveled.
Monica Alonzo-Dunsmoor is an editorial writer who formerly covered Phoenix City Hall as a reporter. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ex-chief justice clears Gordon in conflict-of-interest review
by Scott Wong - Dec. 29, 2009 12:00 AM
The Arizona Republic
Former Arizona Supreme Court Chief Justice Thomas A. Zlaket warned Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon that "perception is sometimes as important as reality."
But he said Monday that Gordon had not violated any elections or conflict-of-interest laws by paying his chief fundraiser hundreds of thousands of dollars in private money after the mayor began dating her in March 2008.
Since 2005, Elissa Mullany and her consulting firm, MullanyWunder LLC, have received more than $340,000 to raise funds for city-initiative campaigns supporting parks and public safety, as well as Gordon's re-election campaign, State of the City address and private initiatives, including those focused on international trade and an anti-recall effort. More than half of that money - at least $200,000 - was paid during the time Gordon, 58, and Mullany, 38, say they were romantically involved, campaign-finance records show.
But Zlaket, a Tucson attorney who has never met Gordon, said the mayor did not break the state conflict-of-interest law since neither he nor an immediate family member personally benefited from Mullany's payments. Girlfriends are not covered by the statute.
Zlaket cautioned Gordon in a Dec. 26 letter, saying that "while certain actions or payments here may prompt legitimate questions, nothing brought to my attention qualifies as a prohibited activity."
Zlaket said he understands MullanyWunder's payments - about 15 percent - were in line with the industry standard.
He noted one exception: In January 2008, Gordon's federal political-action committee, designed to support and win favor with members of Congress, began paying Mullany an $8,000 monthly retainer fee disproportionate to the money she was hauling in. The next year, Gordon scaled back to commission-based payments.
"On behalf of the mayor, I am pleased with the Zlaket findings but also appreciate some of the candor that was provided in his letter," said Jason Rose, a Gordon spokesman.
Rose didn't know if Mullany would continue to raise funds for the mayor but conceded that "changes are being evaluated."
Following media questions about Mullany this month, Gordon went public with his relationship, hiring Rose to handle public relations and Zlaket to review any impropriety. Gordon likely will pay Zlaket and Rose from his re-election campaign fund. Their fees are unclear.
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