By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
City Controller Rick Tuttle, an ardent Freeman fan, fought against it. The power crunch in San Diego was making him nervous. Wouldn’t it be more prudent for the city to hang on to the plant, ensuring that if times got lean, there would be enough power, and enough diversity of sources, to shore up the city‘s supply? “I was and still remain worried,” Tuttle said recently. “I think it was not wise to make that move.” In the end, with the help of Mayor Richard Riordan and the support of the council majority, Freeman carried the day.
In light of today’s soaring natural-gas prices and the deepening severity of the energy shortage, this is one Freeman deal that, arguably, has not weathered well. When pressed to respond to Tuttle‘s opposition to the project, Freeman bristled. “I fought in World War II for Rick’s right to be wrong,” he said. “The decision was made on a number of points, but the decision was made. If I spent my time fretting over yesterday and last week and last year, nothing would ever get done.”
As it turns out, the sale has been held up by the state because of concerns over the Edison part of the package. Tuttle, seeing the slimmest of opportunities for a reprieve, has written to the state‘s Public Utilities Commission, urging it to hold off on approving the deal until the energy crisis is resolved.
From the earliest days of his public-power career, Dave Freeman had no intention of becoming just another gray-suited number cruncher. Though he was well-practiced at running power utilities, he was never just a manager. He had a vision for conservation and renewable energy, and he was better versed on the subjects than just about anybody. Never one to shy away from the spotlight, he sought out politicians and other public figures, both because he liked being around them and because he knew they could play a critical role in helping him advance his agenda.
While in Washington, he befriended many leading activists and Democratic politicians of the day, including Walter Mondale, Edward Kennedy, and Ralph Nader, who later called him “a most remarkable man.”
During his tenure at the Sacramento Municipal Utility District, Freeman forged deep bonds with many of California’s Democratic heavy hitters, from major party contributors such as real estate developer and (later) Lincoln-bedroom snoozer Angelo Tsakopoulos, to nascent politico Phil Angelides, who at the time was a realtor and head of the state Democratic Party. Freeman‘s then-wife, Suzanne, worked for Angelides as head of the statewide get-out-the-vote drive, and the couple threw themselves into Sacramento charities and civic causes. That Freeman was on a first-name basis with presidential hopeful Bill Clinton only added to his cachet, and he and Suzanne quickly became the toast of the Sacramento Democratic circuit.
Freeman had less success transforming his social ties into political appointments. While at SMUD, he was passed over for a spot in the Clinton White House; he had previously been under consideration for a post in the doomed Dukakis regime. Still, he was itching to be near the action.
On January 1, 2000, Freeman took a leave from his job as head of the DWP to run for the state Assembly, setting his sights on the Santa Monica--to--West Valley district being vacated by Sheila Kuehl. In this era of term limits, the chance to get elected and quickly ascend to the leadership appealed to him. “I’m basically an unabashed, old-fashioned liberal,” he said at the time. “In my heart I‘m just kind of a rabble-rouser. I’ve had to behave myself for a long, long time, and it‘s time for me to get back into public service.”
Freeman ran a good race, but his lack of connection to the community proved a liability. He lost to Fran Pavley, a middle school teacher who’d served four terms as mayor and councilwoman in Agoura Hills.
Perhaps the most notable thing about that campaign was the contributions Freeman received. The single largest donation, $40,000, came from Sacramento developer Angelo Tsakopoulos. But some $68,000, nearly one-fourth of Freeman‘s total campaign contributions, came from donors with a clear connection to the electric-power industry. These included PG&E, Edison, the DWP, and Jan Smutny-Jones, at that time head of the ISO. He also recieved $7,500 form the CEO of Enron, one of the very companies he is negotiating with now. Freeman says that those contributions were friendship-based, had no bearing on his work, and were inevitable, given his long career in the field. Certainly the fact that Freeman received donations from parties on all sides of the current energy-crisis tangle lends credence to his claims of no conflict.
Dave Freeman isn’t really a cowboy. Not of the “Git along, little dogies” variety anyway. He started wearing the hat about 10 years ago to protect his skin from the sun and still dons it each morning, as much for its symbolic force as for any shade it provides. During the heat of the ongoing electricity negotiations he is refusing all interviews, but periodically allows camera crews and still photographers to capture his image at work.