By Ray Stern
By New Times
By Amy Silverman
By Stephen Lemons
By Stephen Lemons
By Monica Alonzo
By Chris Parker
By New Times
Two days before, Jennings had called a press conference in the pressroom of the Arizona Senate to call attention to what he called "serious questions" about Freestone's "judgment and skill." It was Jennings' first overt attack on Freestone, the campaign's fire bell.
"The central issue is about a pattern of activity that raises questions about Freestone's character," Jennings said.
Freestone, tipped off by a friendly reporter, was there when Jennings levied his charges.
Jennings alleged Freestone was negligent in the apparent overbilling of Maricopa County by Larry Richmond, an attorney and lobbyist who billed the county for 3,780 hours in fiscal 1990--the equivalent of more than 10 hours a day, every day of the year. Jennings pointed out that Freestone had accepted campaign contributions from Richmond in prior races. Richmond also contributed $500 to Freestone's exploratory committee earlier this year.
The Richmond story had broken in the Mesa Tribune earlier in the week. Although the newspaper had not cast any aspersions on Freestone, he was ready for the charge.
"I was complaining about [Richmond's hours] for years," Freestone says. "It's in the minutes of our meetings. I was raising concerns back in 1983."
Although he was chairman of the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors when Richmond's most extensive billings were filed, Freestone says he was unable to "get anyone's attention" about the problem and that the county continued its contractual agreements with Richmond over Freestone's protests.
Other county supervisors don't remember it that way. Though none of them would go on the record, several of Freestone's colleagues on the board at the time said they couldn't remember Freestone--or anyone else--raising any concerns about Richmond's hours. Freestone, however, maintains that he did raise the question, though he adds that he wasn't upset about the quality or quantity of Richmond's work, simply the lack of competition.
"I thought it looked bad that we didn't have any competing law firm doing any of that work," he says.
Also in his press conference, Jennings said Freestone tried to use his influence as a county supervisor to cancel a county contract in 1987 with a Mesa man after Freestone had a personal disagreement with the man over a real estate deal.
According to a story in the Arizona Republic on March 25, 1987, Freestone proposed to the board of supervisors that it remove the county courts from a building owned by Russell Nielson and put them in space owned by Coury Development Company. While Freestone says he had long been an advocate of pulling the courts out of Nielson's building as a cost-saving measure, he didn't tell the board about his business relationship with Nielson.
Freestone admits that in 1986 he, acting as a private real estate agent, brought Nielson a prospective buyer for some Mesa farmland. Though the deal eventually fell through, Nielson kept some of the buyer's deposit. Nielson says he received $55,000, while Freestone claims it was $85,000. Freestone contends that, though there was no written agreement between him and Nielson, he should have received some percentage of the forfeited deposit as a finder's fee. He says that sometime in 1986, he asked Nielson for $10,000. Nielson says Freestone demanded $25,000.
Nielson refused to pay Freestone, though the county supervisor called him at least twice about the matter. Then Freestone proposed moving the courts from Nielson's building to a building owned by developer and car dealer Tony Coury, a consistent contributor to Freestone's campaigns. The board of supervisors turned down Freestone's proposal after it became clear that very little, if any, money could be saved by moving the courts.
Freestone denies he tried to move the courts in an effort to get back at Nielson. He says it was just good government. He says he didn't "think about" any potential conflict of interest.
While he was obviously rattled at the time, Freestone now says he thinks Jennings' press conference, which resulted in a dramatic photograph of an angry Freestone on the front page of the Arizona Republic's Valley and State section, marked the turning point in the campaign.
"I'm a little surprised, but it's really sparked interest," Freestone says. "We've had a lot of people call about it, asking how they can help, where they can send a check."
Ironically, Freestone, the Republican, compares Jennings' tactics to those of George Bush. He thinks people are getting sick of negative campaigning, which this year he believes will "backfire." As the Freestones make their way from the SRP picnic toward their mid-size Buick--purchased from campaign contributor Tony Coury--they meet another supporter, State Representative Greg Patterson.
"I hear you're really kicking some butt," Patterson says. "I saw that picture of you in the paper. If there's anything I can do to help, well, my ideas are pretty slim, but you're welcome to them."
Freestone slips Patterson a card. "We need to get together," he says, wearily. "You've got a younger mind. It's easier for you to remember to call me."
Freestone is tired, but his day is just half over. He has two more events this evening, and an extremely difficult week ahead. He wants to work out with his weights this afternoon. As he wheels the car out of its parking space, he catches a glimpse of District 1 Congressman Jay Rhodes trudging to his own vehicle.