During the end of his first week on his first job out of the University of Washington’s law school, Edward Hansen went out for a drink.
It was the summer of 1966, and Hansen was joined by a former aide to Henry M. “Scoop” Jackson, then a powerful U.S. senator from Everett. The aide explained that Jackson liked to hire lawyers fresh out of school.
This year, he said, Scoop wanted Ed Hansen, or Eddie, as Jackson would always call him. A few days later, his mother, Gerry, woke him up at 5 a.m. “There’s a man on the phone who says he’s Senator Jackson and he wants to talk to you,” she said.
Jackson, Everett’s favorite son, soon had Hansen driving across the country to a new job in Washington, D.C. The next two years were a period of profound influence on Hansen, who credited Jackson with imprinting him with the importance of public service.
Hansen, 66, who was elected Everett mayor three times and who recently retired as general manager of the Snohomish County PUD, has left his own indelible stamp on Snohomish County, succeeding at a high level in politics, law, business, government and sports.
This is a story about the legacy of a man with five careers. It’s also a look at why a multi-millionaire would spend a huge chunk of his life in public service.
“Scoop was a significant influence with his integrity, his work ethic and just a lot of the things he stood for.”
– Ed Hansen
One of the things Hansen has always remembered from his work in the other Washington was a day when Jackson, a popular speaker, asked him to gather material for an upcoming talk to an industry group in Las Vegas.
A letter in the file from the industry group offered lavish accommodations, plane fare and a speaker’s check. Jackson’s reply noted that no hotel or plane fare was necessary because he would stop during a planned trip to Los Angeles. He asked that the check be sent directly to the Everett High School scholarship fund, Hansen said.
“He didn’t do it for the publicity,” Hansen said of Jackson’s support of the school. “He never told anyone about it. When it comes to my involvement in public service, he’s played a very significant role.”
Hansen spent two years in the nation’s capital. After his return to Everett, he rejoined the law firm at which he’d worked a week. Later, he became county coordinator for Jackson’s run for the Democratic nomination for president in the 1972 election. After that, he was elected chairman of the Snohomish County Democratic Party, a position he held for eight years. He still gets together every year with a group of former Jackson aides who call themselves “Scoop’s troops” and he continues to serve on the Jackson Foundation’s board of directors.
“He works hard. That’s probably the central thing that he does.”
– Snohomish County Superior Court Judge Ron Castleberry, a former law partner
Ron Castleberry remembers Hansen in his younger days at the Everett law firm that became Williams, Novack &Hansen.
“He would drive into the parking lot and sit out there and read the sports page before coming in,” Castleberry recalled. “Probably because once he got into the office he was all business.”
Castleberry described Hansen as a meticulous researcher with a relentless work ethic.
State Appeals Court Judge Bill Baker, who grew up in Everett with Hansen and was a year behind him in law school, called him honest and tough. “His reputation was one of integrity and intellect both,” Baker said.
Hansen’s firm advised the Snohomish County PUD and the Port of Everett, both points of friction in his legal career.
The PUD job led to what Hansen recalls as a very painful event in his life. Williams, Novack &Hansen, the largest firm in the county if not the most powerful, was dissolved in 1986 after it could no longer get liability insurance. The reason, Hansen said, was a lawsuit filed by people who had lost millions of dollars when the Washington Public Power Supply System defaulted on bonds it sold to build nuclear power plants.
The PUD was one of the major financial participants in the abandoned nuclear projects, and the lawsuit claimed Hansen’s 80-year-old firm had given the PUD bad advice.
“Our carrier would not renew our coverage, but we learned that we could get coverage as individuals,” Hansen said. “Two months after we dissolved the firm, the court threw out the lawsuit.”
Hansen moved to a smaller office in Lynnwood, which resulted in his losing the job with the port, which didn’t renew his contract in 1990.
“I, myself, felt the port should have a full service firm because it was going on to bigger things,” Hopkins said. “We hired Anderson Hunter, which was bigger and located in Everett within the port district.”
“The guy is golden. You won’t find any problems with his balance sheet. He was not profligate as mayor.”
– BIll Baker, appeals court judge
In the 1970s, Hansen and a group of friends wanted to start a bank “that would not only serve the community but where the managers knew the customers on a first-name basis,” Hansen said.
That was also the plan for a second group headed by Bob Dickson, manager of a regional bank about to be gobbled up by a bigger one.
Dickson and Hansen came together with the help of Roger Rice, a dentist who was in Dickson’s group and was a PUD commissioner who knew Hansen.
Rice and Hansen had been in Olympia to learn about starting a bank and stopped for dinner at the Black Angus on their way home, Dickson recalled. Rice gave him a call and said, ‘Come on over and join us.’”
The group sketched out the new organization on the back of a place mat. “That was really the birth of Frontier Bank,” Dickson said. “It was our first merger.”
Frontier, through its own deft series of mergers, is now a $3 billion business, the largest bank based in Western Washington. And it has made all its founders quite wealthy. According to the Securities and Exchange Commission, the stock Hansen owns in the company is valued at about $8 million.
Banking wasn’t Hansen’s only business venture. He helped start and later sold his interest in a real estate title company. He was the lead partner in development of Harbour Pointe Golf Course with a group that included Jack Sikma, the former Seattle SuperSonics center. The course opened in 1990, winning Golf Digest’s new course of the year award in 1991.
Mark Rhodes, the club’s director of golf, said no task was too small for Hansen. He tells the story of how his cart attendant didn’t show up on time the first Memorial Day after the club opened.
Hansen, Rhodes said, arrived to play a round and learned of the absent employee and the waiting carts. “He said, ‘Here, I’ll help you bring them down.’ And he did.”
Hansen said his business success provided him with good fortune.
“The fact that I have been able to have financial success has allowed me to do public service,” Hansen said. “That and an understanding wife,” he added, referring to his wife Andi.
“You may remember Everett as a sleepy little town that was nice enough, but not dramatic. Ed, working with (his aide Jim Langus), envisioned much more and they didn’t talk about it, they made it happen.”
– Dale Preboski, downtown business owner and former city spokeswoman
When Hansen was elected mayor for the first of three times in 1993, the city was deeply in debt.
Phil Bannan, city executive director from ‘93 to ‘96, recalls him assembling the department heads and warning them of the dire budget straits. “When he had his team together, he was leading it. And it was clear he knew what he wanted to do, and he had his eye on the ball,” Bannan said.
A fiscal conservative like his mentor Scoop Jackson, Hansen quickly cut $3 million from the budget and 44 people from the payroll. “It didn’t take more than two years and he was generating surpluses and we were able to cancel some taxes early,” Bannan said.
Asked what he is most proud of in his public life, Hansen doesn’t speak of sports fields or arenas.”I’m proud of some things that aren’t visible,” he said. “It’s providing a focus on budgets and on costs and on reserves.”
He also mentioned Everett’s selection as an All-America City for 2002. The award honors communities that work collaboratively to solve problems, and Hansen is proud of that.
Langus said a special Hansen trait is his ability to be deeply involved in complex projects.
“It is a pretty unique characteristic of an elected official to actually weigh in and improve the plans,” Langus said.
Two examples of such involvement were the design of the city’s Events Center and the rebuilding of Legion Memorial Golf Course, Langus said.
If Hansen has a forte, it’s his ravenous appetite for details.
In Hansen’s hands, Bannan said, knowledge truly is power. “He doesn’t take his critics on with a loud voice,” Bannan added. “He takes them on with facts.”
Bannan recalled how Hansen confronted Sound Transit, telling its board a plan that didn’t include building light rail from Seattle to Everett was shortchanging the community by millions of dollars.
Hansen campaigned against the transit tax measure and it was trounced in Snohomish County. It passed on a second try when the agency agreed to extend light rail to Everett. “He got the board to change that, and we got what we’re paying for,” Bannan said.
Hansen himself recalls an issue where he literally went the extra mile to do his homework, deciding whether to build the Everett Events Center, the city’s downtown arena and conference facility, which in true Hansen understatement he described as “controversial at the time.”
On one fact-finding effort, Hansen joined two staffers in a rental car on a 900-mile road trip to cities including Grand Rapids, Mich.; Peoria, Ill.; and Topeka, Kan.
“We learned from them all the do’s and don’ts,” Hansen said.
The center was criticized on many fronts. Some didn’t like the location. Others thought hockey would fail. Still others thought the money should be spent on something else.
Hansen is credited with almost single-handedly pushing through the idea. He built it without new taxes by using construction bonds paid through arena profits and sales tax revenue earmarked by the state for public facilities.
The arena has been widely popular during its nearly three years of existence, sparking a visible turnaround in the downtown area and drawing people in after dark. “I’ve had a number of former critics come up afterwards and kind of apologize,” Hansen said.
Last week, the city agreed to name the building’s conference center after Hansen. There will be a formal ceremony later this month.
“He rebuilt the district’s respect in the region.”
– Jim Langus, chief administrator at the city and the PUD under Hansen
In spring 2002, shortly after winning a third term as mayor, Hansen was lured into running the financially crippled public utility by Langus, a former PUD commissioner.
“I told him I would do it only if he would be my staff director,” Hansen said, adding he believed he had accomplished most of what he wanted as Everett’s mayor.
Dave Aldrich, a PUD commissioner then and now, recalled that he had doubts about having what amounted to two general managers, Langus to manage the PUD staff and Hansen to work with broader issues such as energy costs. He also questioned Hansen’s salary of $194,591, which made him one of the highest paid public officials in the state.
Here’s what he said the other day: “Ed and Jim made a believer out of me. They are just a tremendous team and they complement one another.”
Aldrich particularly likes Hansen’s financial acumen, which he said has saved the PUD more than $20 million. Asked for an example, he noted that Hansen had looked at one contract with an energy company and urged the commission to borrow money at more favorable rates to pay off the interest early.
“He saved us $10 million,” Aldrich said. “Nobody else had suggested this. He sees things that other people don’t see, and he is able to exploit them.”
Aldrich said the PUD was in bad shape when Hansen arrived, but his ability to reduce spending, budget conservatively and boost reserves soon got the PUD back in balance.
Hansen said he hates leaving the PUD with issues still in play. “But I’m 66 years old, and I’m ready to retire,” he said. “We made progress with Bonneville and Enron.”
In addition to dealing with the rates set by the Bonneville Power Administration, which supplies most of the PUD’s power, Hansen also had to defend against an Enron lawsuit claiming the PUD owed the energy broker $116 million in damages for canceling a power supply contract. Hansen said the claim is ridiculous because Enron is in bankruptcy, isn’t trading energy anymore and couldn’t fulfill the contract.
The issue is unresolved, but Hansen and the PUD made national headlines by discovering tapes on which Enron traders joked about manipulating energy prices. Hansen credited his staff with finding the tapes. “My role was to make sure we let the world know what we found out,” he said.
“I don’t care what it is, he wants to win.”
– Ron Castleberry, Snohomish County Superior Court judge
Bowling is a sport Hansen has enjoyed since the age of 14 and one that helped put the son of a working class couple through law school. Hansen’s father, Al, 86, is a former Everett auto mechanic living in Granite Falls. Gerry, who was a waitress, has passed away.
After earning his bachelor’s degree in economics at the UW, Hansen headed for Los Angeles and Las Vegas before law school because of all their bowling tournaments.
“In Las Vegas, you could bowl for some pretty good stakes,” Hansen said. “I did earn a fair amount of money, and I continued to bowl (for money) while in law school.”
Later, he said, bowling became a calming activity and “a good escape.”
Bowling buddy Darrell Storkson, the owner of Evergreen Lanes in Everett and a partner in Frontier Bank, remembers the time when Hansen would bowl for “pot money,” cash tossed in a pot from 9 p.m. straight through to 9 a.m.
“He’d bowl all night and then head off to law school,” Storkson said. “I don’t know how he did it.”
Storkson recalls Hansen as a shrewd organizer, remembering a time when Hansen, Storkson and the pro bowler and Washington native Earl Anthony were on the same bowling team before Anthony started on the Professional Bowlers Association tour. Anthony, who died at age 63, remains the winningest bowler in history with 41 tour victories.
“We won several national titles,” Storkson said of the trio’s old team. “Eddie was always the one who put things together.”
He noted that Hansen has bowled 16 perfect 300 games sanctioned by the bowler’s association, a number he called a true accomplishment
Hansen is a better bowler, but he also loves golf.
Rhodes, the golf pro, called Hansen “very competitive and a bulldog” on the course.
“I don’t think Ed put a lot of time in on golf,” said Rhodes, who added Hansen has a respectable 10 to 12 handicap. “I have never seen him practice. But he gets a lot out of his body because his mind is so strong and he is so competitive.”
The Northwest golf community owes a lot to Hansen, Rhodes said, noting he was responsible for launching first the Everett Classic golf tournament and then the GTE Northwest Classic. The GTE event was the first senior Professional Golfers Association tournament held in the Puget Sound area. “Ed was very much involved in bringing major golf to the Seattle area,” Rhodes said. “That’s some pretty big stuff.”
“I’m already feeling some relief. The pressures that go with this job have caused a significant rise in my blood pressure.”
– Ed Hansen
In April, the PUD hired Hansen’s replacement, Steve Klein of Tacoma Power, and Hansen is essentially retired, although he agreed to assist in the transition.
He plans to spend a lot of time at his winter home in Arizona, appropriately located on a golf course called Desert Mountain. The home is near one of his three adult children and three of his four grandchildren.
There are no specific tasks out there he plans to take on, but he’ll likely find some.
“I won’t be surprised if things come along,” he said.
Mike Benbow: 425-339-3459; firstname.lastname@example.org.