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Elisha Freedman, Hartford city manager in the 1960s and state administrative services commissioner, dies at 93

Elisha Freedman, who served as Hartford’s city manager from 1963 until 1971, died Thursday from pancreatic cancer. He was 93. (1971 photo provided by Emily Kahn-Freedman)
Elisha Freedman, who served as Hartford’s city manager from 1963 until 1971, died Thursday from pancreatic cancer. He was 93. (1971 photo provided by Emily Kahn-Freedman)

Elisha Freedman, who served as Hartford’s city manager during the tumultuous 1960s and was Connecticut’s commissioner of administrative services two decades later, died Thursday, said his daughter-in-law, Emily Kahn-Freedman. He was 93 and had pancreatic cancer, she said.

Freedman rose in Hartford government to city manager in 1963. He held the post until 1971, the second-longest tenure.

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Edward Lehan, who worked with Freedman in Hartford, Rochester, N.Y., and at the National Science Foundation, called him an “absolute craftsman in government.” He said Freedman “understood the nature of the Civil Rights Movement,” urging police restraint that Lehan said helped keep a lid on urban tensions and violence in Hartford in the late 1960s.

“He was very meticulous,” Lehan said Saturday. “He was very restrained when social currents were swirling at the time.”

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Gov. Ella Grasso, who knew Freedman during his time as Hartford city manager, appointed him as commissioner of administrative services, the sprawling state agency that handles contracting, operates state government’s information technology systems, administers the building code and is responsible for other core functions. She picked Freedman for his experience as a city manager, according to a 1979 news story by The New York Times.

He remained as commissioner in the administration of Gov. William A. O’Neill, Grasso’s successor.

Freedman said his post as Hartford city manager had its limits. Speaking about his predecessor, Carleton F. Sharpe after he died in 1993, he told The Courant it was remarkable Sharpe survived 15 years in the position “since the political community never really accepted the notion of a city manager.”

Freedman was Sharpe’s assistant before succeeding him as manager.

Freedman also served as chief administrative officer of Montgomery County, Md., a suburb of Washington, D.C.; an administrator at the National Science Foundation; and city manager of Rochester, N.Y.

Freedman, who also was known as Eli, was born Aug. 12, 1926, in Hartford and graduated from Weaver High School. He earned a bachelor’s degree in political science at Syracuse University and a master’s in public administration at the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University.

He served as a radio man in the U.S. Navy in the Pacific in World War II.

Freedman’s wife, Adeline “Lynn” Freedman, died in 2005. For the past 11 years, his significant other was Sonia “Sunny” Rishty.

He is survived by three sons and a daughter and six grandchildren.

Freedman lived in Potomac, Md., at the time of his death. His funeral was scheduled for Sunday at George Washington/Mt. Lebanon Cemetery, Adelphia, Md.

Stephen Singer can be reached at ssinger@courant.com.

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