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Davis Aide in Running for CalPERS Job

Finances: Top environmental advisor is among semifinalists to become chief investment officer for the state pension plan.


SACRAMENTO — An international search for the new chief investment officer of the state's massive pension fund has yielded a member of Gov. Gray Davis' Cabinet as a contender.

Winston Hickox, secretary of the California Environmental Protection Agency, was among at least five semifinalists interviewed this week to become the next chief investment officer of the nation's largest public pension fund: the $172-billion California Public Employees' Retirement System.

Hickox, whom Davis appointed in December 1998 as his top environmental officer, is a former environmental undersecretary for Gov. Jerry Brown and past president of the California League of Conservation Voters, an influential lobbying organization. He is also a former managing director for a real estate investment firm.

Hickox declined to be interviewed Tuesday. His spokesman said Hickox did not wish to publicly comment on the matter and forwarded inquiries to Davis' press office.

"The governor thinks that Winston is doing a wonderful job in his current capacity and expects him to continue serving the public in his current capacity," said Davis' press secretary, Michael Bustamante.

Observers describe Hickox as a well-connected and savvy bureaucrat who is close to Davis. Campaign contribution records compiled by the newspaper Capitol Weekly show Hickox contributed at least $5,500 to Davis.

The 57-year-old Sacramento resident is vying for the position vacated by Sheryl K. Pressler, who resigned in January to become the chief executive officer of Atlanta-based Lend Lease Real Estate, Inc.

Under Pressler's tenure, CalPERS assets soared from $78 billion to $168 billion as she pushed the giant fund more heavily into the stock market.

Whoever fills Pressler's shoes will be responsible for the day-to-day operations of a 100-member investment staff and a diversified portfolio that includes stocks, bonds and real estate. The job pays $212,000 to $287,000, with the possibility of hefty pay incentives.

Whether Hickox has made the cut to finalist remains unclear. Finalists' interviews are scheduled for May 18.

"CalPERS will not comment on what is a confidential personnel matter," CalPERS spokeswoman Patricia K. Macht said.

In posting the job, CalPERS officials said the search would focus on candidates with at least 10 years of broad experience and a demonstrated investment track record with various asset classes, among other qualifications.

Hickox's professional experience appears to tilt toward real estate. He previously served as a managing director of La Salle Advisors Ltd., where he was in charge of managing a real estate portfolio for CalPERS. LaSalle was one of 15 advisors that managed CalPERS' real estate portfolio before December 1996.

LaSalle managed apartments and industrial, office and retail real estate for CalPERS until the end of 1996 when the fund's real estate portfolio was reorganized. Consequently, apartments, office and retail were awarded to other managers on the basis of a competitive bidding process.

Hickox has served on the board of trustees of the $3.7-billion Sacramento County Employees' Retirement System since April 1998. He previously operated his own real estate investment management firm.

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