Voters elect Norm Rice mayor of Seattle on November 7, 1989.

  • By Walt Crowley
  • Posted 1/01/2000
  • Essay 2234
On November 7, 1989, Norman B. Rice (b. 1943), a 10-year member of the Seattle City Council, defeats Seattle City Attorney Doug Jewett in a hotly contested campaign for mayor. Norm Rice becomes the city's first African American mayor. He will be re-elected in 1993.

The vote counts were as follows:

  • Norman B. Rice - 99,699
  • Douglas Jewett - 75,446

Rice won his city council seat in a 1978 special election for a vacated seat, and was re-elected to full terms in 1979, 1983, and 1987. A former television news reporter, Rice had previously served as a member of the staff of the Puget Sound Council of Governments and as a community relations executive for Rainier Bank. In 1988, Rice ran for the Democratic Party nomination for the 7th District seat in Congress but lost to Jim McDermott (b. 1936), formerly a a popular state senator who returned from a brief political retirement to claim the seat.

Rice was reluctant to enter the 1989 race to succeed three-term mayor Charles Royer. His bid was provoked in part by the silence of other candidates regarding an anti-desegregation school busing initiative actively supported by City Attorney Jewett. Rice and Jewett emerged from a crowded primary field in September 1989, with Jewett slightly ahead, and Rice won the general election by a significant margin. Ironically, the anti-busing initiative also squeaked through, but its impact was moot.

Norm Rice devoted much of his first term to strengthening city support for Seattle Public Schools, promoting human rights, and to revitalizing the downtown economy. He won easy re-election in 1993, but his second term became entangled in controversies over comprehensive planning, the Seattle Commons, budget cuts, and other issues. Rice was defeated by then-King County Executive Gary Locke (b. 1950) for the Democratic nomination for Governor in September 1996.

Before the end of his term, Rice was considered a likely nominee for Secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), but declined to pursue the appointment. In 1998, he was named president of the Federal Home Loan Bank of Seattle. His wife, Constance Rice, a respected educator, served as vice-chancellor of the Seattle Community College system.

Sources: Seattle Post-Intelligencer, November 8, 1989; Seattle City Clerk, "Mayors of the City of Seattle," (; Online Encyclopedia of Washington State History, "Rice, Norman B. (b. 1943)" (by Mary T. Henry), (accessed April 7, 2014). Note: This essay was revised on April 7, 2014. 

Related Topics:   Biographies | Black Americans | Firsts | Government & Politics

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