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Clinton, Gordon Stanley (1920-2011)
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Gordon Clinton served as the mayor of Seattle more than a half century ago, but he helped lay the groundwork for the city that exists today. During his eight years in office, Seattle adopted its first comprehensive plan; began cleaning up Lake Washington; reached out to a former enemy by establishing a Sister City program in Japan; and welcomed the future with Century 21, the Seattle World’s Fair. Clinton’s tenure also marked a transition between the sedate fifties and the turbulent sixties, when a number of festering and contentious social issues began to move onto the public stage. The city’s first "sit-in" to protest racial discrimination took place in his office. Neighborhood activists took to the streets to demand changes in the design of the Seattle Freeway (today’s Interstate 5), which they derisively called "the Big Ditch." Clinton reacted to these and other challenges with a mix of Eisenhower-era conventionality and forward-thinking progressivism. He left City Hall in 1964 with an untarnished reputation for fairness and integrity. "My Democratic friends said I appointed too many Republicans," he told HistoryLink co-founder Walt Crowley in a 2004 interview. "My Republican friends said I appointed too many Democrats. So I did it just right."
Gordon Stanley Clinton was born on April 13, 1920, in Medicine Hat, Alberta, Canada, the second of five children of an American father and a Canadian mother. His father, John Henry Clinton, was a native of Tennessee who came to the Northwest as a railroad brake inspector on the Great Northern and Northern Pacific railways and later worked for the Canadian Pacific Railroad. He was based in Lethbridge, Alberta, during World War I when he met Clinton’s mother, Gladys M. Hall, a member of a local church choir.
Although born in Canada, Gordon Clinton had deep roots in America. He was a descendant of DeWitt Clinton (1769-1828), the sixth governor of New York, a key figure in the construction of the Erie Canal.
John and Gladys Clinton moved to Seattle with their two young sons around 1921, settling into the Ravenna-Bryant neighborhood. They had two daughters, followed by another son, born in 1927. Clinton’s older brother, Theodore, had drowned, at age 7, two years earlier -- a tragedy that may have shaped what followed. As Clinton put it, "My father became involved with a drinking problem. That sort of left us all in a lurch" (Crowley interview).
At a time when the Great Depression was tightening its grip on the Northwest, Clinton’s father lost his job with the railroad. The family was forced to go "on relief" (welfare). Eventually he found work through the Washington Emergency Relief Administration, established in 1933 to coordinate welfare and jobs programs for the unemployed. On the morning of March 1, 1935, he was on his way to breakfast at a relief station near the Pike Place Market when he collapsed in the street and died, of what a deputy coroner said was a heart attack.
Refuge at the Theodora
Left destitute by her husband’s death, Gladys Clinton moved her family into the Theodora Home, a shelter for homeless women and children operated by the Volunteers of America at 6559 35th Avenue NE in Ravenna Heights. Gordon was six weeks shy of his 15th birthday and a sophomore at Roosevelt High School. Franklin, his younger brother, was 8 years old. His two sisters, Myrtle and Doreen, were in between. Their mother was determined to keep them all together and get them all through high school.
The Theodora, a "thoroughly modern" three-story brick building when it opened in 1913, included 36 private rooms, shared baths, a communal kitchen, a large dining room, and a kindergarten and play area. It was located on an acre of land donated by M. F. Jones, who had also donated an adjacent parcel for the construction of the Washington Children’s Home Society’s Brown Hall a few years earlier. The grounds included a large vegetable garden, which provided produce for the Theodora’s residents. (The original building was replaced in 1964 but the Volunteers of America still  operate a boarding home, for low-income seniors, on the site.)
Those who could afford to pay were charged a sliding fee, up to $7 a week for room and board per family, no matter how large; those who had no money were welcomed anyway. Women were given help in getting vocational training and jobs. Young children were cared for at the home while their mothers were away; older children attended neighborhood public schools. Each family slept together in its own room and ate dinner at its own table in the dining room. It was, said Mary M. Mitchell, its superintendent for nearly 30 years, "the only institution in Seattle maintained for its precise purpose -- to keep mothers with their children and children with their mothers" (The Seattle Daily Times, 1921).
The Theodora took pains to integrate its residents into the community. Children were encouraged to participate in scouting and similar activities. Neighbors were invited to frequent "entertainments" at the home, including special programs on Mother’s Day and Christmas. The most popular event was the annual summer pageant, in which costumed children presented various historical vignettes, most with a patriotic theme, to an audience assembled on the expansive lawn. An average of 600 to 700 people attended these performances, including mothers, members of civic clubs, and financial patrons.
The home operated at full capacity throughout the 1930s, a reflection of the effects of the Depression. The average population increased from about 60 in the mid-1920s to about 100 a decade later. The typical family consisted of a mother -- sometimes an expectant mother -- and three or four children.
The Clintons lived there for about two years. Gladys Clinton "took work where she could find it," her minister wrote in 1954. The two older children found odd jobs after school. Throughout this period, as before and after, the Methodist Church was an important part of the family’s life. All the children faithfully attended Sunday School. Their mother said they loved it. "The greatest punishment I could inflict would have been to keep them home Sundays" (The Seattle Daily Times, 1954).
Gordon Clinton compiled an enviable record in his last two years at Roosevelt High School. He made the honor roll; was an officer in the Hi-Y, a school and community service organization sponsored by the Young Men’s Christian Association; was president of the Rough Riders, an athletic honorary; served on the senior class publicity committee; and performed in several theatrical productions, including a musical revue, a "comic opera," and his senior class play. In January 1937, he was selected as one of Roosevelt’s most outstanding students.
He also continued to be active in Boy Scout Troop 144, the Ravenna-Bryant neighborhood troop, which he had joined when he was 12. He moved steadily up the ranks, becoming a Life Scout in October 1935 (seven months after his father’s death) and an Eagle Scout in January 1938. Clinton later returned to this troop as a leader, serving as either scoutmaster or assistant scoutmaster from 1946 to 1962, a period that overlapped most of his tenure as mayor.
After graduating from Roosevelt in 1937, Clinton worked his way through the University of Washington, first as a clerk for the Washington State Dairy Council and then as a night clerk at the Seattle office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. He also maintained a busy social life, much of it centered on the First Methodist Church in downtown Seattle. He helped organize the church’s first "Young People’s Sunday" in May 1940, when young members of the congregation conducted the entire service, including the sermon. He also joined the Amphion Society of Seattle (a male choir).
Clinton graduated from the UW in June 1942 with a bachelor’s degree in political science. He began classes in the law school that fall. Meanwhile, he became engaged to Florence Vayhinger (1919-2012), a daughter of Gustavus J. and Ruth M. Vayhinger, owners of a hardware store in the West Seattle Junction. The two had met at a Methodist church camp. There were some differences between them: she had grown up in comfortable circumstances; his family had once relied on welfare. Beyond that, Clinton joked, "I was with the First Methodist Church and she was from Tibbetts Methodist Church in West Seattle" (Crowley interview).
The couple were married on December 19, 1942. They moved into a house in West Seattle, not far from the Vayhingers’ hardware store. The first of their three children, Barbara, was born on May 18, 1945; she was followed by Gordon Jr., on September 22, 1947; and Deborah, on April 21, 1951. The Seattle World’s Fair would open on their youngest child’s 11th birthday.
Clinton continued working as a night clerk for the FBI during his first year of law school. In 1943, he was promoted to the position of special agent, assigned first to the field office for Washington, D.C., in Richmond, Virginia, and then to Louisville, Kentucky. He appeared to be on track for a promising career with the FBI. "Agent Clinton presents a youthful and immature appearance; but it is felt that, in time, he will develop into a good agent," a supervisor wrote in one evaluation (The Seattle Times, 1979).
But World War II intervened. Clinton left the FBI and enlisted in the navy in June 1944. Commissioned as an ensign, he briefly attended the Navy Finance School at Harvard University. He then served on the U.S.S. General Stuart Heintzelman, a transport ship that carried American occupation troops to Japan after the Japanese surrendered in August 1945. He made four round-trip voyages across the Pacific on board the Heintzelman before being discharged from the Navy in June 1946.
Back in Seattle, Clinton returned to law school. He attended classes in the mornings and worked as a clerk in the office of King County Prosecuting Attorney Lloyd Shorrett in the afternoons. After finishing law school and being admitted to the Washington bar in 1947, he was hired as a deputy prosecutor, working first under Shorrett and then -- after Shorrett resigned to become a judge in 1948 -- under Charles O. Carroll (1906-2003).
Carroll initiated a crackdown on illegal gambling shortly after being appointed prosecutor. As his deputy, Clinton ended up filing a number of cases against tavern owners and others accused of maintaining illegal gambling devices. Ironically, Carroll was implicated in a political scandal involving police payoffs and tolerance of gambling in the late 1960s, and was defeated in a primary campaign for re-election in 1970.
Clinton, meanwhile, was building a résumé that, as one reporter put it, "fairly screamed Mr. Clean" (The Seattle Times, 2011). He helped organize a campaign to build an addition to the historic First Methodist Church; served as chairman of a membership campaign for the YMCA; was a member of the management committee of the Central YMCA; became scoutmaster of his old Boy Scout troop; and was active in the Municipal League, the Council of Churches, and the National Conference of Christians and Jews. He also gave occasional guest sermons at various Methodist churches.
In 1949, he left the prosecutor’s office and went into private practice. Later that year, he was appointed as a municipal judge pro tem. Meanwhile, he and his growing family moved into a house at 6224 38th Avenue NE, just a few blocks from the Theodora Home.
His first public involvement with politics came in 1950, when he supported Seattle City Councilwoman Mildred Powell (often identified in news accounts of the day as Mrs. F. F. Powell) in her bid for the First District seat held by Democratic Representative Hugh B. Mitchell (1907-1996). Powell, a member of the City Council since 1935, ran on a platform that reflected the virulent anti-Communist sentiment of the era. She repeatedly attacked Mitchell as someone who "compromises with Communism" (The Seattle Daily Times, October 10, 1950).
Mitchell, who had served part of a term in the Senate as an appointee before being elected to Congress in 1948, was a strong defender of civil liberties in the climate of fear and suspicion fostered by Wisconsin Republican Senator Joseph R. McCarthy (1908-1957). Mitchell voted against an appropriation for the House Un-American Activities Committee (the measure passed 353 to 29); against a measure to ban Communists from public payrolls (passed 283 to 129); and against the Internal Security Act (passed 286 to 48). The Powell for Congress committee, headed by Clinton, called attention to each of these votes in newspaper ads that claimed "A Vote for Mitchell is a Vote for Appeasement."
The Seattle Daily Times agreed, in an editorial claiming that Mitchell and other Democrats in the state’s Congressional delegation had "given protection to leaders of the Communist school of thought in this state over a period of many years" (November 3, 1950). Mitchell prevailed despite the attacks, although by a narrow margin: 87,147 votes to Powell’s 80,852. Powell returned to the City Council. She would later give Clinton an important boost by endorsing him in his first campaign for mayor.
Young Man, "Mature Approach"
Clinton’s springboard to the mayor’s office was his appointment, in 1954, as special counsel to the city council on several issues involving ethics, including management of the Cedar River watershed and public identification of the sponsors of political advertising. The position helped link Clinton to the cause of good government. He cemented the association by giving speeches with titles such as "The New Approach to City Government" to various civic groups. On Christmas Eve, 1955, he announced his candidacy for mayor, in an election to be held in March 1956 (until state law was changed in 1963, city elections were held in the spring).
Although the position of mayor was nominally nonpartisan, Clinton was closely allied with the Republican Party. In addition to serving as chairman of the Powell for Congress committee, he worked on the presidential campaign of Dwight D. Eisenhower (1890-1969) in 1952 and was First District chairman of Citizens for Eisenhower in 1954. The Republican establishment supported him in the 1956 mayoral primary, helping him defeat two other candidates to win the right to challenge the Democratic-leaning, one-term incumbent, Allan Pomeroy (ca. 1907-1966).
Clinton, then 35, made his relative youth an asset in the campaign. His supporters included a group called "100 Young Men for Clinton." Among its members were future Republican Representative Joel Pritchard (1925-1997) and James R. Ellis (b. 1921), who would go on to become one of the Puget Sound region’s best known civic activists. They put their names to political ads that described Clinton as "a young man with a mature approach to serious problems" (The Seattle Daily Times, February 24, 1956).
Clinton, who retained a boyish appearance well into his 50s, presented himself as a fresh-faced newcomer who would be more honest, more accountable, and less "political" than his opponent. The Seattle Times, then a reliably Republican newspaper, endorsed Clinton, as did Mildred Powell, who had resigned from the City Council in 1955 to work for Moral Re-Armament, a Christian anti-Communist movement. "I feel very strongly that Gordon Clinton would make a wonderful mayor," she said, adding that she had known him "since he was a boy, the son of a widowed mother who worked his way through high school and the University of Washington" (The Seattle Sunday Times, March 11, 1956).
Clinton won the election on March 13 with a respectable 52.5 percent of the vote.
Birth of Metro
Clinton was sworn in as Seattle’s 46th mayor on June 4, 1956. Within weeks, he and Jim Ellis were at work on plans to create a regional governing agency that could tackle regional problems, such as water pollution, transportation, and land use. The launching pad for what became the Municipality of Metropolitan Seattle (Metro) was a luncheon hosted at the Rainier Club by businessman Ben B. Ehrlichman (1895-1971), then president of the Municipal League. "There were something like 200 people there," Ellis recalled. "Ben paid for it. Gordon and I had a chance to talk about Metro and answer questions. That’s an awfully good kickoff" (Tate interview).
Clinton and the King County Board of Commissioners jointly appointed a 48-member Metropolitan Problems Advisory Committee, headed by Ellis. The committee drafted legislation to authorize creation of a metropolitan municipal corporation with broad responsibilities for sewage treatment, public transit, and regional planning. The legislature narrowly approved the bill, on the last day of the 1957 session, but only after requiring that a majority of voters both within and outside the Seattle city limits agree to establish the corporation. This "dual majority" requirement led to the defeat of the first effort to create Metro, in March 1958. The measure passed overwhelmingly in Seattle but failed to win a majority in the suburbs.
Metro supporters regrouped by paring down both the size and the mission of the proposed agency, redrawing the boundaries to exclude parts of south King County and focusing on the most visible, immediate problem: the pollution of Lake Washington. At the time, 20 million gallons of inadequately treated sewage were being dumped into the lake every day. Some beaches were closed to swimming because of contamination. A widely circulated photograph of five children posed by a sign warning about polluted water at Matthews Beach helped galvanize support for a smaller, more focused Metro.
Clinton personally took steps to mollify communities outside Seattle. He told Ellis that suburban cities that operated their own sewage treatment plants would have been left "holding the bag" if the original proposal had passed, because the new collection system would bypass their facilities, making them useless. He suggested Metro buy them out. He also encouraged suburban officials to take the lead in promoting Metro, to avoid making it look as if Seattle was bullying its smaller brethren. When the measure went to the voters for a second time, in September 1958, it won by an even bigger margin in the suburbs (81 percent approval) than in Seattle (73 percent). Less than a year later, Metro would receive a national award from Look magazine for "progress achieved through intelligent citizen action" (Lane).
Clinton’s busy first term in office also was marked by the establishment of a "Sister City" relationship between Seattle and Kobe, Japan. The Sister City program grew out of an effort by President Eisenhower to promote "people-to-people" exchanges between America and the rest of the world. A five-star general who had commanded Allied forces in Europe during World War II, Eisenhower believed that citizen diplomacy would build rapport and lessen the chances of another global conflict. He "didn't want to be known only as a man of war," Clinton said. "He wanted peace" (Crowley interview).
Clinton was one of the first American mayors to respond. Shortly after taking office, he appointed a committee to study potential partnerships. The committee recommended Kobe, which, like Seattle, is a seaport city and home to a major university. The relationship was formalized with a ceremony in Kobe on October 10, 1957. Many exchanges between the two cities followed. Clinton personally planted evergreens on Mount Rokko in Kobe in 1972; in return, the Japanese sent cherry trees to Seattle.
Clinton remained involved with the Sister City program and with efforts to improve relations between Japan and the United States for many years after leaving office. He helped the Japanese American community draft legislation to end the Alien Land Law in 1966; served as president of the Japan-America Society in 1973; and was the legal representative for the Consulate-General of Japan in Seattle from 1964 to 1974. In 2007, on the 50th anniversary of the Seattle-Kobe relationship, he received an award for all his efforts on behalf of the Sister City program. "The scripture says that you cannot be proud of anything except the Lord Jesus," he once said, but the success of Seattle’s program -- now including cities in 21 countries -- "is one of the things I take the greatest pleasure in" (Crowley interview).
Clinton’s other major initiatives during his first term included the creation of the Puget Sound Regional Transportation Study (PSRTS), one of the nation’s first large-scale attempts at comprehensive planning for regional transportation and land use; and the establishment of an urban renewal agency, headed by Kenneth B. Colman (1896-1982), which developed a housing code for the city.
On March 8, 1960, he was re-elected as mayor with nearly 70 percent of the vote, one of the largest margins of victory in Seattle mayoral history.
Century 21: Shaping the Future
The highlight of Clinton’s second term was the Century 21 Exposition -- the 1962 World’s Fair. The fair put Seattle on an international stage, brought in millions of visitors, reshaped the city’s physical and cultural landscape, and continues to leave its mark. Among its legacies are some of Seattle’s most iconic structures: the Space Needle; the Science Pavilion (now called the Pacific Science Center); the Coliseum (KeyArena), and the Monorail. And, unlike many other world’s fairs, it made a profit.
Clinton was not directly involved in the years of planning that went into the fair, but as mayor, he faced a number of challenges created by the influx of tourists. One problem involved rent gouging. Hoping to profit from well-heeled visitors, landlords near the fairgrounds began hiking rents, telling existing tenants to pay triple and even quadruple what they had been paying or be evicted. By March, a month before the fair opened, about 8,000 residents had been threatened with eviction. Clinton responded by imposing emergency rent controls.
The fair opened April 21. Clinton was among the dignitaries on the speaker’s stand in Memorial Stadium for both the opening ceremonies and the closing, six months later, on October 21. Looking back, years later, Clinton marveled that Seattle had been able to host such a huge and far-reaching event without going into debt. He also expressed regret that the Monorail was never extended beyond its original 1.3-mile route, along 5th Avenue from downtown to the fairgrounds. "Even at that time there was a hope, looking ahead, that it might be projected out to the airport," he said (Crowley interview).
Stop the Ditch
At the same time that civic boosters and visionaries were planning Century 21, state highway engineers were designing the Seattle Freeway (today’s I-5) -- a project that became a highly contested issue during Clinton’s second term. The recommended route sliced through the heart of the city. Residents of neighborhoods in the path of the freeway -- particularly First Hill -- were concerned about noise, pollution, and the loss of homes, churches, and businesses. Downtown retailers worried about the loss of parking spaces. Architect Paul Thiry (1904-1993) and Jim Ellis led a campaign to mitigate some of the freeway’s deleterious effects by building a lid over it. Neighborhood activists soon joined in, demanding that the gash cut by the freeway be lidded -- like a bandage covering a wound -- and the top turned into a park.
About 100 protesters staged a "Stop the Ditch" demonstration on June 1, 1961. Escorted by police, they marched along a seven-block segment of the proposed route through downtown, carrying signs reading "Block the Ditch" and "Cars & Concrete AND People & Trees." Many also held sprigs of rhododendron and other greenery. It was, Seattle Times columnist Herb Robinson wrote later, "an early-day manifestation of citizen disenchantment with urban road building."
The protesters received a sympathetic reception in City Hall. Mayor Clinton and the City Council approved a plan for constructing landscape covers over two portions of the freeway downtown. But state officials said the redesign would take too much time; and the federal government (which, under the National System of Interstate and Defense Highways Act of 1956, was paying 90 percent of the construction costs) said the added expense (an estimated $1 million to $10 million) was not justified.
The freeway was completed in 1967. Two years later, the city announced plans to build Freeway Park over a two-block section between Seneca and University streets. The park, about a third the size Thiry and Ellis had proposed, was finally completed in 1976. "Maybe we would have been better going under the city instead of through it like we did," Clinton remarked in 1987. "Hindsight is always better than foresight" (Kit Boss, The Seattle Times).
Struggle for Open Housing
In the last year of his tenure, Clinton had the dubious distinction of becoming the first Seattle mayor to have his office occupied by civil rights protesters. About 35 members of the interracial Central District Youth Club walked into his office on the 12th floor of City Hall on the afternoon of July 1, 1963, and sat down. They brought sandwiches, washcloths, and handbills demanding that the city adopt an open housing ordinance. "We are past the stage of patience," they said. "We also are past the stage of committees and sub-committees. We want open housing today" (The Seattle Times, July 1, 1963).
At the time, about 80 percent of Seattle’s African American residents lived in the Central Area. The Seattle chapter of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) had documented numerous cases of housing discrimination by sending out teams of blacks and whites to inquire about buying or renting real estate in other parts of the city. Typically, real estate agents would tell blacks that the minimum down payment for a house was at least twice as high as the price quoted for whites. Blacks would be told a particular rental was not available; the same property would be listed as available to whites inquiring about it a short time later. In addition, many neighborhoods had housing covenants that banned the sale of real estate to minorities.
Clinton supported the goal of open housing, but he favored a gradual, "timetable" approach. "Nothing will be gained by this type of demonstration," he said (The Seattle Daily Times, July 2, 1963). Nonetheless, about 20 "sit-inners" spent the night in his office, then left the next day without incident. Meanwhile, Clinton proposed that the City Council create a Human Rights Commission to help minorities find housing by maintaining a listing service. After a sometimes tense hearing that began at the same time as the sit-in, the council agreed to establish the commission and to expand its role to include the drafting of an open housing law.
Clinton submitted his nominations for the 12-member commission in mid-July. Only two of the nominees were black: Rev. Samuel B. McKinney (b. 1926) and John Allen, a painting contractor. A third, Y. Philip Hayasaka, was of Japanese ancestry. The lack of racial balance led to another sit-in, this one in the city council’s chambers, beginning on July 22, 1963. The demonstrators occupied the chambers for four days. Finally, Acting Police Chief Charles A. Rouse ordered them to leave. They refused, and were arrested. Police filed charges of creating a disturbance, loitering in a public building, and resisting arrest against 22 young people, both blacks and whites, ranging in age from 11 to 22.
Clinton said he was "grieved" that the city had to resort to arrests, adding: "My hope is there will be no more demonstrations and that all citizens, of whatever race, will rally to provide the necessary support to make our open housing ordinance effective" (The Seattle Daily Times, July 26, 1963). The Human Rights Commission later drafted an ordinance that would have provided criminal penalties for race-based discrimination in housing. The City Council submitted it to the voters. On March 10, 1964, the voters rejected it by nearly two to one. The same day, they elected Clinton’s successor, Councilman J. D. "Dorm" Braman (1901-1980), who, along with a majority of the council, had opposed open housing.
Return to Private Life
After he left the mayor's office, Clinton resisted all attempts to lure him back into the political arena. Instead, he quietly returned to his law practice. A self-described "dedicated free-trader and internationalist," he served as attorney for the Japanese Consulate in Seattle and also did legal work for the Philippine and the Korean Consulates (The Seattle Times, 1979). He continued to be involved with the Sister City program, work that won him the Sister Cities International Eisenhower Award in 1981, among other honors.
Although he never again sought public office, Clinton often lent his name to other political candidates, particularly judicial candidates. His politics tilted Republican. He served as the nominal state chairman of Richard M. Nixon’s campaign for the presidency in 1968. But he was also one of four lawyers (including two from the American Civil Liberties Union) who filed a lawsuit against Republican Attorney General Slade Gorton (b. 1928) in 1975, challenging the ballot title of a proposed constitutional amendment to allow state aid to students in private schools. The title, written by Gorton, originally read: "Shall the Washington Constitution be revised consistent with the federal Constitution, regarding assistance to students of public and private educational institutions?" The challengers contended that the wording invited a "yes" answer. They also contended that the description of the proposed amendment in the voter’s pamphlet was partisan and inadequate. They prevailed. Both the ballot title and the description of House Joint Resolution 19 were changed. On November 4, 1975, Washington voters firmly rejected the proposal.
Clinton also remained active in civic organizations, including the Boy Scouts and the YMCA; and in his church, serving as chairman of the board of trustees of the First United Methodist Church in the 1970s and 1980s. "It was fun to watch him work a room," said Joy Pettersen, longtime office manager for his law firm. "If we were at any kind of a luncheon or a dinner, I swear the man talked with everybody in the whole restaurant" (The Seattle Times, 2011).
Clinton died on November 19, 2011, at age 91, after a stroke. News of his death led to an outpouring of accolades. "Mayor Clinton was old-school," wrote former mayor Greg Nickels (b. 1955), in an article for Crosscut.com. "But he was ahead of his time on many issues that Seattle and the nation were beginning to confront then and would for many more years." Barbara Stenson Spaeth, a Seattle writer and public affairs consultant, remembered Clinton as "a progressive in the best sense," someone who, among other things, implemented comprehensive urban planning "in a city that generally considered it a suspicious frill that just got in the way of business folk who knew what was best for us." Current Mayor Mike McGinn (b. 1959) ordered flags on municipal buildings to fly at half staff. Clinton "had a vision for our city and its future in the world," he said in a press release, praising, in particular, "his remarkable work to build ties between our great city with the people of Japan and Asia…"
Former Washington Secretary of State Ralph Munro (b. 1943), in a tribute posted on Crosscut.com, pointed out that anti-Japanese sentiment ran deep in the Puget Sound region when Clinton reached out to Japan. "We often forget how much 'heat' he took when the Seattle-Kobe Sister City was arranged," he wrote. Despite the pressure, Clinton "stood firm." He promoted trade fairs, hosted scores of Japanese delegations, visited Japan on many occasions "and did everything he could to leave the war behind us and build a new world."
Survivors included his wife of 69 years, Florence Clinton; their three children, Barbara Clinton Tompkins, of Tucson, Arizona, and Gordon Stanley Clinton, Jr. and Deborah Ruth Clinton-Bailey, both of Seattle; three grandchildren; and seven great-grandchildren.
HistoryLink.org, The Online Encyclopedia of Washington State History, "Gordon Clinton, Mayor of Seattle, 1956-1964," (interview by Walt Crowley, March 30, 2004), http://www.historylink.org/ (accessed December 2011); Cassandra Tate interview with Dorothy Clinton, December 6, 2011, Seattle; "Man, Going to Breakfast, Dies," The Seattle Daily Times, March 1, 1935, p. 8; "Home for Abandoned Mothers Opens Doors," Ibid., October 21, 1913, p. 5; "Mothers Receive Aid," Ibid., October 23, 1921, p. 16; "Pageant is Planned for Theodora Home," Ibid., August 4, 1925, p. 10; "2,253 Children Are Cared for by Community Fund," Ibid., November 13, 1932, p. 9; "With Virginia Boren at the Theodora Home," Ibid., July 6, 1934, p. 16; Rev. Erle Howell, "Mothers: God’s Finest Handiwork," The Seattle Sunday Times, May 9, 1954, p. 69; Troop 144 charter rosters, in David Carbajal, Chief Seattle Council, Boy Scouts of America, email to Cassandra Tate, December 16, 2011; "Amphions Will Sing in Everett," The Seattle Daily Times, April 24, 1940, p. 28; "Engagement of Florence Vayhinger Told," Ibid., October 5, 1942, p. 8; Powell for Congress advertisement, Ibid., October 26, 1950, p. 24; "Mrs. Powell Raps Mitchell’s Record," Ibid., October 10, 1950, p. 30; "Let’s Look at Record: They Protected Reds," editorial, Ibid., November 3, 1950, p. 6; "Clinton Supported by Mrs. Powell," The Seattle Sunday Times, March 11, 1956, p. 1; Seattle City Clerk, "Mayors of the City of Seattle," (www.ci.seattle.wa.us/seattle/leg/clerk/mayors.htm); Tate interview with James R. Ellis, July 17, 2006, Seattle; Bob Lane, "Better Than Promised: an Informal History of the Municipality of Metropolitan Seattle," Metro Online website accessed January 2012 (www.metro.kingcounty.gov); HistoryLink.org Online Encyclopedia of Washington State History, "Century 21 -- The 1962 Seattle World’s Fair, Part 1 and Part 2" (by Alan Stein) http://www.historylink.org/ (accessed December 2011); Don Duncan, "100 Marchers Call for Freeway Lid," The Seattle Daily Times, June 1, 1961, p. 1; Herb Robinson, "After 15 Years, a Victory for Downtown ‘Birdwatchers,’ " The Seattle Times, June 21, 1976, p. A-13; Kit Boss, "After the Fair," Ibid., April 19, 1987, p. L-1; "Sit-In Begins in Mayor’s Office Here," The Seattle Daily Times, July 1, 1963, p. 1; Lane Smith, "City Council Stalls on Housing, Negroes Charge," Ibid., July 2, 1963, p. 6; Douglas Willix, "Necessity for Arrests Grieves Mayor," Ibid., July 26, 1963, p. 4; Don Duncan, "Gordon Clinton: Two Terms of Mayoral Memories," The Seattle Times, August 20, 1979, p. D-4; Duncan, "Kobe: 25 Years of Sisterhood," Ibid., May 4, 1982, p. B-1; "Suit Filed Over Title on State Ballot," Ibid., August 6, 1975, p. 20; Craig Welch, "Former Seattle Mayor Gordon Clinton Remembered as ‘Decent, Honorable,’ " Ibid., November 23, 2011, p. B-1; Greg Nickels, "Gordon Clinton, Elected Mayor a Half Century Ago, Helped Create Modern Seattle," November 23, 2011, Crosscut website accessed December 2011 (www.Crosscut.com); Barbara Stenson Spaeth, Reader Comment, Ibid., November 23, 2011; Ralph Munro, Reader Comment, Ibid., November 25, 2011; "Mayor McGinn's Statement on Passing of Former Seattle Mayor Gordon Clinton," Office of the Mayor, November 22, 2011 (http://www.seattle.gov/mayor/newsdetail.asp?ID=12314&dept=48).
Note: This essay was updated on April 8, 2012, to note Florence Clinton's death on March 23, 2012.
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TV ads promoting re-election of Seattle Mayor Gordon Clinton, 1959
Courtesy Seattle Municipal Archives (Archive Item No. 510)
Gordon S. Clinton (1920-2011), 1956
Courtesy Seattle Municipal Archives
Gordon Clinton, right, with siblings Theodore and Myrtle, Seattle, ca. 1925
Courtesy Clinton family
Navy Ensign Gordon Clinton, ca. 1944
Courtesy Clinton family
Gordon Clinton and Florence Vayhinger, Seattle, summer 1942
Courtesy Clinton family
Gordon Clinton and Florence (Vayhinger) Clinton, Seattle, December 19, 1942
Courtesy Clinton family
Campaign ad for Seattle mayoral candidate Gordon Clinton, The Seattle Daily Times, February 6, 1956
Courtesy The Seattle Daily Times
Mayor Gordon Clinton (r.), Governor Arthur R. Langlie (l.), Billie Lee Westcott (with baton), and Miss Southwest Seattle Carol Hawkinson, 1st Avenue S Bridge dedication, Seattle, September 22, 1956
Courtesy Seattle Post-Intelligencer
Seattle Mayor Gordon Clinton, left, and former Mayor William Devin, Seattle, 1957
Seattle Post-Intelligencer Photo, Courtesy MOHAI (Image No. 1986.5.23426.1)
Gordon Clinton, right, and family arriving in Kobe, Japan, November 1959
Courtesy Seattle Municipal Archives
Mayor Gordon Clinton, Joseph Gandy, Nelson Rockefeller (l-r), Century 21 construction site, Seattle, August 1961
Seattle Post-Intelligencer Photo, Courtesy MOHAI (Image No. 1986.5.21767.1)
Mayor Gordon Clinton (arms folded, left), Rev. Samuel McKinney (with bullhorn), anti-segregation rally, Seattle, June 1963
Seattle Post-Intelligencer Photo by Cary Tolman, Courtesy MOHAI (Image No. 1986.5.5923.4)
Police with demonstrators during sit-in, Seattle City Council chambers, Seattle, July 25, 1963
Seattle Mayor Gordon Clinton (1920-2011) and unknown Japanese woman, ca. 1964
Kobe Mayor Tatsuo Miyazaki, Seattle Mayor Gordon Clinton, and Robert Edwards at commemorative planting to initiate Forest of Seattle, Kobe, Japan, May 25, 1972
Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels (l.) presents former mayor Gordon Clinton the Thomas Foley Award, Japan America Society dinner, Seattle, March 2006
Courtesy Seattle-Kobe Sister City Association