Royer, Charles (b. 1939)

  • By Frank Chesley
  • Posted 11/19/2007
  • Essay 8265
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The careers of Charles T. ("Charley") Royer span journalism, politics, and civic activism -- sometimes independently and sometimes in concert. He served three four-year terms as mayor of Seattle, the longest mayoral tenure in the city's history. After a 10-year career in television news in Portland, Oregon, and in Seattle, Royer ran for mayor in 1977 and defeated several veteran office holders to win the office. He easily won re-election in 1981 and 1985. His early years in office were marked by admitted management and hiring mistakes and his relations with the City Council remained testy, but he earned commendations at the end of his mayoral career for guiding the city through a period of unparalleled growth and for his public-housing initiatives. He became a national spokesperson for cities as president of the National League of Cities and was mentioned for a possible cabinet post in some Democratic administrations. He spent five years as director of the Institute of Politics at Harvard University, returning to Seattle in 1995, where he launched a third career in civic activism. In 2005, Royer founded the nonprofit Institute for Community Change "to help communities work smarter." Royer won several national awards for his work as mayor.

Family Background 

Charles Royer was born in Medford, Oregon, on August 22, 1939, to Russell and Mildred (Hampson) Royer. Charley's brother, Robert Joseph ("Bob"), was born four years later.

Russell Royer (1903-1967) had a brother, Joseph, and a half-brother, Walter. Charley's paternal grandfather, also Charles Royer, a U.S. Marshall and hunting guide, died in an avalanche at age 40. Russell's brother, Joseph, died in the 1918 flu epidemic that killed an estimated 675,000 in the United States and Russell's formal education ended in the eighth grade when schools were closed. He found work with the Great Northern Railway in Montana, but was severely injured when he was 17. Because Russell was underage, he received a hefty settlement and bought into a Studebaker automobile agency in Medford, Oregon. But he lost both the agency and his then-wife to his partner, and afterward worked mostly as a car mechanic. Russell Royer died in 1967, of cancer.

Russell's second wife, Charles Royer's mother, Mildred, was born in 1900, the oldest of five children of Thomas and Marjorie Hampson, in Grand Junction, Colorado. Thomas came west in 1926 to open the first Piggly Wiggly self-service grocery-chain franchises on the West Coast, settling in Medford, Oregon. Mildred was well-read, "a good student in high school" (C. Royer).  Mildred Royer died in 1980 at 79.

Russell Royer and Mildred married in 1936. The family was somewhat nomadic, living with relatives, but they were close, finally alighting in Oregon City in 1949. The Royers lived above a furniture store, in modest circumstances, and despite Russell's misfortunes, "he was a pretty sunny guy. He was funny" (B. Royer). Russell bemoaned his own lack of education and it was a consuming issue in his fathering. "He would read our textbooks ... He read a lot of history and loved to talk about the stuff he read" (C. Royer).

Young Manhood

Charley graduated high school in 1957. He also played baseball and accepted a two-year baseball scholarship at Portland State College, working part-time in the Oregon Journal advertising department to help pay the bills. He married his high school girlfriend, Anne Marie Walker, in 1959 and they had two children, Suzanne, born in 1964, and Jordan, born in 1967.  Charley did not fare well at Portland State and dropped out to work at Sears, as a management trainee in the advertising department. But the Army drafted him in 1961, a year of rising Cold War tensions that included the ill-fated invasion at Cuba's Bay of Pigs on April 17, 1961, and construction of the Berlin Wall on August 13, 1961. Vietnam also was appearing in the news.

Royer worked briefly for the post newspaper at Fort Hood, Texas, but was shipped to Fort Stewart, Georgia, along with the First Armored Division, as the United States was gearing up for a possible invasion of Cuba. After the October 14-28, 1962, Cuban missile crisis passed, Royer again wrote for the post newspaper, but he was assigned to the brigade intelligence officer's staff. Shortly before his discharge, he was shipped back to Texas, in time for Kennedy's assassination in Dallas on November 22, 1963.

Bob Royer, meanwhile, had started attending the University of Oregon in 1961. With a four-year age difference, they had not been close in the early years, but began corresponding and developing a bond. Mildred, a fan of the Greek classics, characterized her sons' rejuvenated relationship as "a Damon and Pythias thing" (Liff). (In the Greek myth, friends Damon and Pythias are willing to die for each other, and are saved because of their love.)

Years in Television

After his discharge from the Army, Charley joined Bob at the University of Oregon, Charley majoring in journalism, Bob majoring in history. Bob had been working part-time since 1962 in the newsroom at KEZI-TV, the American Broadcasting Company (ABC) affiliate in Eugene, and Charley joined him there in 1964. It was a small station, television news was still fairly primitive, and the brothers virtually were the newsroom. Charley moved to KVAL-TV, the National Broadcasting Company affiliate in Eugene, after he refused to broadcast a puff piece on KEZI for a local banker-advertiser.

Charley graduated in 1966 and was hired as a political reporter for KOIN-TV, Portland's Columbia Broadcasting Company (CBS) affiliate. He was 27, "aggressive and pretty ambitious." His marriage had not gone well, however, and the Royers divorced in 1967.

Royer won awards for his documentaries, and also covered state government in Salem, and Governor Tom McCall (1913-1983), a Republican who served from 1967 to 1975.  McCall, responsible for cleaning up the Willamette River, for the country's first "bottle law," and a vociferous environmentalist, came out of a strong Oregon-progressive legacy. He not only was a role model for Charley Royer, but a mentor. "When I was mayor, I'd call him up and ask him about stuff," Royer said.

McCall also had been a newsman and commentator, at KGW-TV in Portland. "McCall believed that news people made good politicians because they had a graduate-level course in public affairs and government, were pretty much idealistic people, and they have a good sense of smell," Royer recalled.

While at KOIN-TV, Royer won a political science award that included a week-long public-affairs seminar in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and the participants included Washington Post political columnist David S. Broder and Richard Reeves, who would become a New York Times political columnist. "It was heady company. That's where I got the idea that I'd like to get a better sense of what was going on in the country," Royer said. He won a six-month Washington Journalism Center fellowship in 1968, "which opened Washington doors," and a Political Science Association fellowship at the Harvard-MIT Institute for Urban Studies.

In 1967, Royer reconnected with Rosanne Gostovich, an old schoolmate from Oregon City days, and they married in 1968. Rosanne, daughter of Serbo-Croatian immigrant parents, was "an intense, elegant-looking woman who is deeply introspective and fiercely loyal to her family and to causes she holds dear" (Estes). She had graduated from the University of Washington with a degree in Russian.

Moving to Seattle

Royer was anxious to return to the Pacific Northwest and had been "hounding people in Portland for a news analyst job," he said. But in 1970, the Oregon Connection landed him a job instead in Seattle, as news analyst at KING-TV, where the news director was Forest Amsden, formerly with King sister station KGW-TV in Portland. But 1969 had been a bad year: for television (which lost millions of dollars in cigarette advertising), for Seattle (sinking into the Boeing Bust), and for KING-TV, (which lost its No. 1 TV news ranking in the market).

Ancil Payne (1921-2004), brought in to right the ship, had managed King's Portland broadcast properties for five years and he hired Norm Heffron as the new news director, also from KGW-TV. Bob Royer had been signed on as a cameraman following stints in the Peace Corps and the Army.

Royer fell in love with Seattle, "a big town in a beautiful setting, with really great neighborhoods. What's not to like?"  He commentated for tax reform, the environment, open government, education funding, saving Pike Place Market, and against the Vietnam War, freeways, and most politicians -- city, state, and federal. He regularly jabbed Seattle Mayor Wes Uhlman (b. 1935), President Richard M. Nixon (1913-1994), the state government in Olympia, and U.S. Senator Henry M. "Scoop" Jackson (1912-1983).

Journalism and Politics

The newsroom "was sort of bizarre, a mixture of Hunter Thompson (1937-2005) and 'Animal House,' " Royer said. "Whiskey in the desk drawer, wild parties. The station manager and the ownership cared about news, liked it controversial and tough, and we loved it."  They also produced a substantial body of award-winning, establishment-rattling television journalism.

Also in the KING-TV newsroom for about a year during the Royers' tenure was David Brewster, an assignment editor who would go on to found the Seattle Weekly and become a major civic and cultural voice in the city. "There were some very good people," Brewster said. "Mike James, Al Wallace, Phil Sturholm, Kathy Wynstra, Don McGaffin. It was a lot of fun."

But television was changing, and so was Royer. "The station began to buy into all that happy-talk personality (news) ... . Anybody could see what TV was starting to become," he said. "I knew all those people running for mayor and thought, 'I can do that better than they can.' It's an unnatural surge of ego you have to have."

He was kicking the idea around one evening with his buddy McGaffin at the Odman's Grill bar, at Denny Way and Dexter Avenue, as they were loosening up for an appearance before the 30th District Democrats on Phinney Ridge. McGaffin recalled that, with no remarks prepared for the show and a Bloody Mary still in his hand, he told the crowd, "'I would therefore like to announce that my friend is a candidate for Mayor of Seattle.' The place went crazy" (Broder). Royer quit KING-TV in January 1976, declared a month later, and took out a second mortgage on his house.

Running for Mayor

It was not his first foray into politics. Daughter Suzanne had joined Charley and Rosanne in their View Ridge home and Royer had served two years as president of the Parent-Teachers Association at Nathan Eckstein Middle School.

Wes Uhlman, Seattle's first Democratic Seattle mayor in 30 years, had called it quits after surviving two stormy terms, 1969 to 1977, a stretch that included a new mayor-council budget relationship, racial and antiwar riots, and a recall attempt. The list of those hoping to succeed Uhlman initially included City Council members John Miller, Phyllis Lamphere, and Sam Smith, former City Council member and ex-policeman Wayne Larkin, and Paul Schell (1937-2014), director of Seattle's Department of Community Development.

Brewster, "a big Schell guy" (B. Royer), found Royer's entry in the mayoral race "rather astonishing, since Royer has no base or governmental experience and as a liberal Democrat he's in a very crowded field."

Royer ran what he called "an excellent campaign, door-to-door, very grass-rootsy," and he relied mostly on small donations, and shoe leather. "Charley spent a year away from KING just going to neighborhood and Democratic meetings. He had a base" (Rice).

Royer didn't think much of billboard advertising ("ugly"), or the usual political TV spots ("the lowest common denominator of a declining culture"), but did employ some innovative 30-second spots for which private citizens contributed $10 each to voice neighborhood concerns (Dunsire).

A Populist Campaign

The campaign also was a family affair. Bob Royer and Dick Kelly ran the campaign and Rosanne tapped her "very genuine connections with the ethnic-white communities" (Brewster). Royer's mother, who had moved to Seattle from Oregon City, was highly visible and quotable as "Miz Mildred."

Charles Royer and Paul Schell (1937-2014), two elective-office neophytes, won the run-off spots in the July 20, 1977, primary election, with Wayne Larkin (ca. 1927-2009) third. "It was right after Dixy Lee Ray (1914-1994) was elected governor. There was a kind of anti-politician mood going," Royer said. He tapped that populist mood, running against City Hall, against growth. (Another vocal mayoral candidate who rode that same populist tide was Dennis Kucinich [b. 1946] of Cleveland, who later went on to become a U.S. Representative for Ohio and a presidential candidate in 2004 and 2008.)
Royer opposed the long-debated Interstate 90 project across Lake Washington and Mercer Island, the last link on the Boston-to-Seattle freeway which also would increase Eastside development and cross-lake traffic.  

He proposed mandatory school desegregation and "opposed the SST (supersonic transport) in Boeing town" (C. Royer), but Westlake Mall became a metaphor for the campaign. Schell wanted more retail development; Royer wanted to move the Seattle Art Museum to the Westlake area, and private redevelopment. The Westlake Mall would remain a divisive issue for succeeding administrations.

Royer won some key endorsements, the King County Democratic Committee and firefighters among them. He also was telegenic, glib, and "had a knack for nailing his audience" (Rice).

Royer also lightened up the campaign. "Of all the candidates for mayor, Royer seems most bent on demonstrating that politics can be fun" (Dunsire). Even Brewster, who accused Royer of "peddling fairly extreme solutions and an alarmist rhetoric," admitted that "only Royer's campaign has any feeling of energy and freshness and fun."

The Seattle Times and Post-Intelligencer opined that the voters couldn't lose with either candidate, "but the Weekly never let up. They were all over me most of the time I was mayor," Royer said. He also felt that, during the campaign, "KING was bending over backward to be unfair to me, so they didn't get criticized for supporting one of their own." However, on election day, November 8, 1977, Royer beat Schell easily, 100,615 votes to 75,649. His campaign cost $227,868.

Realpolitik Kicks In

Royer's introduction to realpolitik was not as easy as the campaign. "Charley ran against City Hall and he didn't trust the apparatus he ran against, because a lot of those people worked for Schell" (Rice). He also had run against four City Council members. His two campaign managers, Dick Kelly and Bob Royer, became his deputy mayors and Brewster huffed that Royer's staff was "almost totally bereft of any governmental experience."

Royer also "found out I really didn't understand the press ..." He tried "an absolutely open government -- making everything available to the press. Which was naïve" (Broder). And there were management lessons. "It was a steep learning curve for me, especially hiring people. I hired some clinkers," he said.

Seattle City Light

During their campaigns, both Royer and Schell had promised to fire the Seattle City Light superintendent, Gordon Vickery (1920-1996), who Uhlman had appointed in 1972 to reform the utility. City Light employees responded in 1974 by launching an 11-day wildcat strike to protest Vickery's reforms and tried to recall Uhlman, but failed. When Vickery quit in 1978 to accept a federal post, Royer appointed Robert Murray, an Oregon energy consultant, to head City Light. Despite vigorous opposition from Utilities Committee chairman Randy Revelle (1941-2018), Murray won City Council approval, 5-4, and was hired May 21, 1979. The Royers "were very green and not effective with the council," Revelle recalled.

Royer said, "We were well into my second term before we started working well with Randy, particularly on energy issues, because Randy knew energy issues very well." Revelle, a Jackson friend, also helped the Royers patch up their relationship with the senator, and they became allies.

Royer asked Murray to resign August 22, 1980, and the heads of the Personnel, Human Resources, and Community Development departments also found other jobs. Seven months later, Royer named Joe Recchi, a City Light veteran, as superintendent.

Seattle Police Department

Law enforcement also had been a problem for Seattle mayors. In 1970, Uhlman had picked a hard-nosed California cop, George Tielsch, to clean up the scandal-tainted police department, but Tielsch was too hard-nosed -- collecting dossiers on Uhlman's staff, Charley Royer and Don McGaffin, for instance. He was replaced in 1974 by Robert Hanson (1926-2007). Royer fired Hanson and in February 1979 he appointed a former New York policeman, Patrick Fitzsimons, "one of my best hires."

Fitzsimons, a by-the-book cop, was Seattle's longest-serving police chief, from 1978 to 1984. "We liked each other," Royer said. "He really took to the city, and the Establishment took to him." Royer wanted Fitzsimons, among other things, to integrate the police department, "to make the department look like the city it serves," and Fitzsimons did so.

Royer's first confrontation with the police came when he fulfilled a campaign promise by proposing limits to police use of firearms, "the deadly-force policy that Randy Revelle and I worked on." It was the first such action by a major city and the City Council approved it in May 1978.

Lose Some, Win Some

Royer opened 20 community health clinics around the city and, with the assistance of U.S. Senator Warren G. Magnuson (1905-1989), "got the Public Health Hospital (on Beacon Hill) out of the clutches of Ronald Reagan (1911-2004)," Royer said. But the issue with which Royer was most closely identified was senior and multi-family public housing: Successful bond issues passed in 1981 and 1986. "We spent more money on housing than almost the state of California," Royer said. "We delivered more units than promised, locally financed with local developers, really a great deal." Onetime Royer aide Tom Byers said, "In no other city in the country have the people taxed themselves to build housing for the poor" (Bruscas).

A proper bridge across the Duwamish Waterway to West Seattle was a 1977 campaign issue, as it had been for some years. "I was the only candidate who said we didn't have the money for a new bridge, but I won West Seattle in the primary," Royer said. The issue took its own course on June 11, 1978, when the freighter Chavez rammed the old Spokane Street Bridge, locking it open. Royer and City Councilwoman Jeanette Williams (1914-2008) enlisted the aid of Magnuson and transportation secretary Brock Adams (1924-2004) to obtain $60 million in federal funds for a high-level -- and still-controversial -- bridge, which opened in July 1984, at a total cost of $150 million.

Despite the successes, Royer's early track record provoked a comment from one City Hall employee: "Kind of incompetent, but he's a nice guy," and an observation that he "made fewer mistakes than his predecessor, Wes Uhlman."

Relations with the City Council remained testy and in 1979 the council, "with a certain measure of glee" (Nelson), flexed its muscle by eliminating Royer's Office of Policy Planning. "But we ended up putting it back together," said Norm Rice (b. 1943), a City Councilman at the time. Rice said his relations with Royer initially "were frosty, to say the least. ... We just didn't hear each other. It's unfortunate. Since then we've been quite friendly."

It wasn't much better in Olympia. In 1980, Royer asked the Republican-controlled Legislature to give cities the option of raising the state sales tax a half-cent, but "His caustic television political commentaries have not been forgotten" (Parker).

A National Presence

If Royer was having trouble gaining respect at home, he was on the board of directors of the National League of Cities (NLC) and gaining a national identity. But while at KING-TV, he had regularly lambasted Uhlman for "excessive" travel and began taking heat for racking up his own air miles, including several trips to Los Angeles and Washington, D.C., three weeks in China, nine days in Japan, and NLC conventions or meetings around the country.

Royer admitted to the "hypocrisy," but pointed to the "fruits" shaken from the "federal money tree" (Egan). At the time, federal monies for housing and social services represented one-third of Seattle's budget, funds that would largely disappear when Ronald Reagan became president in 1981. "In those days, a big-city mayor needed to be a player nationally because the federal government was doing a lot with cities," Royer said.

Royer had little trouble with re-election in 1981. Sam Smith (1922-1995), Seattle's first African American City Councilman, took a mostly symbolic run at Royer, and on November 3, 1981, it was a landslide: Royer, 106,842; Smith, 34,796. Royer's brother Bob, a deputy mayor, had been controversial, but Smith "took almost perverse delight in picking on Royer's little brother" (Parker). According to Charles Royer, "Sam told me when he was dying, 'Nothing personal. I just wanted to pull your tail. Also, it's how I raised money.'"

The Brotherhood Issue

The mayorship was dubbed "Charleybob" and Bob was variously described as disorganized, outspoken, controversial, and occasionally outrageous. At the 1979 Washington Public Power Supply System (WPPSS) board meeting, for instance, Bob complained that the WPPSS budget could buy "three billion Tootsie Rolls or 300 pounds of marijuana" (Parker).

He later recollected the remark as "ill-considered," a response to WPPSS's cavalier financial fantasyland.  

Bob also was a vociferous letter writer, regularly scolding reporters and publishers, City Council members, even Senator Jackson. But he often was the surrogate mayor when Charley was out of town, he helped Charley write his speeches, and was active in several areas, particularly energy. He served five years on the WPPSS executive board, appointed by Governors Mike Lowry (1939-2017) and Gary Locke (b. 1950).

Charley Royer said, "We took a lot of flak" on the nepotism issue, "but there was a precedent -- in the Kennedys. I relied a lot on Bob and we worked very well together. I just felt I needed someone I could trust completely." Bob Royer quit the deputy mayor job in April 1983.

Reagan Years

The early 1980s were difficult. Ronald Reagan had led a Republican sweep of the Congress and Washington state government in 1980, but the country was almost immediately wracked by a recession. Reagan's "New Federalism" meant a sharp reduction in federal aid for cities and strains in federal-city relations. Even the escalation of the Cold War was felt at home. In July 1982, Royer said Seattle would not participate in Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) plans to evacuate the city in the event of a nuclear attack, calling the plan "virtually useless" ("Seattle backs out of planning for nuclear war ...").

Meanwhile, Royer's national presence was growing. He was elected president of the National League of Cities on November 28, 1982, and his byline appeared regularly in the Nation's Cities Weekly (the NLC's newsletter), the Washington Post and Washington Star, on a wide range of issues. "I really did enjoy the National League of Cities. It's a huge organization ... very grass-rootsy. I got to know a lot about the country, and always got good ideas for Seattle from those meetings," Royer said.

Wake-Up Call

There were other distractions as well. Royer's name was bandied about as one of several  Democratic gubernatorial challengers for Governor John Spellman (1926-2018) and for a possible federal cabinet post under a Democratic president. Royer was considering both. Then, on September 1, 1983, Senator Jackson died suddenly and Spellman appointed Dan Evans (b. 1925) to temporarily fill the seat. In the subsequent special election, Royer ran fourth, behind Mike Lowry, Evans, and Lloyd Cooney (1923-2013), a conservative former broadcasting executive. Evans was elected.

The loss "woke me up," Royer said. "I hadn't been paying attention to my political base. ... Nothing like a hanging to focus a guy, and I got hanged." After a respite to recover, he reconnected with his base, attending community club and neighborhood meetings with alacrity, though some of his early neighborhood followers charged he had sold out to the downtown interests.

Charley's wife, Rosanne, also had been active in civic and cultural affairs, in addition to working on Charley's political campaigns. She managed Seattle's sister-cities program, especially the link with Tashkent, capital of Uzbekistan. In 1987, she and a Seattle delegation again visited the Soviet Union, as it was beginning to disintegrate, "excited and encouraged by the new 'glasnost,' or openness in the Soviet Union" (Sanger).  She also was a founder of the Ethnic Heritage Council and was active in the Slavic community and foreign language teacher's association.

Power Politics

Meanwhile, the city signed the Ross Dam treaty on April 2, 1984. It was one of Royer's major achievements in his second term, because it ended a decade-long controversy over Seattle's plan to raise City Light's Ross Dam on the Skagit River and flood a Canadian valley (Connelly). In exchange for not raising the dam, British Columbia agreed to supply hydropower to the city. "Bob Royer deserves lots of credit for the administration's successes, especially for resolving the High Ross Dam issue with Canada," said Walt Crowley (1947-2007), former Uhlman aide and historian.

But City Light remained a headache. Shortly after the dam treaty ceremony in Vancouver, British Columbia, Royer fired City Light Superintendent Joe Recchi for failure to meet the utility's "minority hiring goals and other problems" (Wilson, Parker and Coughlin). Deputy Superintendent John Saven was hired as interim superintendent. On September 24, 1984, Royer appointed Randy Hardy, a Bonneville Power Administration official, to the post and Hardy's seven-year tenure was highly successful. "City Light is a tough place to manage," Royer said. "Randy did it well."

Downtown Politics

Other major projects bedeviled Royer too. In 1982, the state Legislature approved the sale of bonds for a long-discussed convention center, which immediately became mired in controversy -- over location, financing, and displacement of housing. Royer favored a Seattle Center site, whereas the downtown establishment and others preferred the downtown site bridging the Interstate 5 freeway. Other goals -- a new City Hall, revitalized waterfront and south Lake Union areas, a zoo-aquarium merger -- remained elusive.

The bus tunnel, proposed by Metro in 1983 to alleviate suburban transit problems, joined the growing list of regional Seattle vs. suburbs issues dogging Royer. "I was against it, ambivalent, then for it," he said. However, the tunnel construction coincided with a downtown building boom, and Royer took much of the heat for the three-year traffic snarl.

Despite the strains, Royer scored some successes. "The KidsPlace initiative, making the city more for the whole family, came at a time when mandatory busing was increasing black and white flight," said David Brewster.

By the time Royer sought a third term in 1985, construction already had started on the Washington State Convention & Trade Center. City Council President Norm Rice and Royer were the finalists and Rice's attempt to nail Royer on his management record failed. On November 5, 1985, Royer easily defeated Rice, 86,811 to 49,700, making Royer the first mayor in Seattle history to win three four-year terms. Rice would go on to become Seattle's first black mayor in 1989.

Water Quality and Questions of Garbage

Seattle was booming, gaining national and international recognition for livability and business climate, and the suburbs were booming along with it. With regional growth came regional problems. These were first addressed in 1958 with the creation of the Municipality of Metropolitan Seattle -- Metro -- to clean up a polluted Lake Washington and other waters in King County -- an environmental success story. (Metro was declared unconstitutional in 1990 and Metro was merged into King County in 1994.)

In 1984, the federal Environmental Protection Agency and the state Department of Ecology ordered Metro to stop discharging heavy metals from its sewage plant on the beach at Seattle's West Point that were polluting Puget Sound. Metro wanted to simply add a secondary-treatment facility to the West Point plant, but environmentalists, Royer, and six Seattle City Council members wanted the plant elsewhere, preferably in the Duwamish industrial area. The battle lasted two years, it was intense, and Royer's side lost. "It was by one vote. Norm Rice. It was the last piece of saltwater beach in the city. I thought it was worth fighting for. It has ruined the beach," Royer said.

There was a squabble with Bellevue over water. The transit tunnel, which would accommodate suburban bus riders, and the city's garbage landfills in Kent and Midway, also provoked confrontations with suburban officials. The landfills prompted a lawsuit with the state.

Garbage was a problem in the city as well. Royer proposed a garbage incinerator, "though nobody wanted to build an incinerator in Seattle ... . We put it out as a straw man." Royer initially opposed recycling, but the city went on to develop a program that became a national model.

A Changing Downtown

In 1984, Royer, the City Council, and others had hammered out a Downtown Seattle Land-Use Plan to control growth in Seattle's downtown area. But in 1989 voters passed Initiative 31, the Citizens' Alternative Plan (CAP), which restricted downtown growth. Only 23 percent of the electorate voted. Opposing CAP was an unusual coalition of downtown developers and retailers, unions, and some left-wing activists. CAP was repealed in 2006.

New urban problems included gangs and drugs. "You can almost find the exact date when crack hit the streets of Seattle -- in 1985," Royer said. "It was like turning on a switch ... . It filled up the jail."  The homeless population also was growing and in 1984 Royer convened a 70-member task force to tackle the problem, but a quarter-century later, "they're still out there and the problem is getting worse," Royer said.

Royer sued the federal government in 1985 "when the Reagan administration refused to spend community block grant money, and we won. We used a higher percentage of block grant money for social services, and sued when the federal government put a limit on that."

Royer added to his housing dossier in 1986, when he helped engineer what he dubbed the "bread and roses" bond issue, an $80 million levy for low-income housing and a new art museum. In 1987, however, voters rejected one of Royer's top priorities, a $34.7 million plan to improve Seattle's waterfront.

From Political Novice to Polished Leader

On January 19, 1988, with a year left in his third term, Royer announced he would not seek a fourth term, saying he needed "new challenges and new growth" (Balter). A laudatory editorial in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer the next day said Royer "has worked hard and well, in our opinion" in confronting the city's problems. In a post-mortem, "11 years of change," Seattle Times reporter David Schaefer wrote that Royer "has gone from political novice to polished leader."

Meanwhile, Royer's national aspirations, though muted, were not dead. Royer spoke at the 1988 Democratic Party National Convention in Atlanta, Georgia, that selected Michael Dukakis (b. 1933) as the Democratic presidential candidate. Again Royer was on short lists for a possible cabinet post. "I can't speak highly enough of his leadership," said Lynn Cutler, vice-president of the Democratic National Committee. 'He's a star' " (Schaefer).

U.S. News & World Report in 1988 named Royer as one of the country's top 20 mayors and in 1989 the National Urban Coalition gave him its Distinguished Urban Mayor award. City and State magazine gave him its Most Valuable Public Official award. Also in 1989, Business Month called Seattle one of the best-managed cities in the country. The Woodland Park Zoo was named one of the 10 best in the country. Places Rated Almanac called Seattle the nation's most livable city. In 2004, the University of Oregon School of Journalism inducted Royer into its Hall of Achievement.

Progress and Intractable Problems

Seattle indeed blossomed during Royer's tenure, and so had its big-city problems – drugs and gangs, homelessness, traffic gridlock, troubled schools with mandatory busing and racial concerns, rampant growth. Leasable office space downtown had doubled. But Seattle schools had lost nearly 20,000 students, mostly white, and minorities now made up a student majority.

And Puget Sound area growth was still polluting the region's waters, with sewerage and stormwater runoff. In August 1988, Royer proposed a tax to "reduce the amount of untreated runoff" flushed through the city's storm drains and encourage conservation (Harrell). "The problems are here today (2007)," Royer said. "Most of the issues you deal with in a big city are pretty intractable -- homelessness, law enforcement, infrastructure like streets, sewers. The last pipe for the Forward Thrust cleanup of Lake Washington was laid in 1989, but the (Forward Thrust) bond issue passed back in 1968."

Going to Harvard

In June 1989 Royer was chosen to head Institute of Politics at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government. The Institute of Politics had been established in 1966 to encourage young people to get into elective politics. "It was a heady experience," Royer said ... . I actually ran a salon."

There were six fellows in residence for six months -- politicians such as Dan Evans and newsmen such as former KOMO-TV and NBC anchor John Seigenthaler Jr. There were dinners, forums, and symposiums for the fellows, faculty and students on the issues of the day, from illegal immigration and the civil rights movement to election media coverage and national security. "We had a forum that would seat 800 to 1,000 and we would have anybody from [former Soviet leader Mikhail] Gorbachev to [former U.S. House Speaker] Tip O'Neill," Royer said. Tapes of the Institute sessions are archived at the University of Washington, Royer said, "and we had some really good ones."

Charley and Rosanne Royer divorced in 1994. 

Coming Home

In 1995, after five years at Harvard, Royer "was more than ready to come home." There were talks with television stations but no job materialized. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation asked Royer to run its Urban Health Initiative, a five-year, $65 million pilot project to improve health and safety of children in eight blighted cities, and he set up shop at the University of Washington's Daniel J. Evans School of Public Affairs. It was "a way to reestablish 'the joy of civic activism' " and "test out some of the things he learned while running the Institute ... "(Wilson).

In 2000, Royer married Lynn Claudon, a land-use consultant who had entered politics as a college intern working in the 1980 gubernatorial campaign of John Spellman.

Royer formed the non-profit Institute for Community Change (ICC) in Seattle in 2005, "to help communities work smarter" (ICC website). In addition to working with the Johnson Foundation, ICC also has worked with other foundations and cities on a range of urban issues. Royer speaks out regularly on other local issues, including the monorail (against it), the viaduct (prefers a four-lane tunnel), upgrading Key Arena for professional basketball (for it), and affordable housing. 

Charley Royer and Lynn Claudon live in downtown Seattle.


David Brewster, “The Rise of Royer,” The Seattle Weekly,  August 31, 1977, p. 9; Bob Liff, “Confidences of Ms. Mildred,” Seattle Sun, December 14, 1977, p. 19; Frank Chesley interview with Bob Royer, June 5, 2007; Frank Chesley interviews with Charles Royer, June 14, 18, 2007; Frank Chesley interview with Norm Rice, June 5, 2007; Jane Estes, “Rosanne Royer,” Seattle Post-Intelligencer Northwest section, July 2, 1978, p. 6; David Broder, Changing of the Guard (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1980), 391-393; David Brewster, “Charles Royer Tosses Another Liberal Hat in the Mayor’s Ring,” Seattle Weekly, December 8, 1976, p. 5; Charles Dunsire, “Everybody Has Seen TV’s Royer,” Seattle Post-Intelligencer, August 28, 1977, p. B-3; Frank Chesley interview with Randy Revelle, June 19, 2006; Laura Parker, “The maturation of Charles Royer,” Seattle Post-Intelligencer, July 26, 1981, p. B-1; Angelo Bruscas, “Royer: Champion of Growth and the Poor,” Seattle Post-Intelligencer, January 20, 1989, p. B-1; Timothy Egan, “Royer Hits the Road -- China... Japan... D.C...,” Seattle Post-Intelligencer, December, 16, 1979, p. D-2; Laura Parker, “What’s Next for the Mayor’s Brother?” Seattle Post-Intelligencer, November 15, 1981, p. B-3; Laura Parker, “It’s a Letter from Bob, So Stand Back,” Seattle Post-Intelligencer, February 27, 1983, p. G-1; Joel Connelly, “Ross Dam Treaty to Be Signed Monday,” Seattle Post-Intelligencer, March 28, 1984, p. D-1; Susan Goldberg, “Bob Royer Calls it Quits at City Hall,” Seattle Post-Intelligencer, March 15, 1983, p. A-3;, the Online Encyclopedia of Washington State History, "Seattle backs out of planning for nuclear war in July 1982,"  (by David Wilma) and “Hill, Tim Henry,” (by Frank Chesley), (accessed July 4, 2007); Rebecca Boren, “Mayor Charley’s Lean Machine,” Seattle Weekly, February 24, 1982, p. 4;  S. L. Sanger, “City Delegation Liked New Soviet Openness Rosanne Royer Says,” Seattle Post-Intelligencer, February 2, 1987, p. A-1; Duff Wilson, Laura Parker and Dan Coughlin, “Angry Royer Fires Chief of City Light,” Seattle Post-Intelligencer, March 31, 1984, p. A-1, Frank Chesley interview with David Brewster, July 17, 2007; Robert T. Nelson, “An Elusive Legacy,” Seattle Times Pacific magazine, December 6, 1987, pp. 22-37; Robert T. Nelson, “The Royer Years,” The Seattle Times, December 24, 1989, p.  B-1; David Schaefer, “Royer In Line for Cabinet Job?,” The Seattle Times, July 7, 1988, p. B-2; Joni Balter, “Royer Won’t Run Again,” The Seattle Times, January 19, 1988, p.  A-1; Editorial, “Mayor Royer Sets the Stage,” Seattle Post-Intelligencer, January 20, 1988, p. A-10; David Schaefer “11 Years of Change,” The Seattle Times, January 19, 1988, p. A-6; Debera Carlton Harrell, “Royer Wants Tax for a Cleaner Sound,” Seattle Post-Intelligencer, August 5, 1988, p. C-1; Robert T. Nelson, “Harvard Selects Royer to Lead Politics Institute,” The Seattle Times, June 21, 1989, p. A-1; John Arthur Wilson, “Charles Royer’s Third Seattle,” Seattle Weekly, December 20, 1995, p. 17; Institute for Community Change website accessed August 11, 2007  (
Note: Anne Marie Walker's name was corrected on December 6, 2009, and the essay was slightly revised on March 19, 2012, to clarify that Royer was the first Seattle mayor to win three four-year terms.

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