Norm Rice unexpectedly enters race for Seattle mayor on July 28, 1989, the last day of filing.

  • By Walt Crowley
  • Posted 3/26/2004
  • Essay 4284

On July 28, 1989, Seattle City Council member Norman B. Rice (b. 1943) files as a candidate for mayor of Seattle in the last 20 minutes of the last day on which he can register for the position. The announcement comes as a surprise because Rice has previously declared that he would not run for the post. Rice explains that he was persuaded to run by the "terrible new ingredient" of the "Save Our Schools" (SOS) initiative, which seeks to end mandatory busing for integration in Seattle schools, and by his disappointment with other candidates and their rhetoric. Norm Rice and Seattle City Attorney Doug Jewett, author of the SOS initiative, will survive the September 19 mayoral primary, and Rice will win the general election on November 7, 1989, by a large majority. Ironically, the SOS initiative will pass narrowly on the same ballot.

Norm Rice was elected to the Seattle City Council in a 1978 special election to succeed Phyllis Lamphere, and was re-elected in 1979, 1983, and 1987, as the body's second African American member (after Sam Smith). Despite his popularity as a council member, he lost bids for mayor in 1985 and for Congress in 1988. (He would later lose the Democratic nomination for governor to Gary Locke in 1996.)

Conviction or Calculation?

Many observers regarded Rice as a strong contender in the 1989 mayoral election, but he steadfastly declined to enter the race. While some suspected that he had deliberately waited to the last minute to file, Rice explained that his mind was changed by the increasingly "shrill" debate over the Save Our Schools anti-busing initiative and other city issues, not by any political calculation. Many journalists and analysts credited his statement for defining Rice's candidacy and elevating his standing in a crowded primary field. The statement said:

"On May 9th of this year [1989], I told my supporters and the citizens of Seattle that I did not expect to stand for election as mayor of our city. At the time, I expressed the hope and confidence that the announced candidates would offer leadership to help heal the divisions in our community and to help guide the city into the next decade.

I challenged the candidates for mayor to articulate a new vision. Like every Seattle citizen, I looked for concrete ideas ...

  • Addressing the needs of children seeking quality of education and equal opportunity;
  • Addressing the needs of the poor seeking shelter, nourishment, health care, and dignity;
  • Addressing the needs of citizens seeking to rid their streets, parks and schoolyards of crime and drugs;
  • Addressing the needs of business and working people seeing a renewed partnership for economic progress;
  • Addressing the needs of neighborhoods seeking stability and sensitive, predictable growth;
  • And addressing the needs of Seattle and Puget Sound citizens seeking to preserve our region's natural beauty and unique quality of life as a legacy for the generations to come.=
Above all, I listened for the words that would soothe the divisions among us, that would lift our civic spirits, and would bind our urban family closer.

You and I have not heard those words. The needs of our community have not been addressed. The aspirations of our community have not been given the full, clear voice they deserve.

Rather than words of vision, we have all heard new, shrill voices of division -- setting community against community, neighborhood against neighborhood, institution against institution, and most alarming of all, race against race.

In the time since I declined to offer myself as a candidate for mayor, a terrible new ingredient has been added: the so-called SOS initiative to segregate our schools. While I applaud those candidates who have stood up against this initiative, you must know that I cannot stand on the sidelines. I must join this battle with all of my soul and resources, and I believe the election of Seattle's next mayor offers the best and most powerful arena for pressing the battle against division and for unity.

I have come to this decision with great trepidation, and only after the most persistent urging of friends and supporters. I have come to this decision in only the last few hours and without the benefit of polls, paid consultants or a bulging campaign treasury. I have come to this decision mindful of the burden it places on my family and contrary to all of the conventional political wisdom that dictates months of political calculation. But I have come to this decision irrevocably and unequivocally.

Therefore today, July 28, 1989, I declare my candidacy for mayor of Seattle. Thank you."

Although some still questioned whether the late announcement was planned, Rice advisers including Robert Gogerty, Charles Rolland, Robert Watt, and Walt Crowley (the author of this entry) confirmed that they were not informed of Rice's decision until 24 hours before the filing deadline.


Angela Bruscas and Neil Modie, "A Surprise: Rice Joins Mayor's Race," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, July 29, 1989, p. A-1; Neil Modie, "Rice Defeats Jewett Handily," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, November 8, 1989, p. A-1; author's archives.

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