King County voters make John Spellman the County's first Executive and choose seven members for the new County Council on March 11, 1969.

  • By Kit Oldham
  • Posted 9/16/2006
  • Essay 7946

On March 11, 1969, County Commissioner John D. Spellman (1926-2018) defeats former Governor Albert D. Rosellini (1910-2011) to win the powerful new post of County Executive. Voters also choose seven members for the new nine-member County Council that along with the Executive replaces the three-member Board of County Commissioners that has governed King County since 1852. The elections fill positions created by the Home Rule Charter approved by voters in November, 1968. Under the new charter, the two remaining outgoing commissioners, John O'Brien and Ed Munro, automatically become members of the new County Council.

The First Executive

All three commissioners supported the change in County governmental structure, although other elected County officials, whose offices would become appointed under the new charter, opposed it. After voters overwhelmingly approved the charter, there was considerable speculation over who would seek the Executive post, which observers predicted would carry considerable statewide clout because King County voters were around 40 percent of the state electorate. (The predictions have been borne out by the fact that two of the five men to be elected Executive -- Spellman and Gary Locke [b. 1950] -- have gone on to win election as governor.)

Although early speculation focused on Commissioner Ed Munro, a Democrat, it was Republican Commissioner John Spellman, encouraged by Governor Dan Evans (b. 1925) and others in the reform or liberal wing of the Republican party, who announced his candidacy for Executive. Spellman faced a formidable foe in former two-term Governor Albert Rosellini, who in 1964 narrowly lost to Evans in his bid for a third term. Both men easily won their parties' nomination in the February 11 primary.

Rosellini sought to tie Spellman, a Commissioner since 1966, to the political patronage and courthouse remodeling scandals that had impelled voters to adopt the new charter. But Spellman, a leading supporter of the charter, had a reputation as a reformer and the support of Governor Evans. Rosellini recognized that he would need a high turnout, generally more favorable to Democrats, to win, and he did not get the over-200,000-voter turnout he hoped for in the off-year, March 11 vote. Out of around 198,000 total votes, Spellman won by a margin of slightly over 7,000 (102,864 to 95,447 in unofficial returns).

County Council Races

In addition to winning the Executive post, the Republicans held five of the nine seats on the new County Council. The new charter divided the County into nine districts, with one Councilmember representing each district. Because the charter made the existing commissioners members of the new Council, each party had one seat automatically -- Democrat Munro in the southwestern District 7 and Republican O'Brien in central Seattle's District 5. (Spellman gave up the District 2 seat in northeast Seattle when he ran for Executive.)

In the March 11 general election, Republicans won easily in two heavily Republican (at the time) districts -- Bob Dunn beat Jim McInerney in District 2 (northeast Seattle) and Bill Reams defeated Dan MacKenzie in District 3 comprising the north half of the County's rural eastern portion. In District 1, extending from Shoreline to Bothell and considered a swing district, Republican Tracy Owen won a closer race against Mark Litchman.

The tightest race was in District 6, including Renton, Tukwila, and Mercer Island, where former Tukwila city councilman Thomas Forsythe edged State Representative Gary Grant by a few hundred votes, giving the Republicans their 5 to 4 majority on the Council. (Grant would later win election to the Council from District 9.)

Democrats won the remaining three seats. State Representative Edward Heavey defeated Ken Koehler for the District 8 seat representing West Seattle, White Center, and Beacon Hill. Dave Mooney easily beat Richard Bartlett in District 9, the south half of the County's rural eastern portion.

"One Woman"

Democrat Bernice Stern (b. 1916), the only woman on the ballot, narrowly defeated Robert Ashley in northwest Seattle's District 4, considered at the time a Republican stronghold. In her successful campaign, Stern called for "one woman on the council" (Jacobi).

Spellman and the nine new Councilmembers took office on May 1, 1969, when the new charter officially went into effect.


Wayne Jacobi, "GOP May Hold 5-4 Edge On Council," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, March 12, 1969, pp. 1 & B; "Rosellini Explains Defeat," Ibid. p. B; "Complete, Unofficial Election Returns," The Seattle Times, March 13, 1969, p. 93; Don Hannula, "Margin of Victory Pleases Rosellini," Ibid., February 12, 1969, p. 41; William Gough, "Spellman Weighing All the Issues," Ibid.; Jerry Bergsman, "Freeholders Finish County Charter," Ibid., August 30, 1968; Greg Nickels, "History of King County Council: Elections and Membership," typescript dated "2005 update," in possession of Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels.

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