Albert Rosellini is hailed as the dean of Washington Democrats, having served as a state legislator beginning in 1938 and then as governor from 1957-65. He was a high-profile lawyer and businessman after that and remains active today as he nears his hundredth birthday. Rosellini's time as governor is considered one of the productive in state history and, relevant to our purposes, he was the first local politician to take tangible steps toward bringing big league sports to Seattle. I spent about an hour with him in June 1994 at his office in south Seattle.
What was the Governor's Sports Advisory Council?
I've always been, from childhood, not much of an athlete, but always a good sports fan and particularly in the days I grew up, the big sport was baseball. I always felt, in those years when I was governor, that it was time that we try to do something to attract major
Governor Rosellini, 1957.
Do you remember when you created it?
I would think it was probably '59. We were, at that time, working towards the World's Fair.
You were supportive, as far back as this 1957 article from the Seattle Times, of building a domed stadium. Can you tell me a little about what you were thinking?
The only thing we could do at time was to do what I did: create a committee to study the feasibility of it and the possibility of financing a stadium. To me, the need was apparent and I'm sure to all the sports fans. It was a question of trying to put it together. At the same time, we were trying to put together the major project, the World's Fair. I remember even in my closing remarksthe day we closed the World's Fairwe had a big banquet and I pointed out at that time, now, we've done this after a lot of brickbats and nay-sayers that said we couldn't do it, now it was time that we settle down and go to work on creating a domed stadium so we can attract major league sports.
What was the Municipal League and why did they come out against the stadium?
In those days, they had tremendous political influence, unfortunately. I say that because they were so biased in their analysis and they pretended to do a job of researching candidates and making recommendations to the people before the election. They were recommendations that people would follow quite a bit. They gained a good reputation, but I used to think when I was running for the senate in those days and I was elected every four years, that every four years, they would always try to beat me. I had a lot of disputes them. Maybe I'm prejudiced, but I don't think so. I remember one particular time, they gave me a good send-off in the primaries, then six weeks later for the finals, they came on and started knocking me. I wrote them a letter, which they never answered, what's happened during these six weeks to change your mind about my being a good senator? I don't know how they gained their support and we felt--the Democrats always felt--that they were a strictly Republican organization. It's got so bad that the Democratic Central Committee of King County would advise the Democrats not to even to appear at their interviews.
Were they a semi-official group?
Not official whatsoever, they were just a volunteer group that, I don't know how they got started originally, but anybody could join if you wanted to be a member of the Municipal League. In the main, they'd hold monthly meetings or maybe more often than that and discuss issues. They had no official standing, but managed to gain the confidence of the newspapers, who at that time were a lot more conservative and Republican than they are today.
Who were the nay-sayers?
The whole atmosphere around here, that some of us that were more liberal probably found it for years, was an ultra-conservative atmosphere. Take The Seattle Times for instance. They've changed tremendously, of course, but they always seemed to be against any progressive steps around here: the Woodland Park Zoo, the Aurora Bridge, et cetera. They influenced a lot of people to the ultra-conservative side.
Why did the 1960 stadium drive fail?
General obligations levies are based on real estate, you see. The home owner says, 'ah, hell, we don't need a stadium.' So many of them vote against these levies all the time because they don't want to be taxed for schools or for anything else and $15 million at that time was a lot of money.
Some people doubted it could be built for $15 million.
That was running through my mind just now; I don't see how they could have build it for $15 million. The only comparable thing I can think of, we paid over $18 million just to build the Seattle Center Coliseum and I would think a domed stadium would cost a lot more than that.
Was there no private money to build a stadium?
There were a lot of affluent people around, but nobody that had the kind of money that they'd be willing to gamble on a new facility such as this--and combined with public money to put together a package? I would think it would be kind of hard.
Were all three stadium drives [1960, '66 and '68] a result of the "downtown establishment" as some have charged?
I'm sure a lot of them might have thought about that, yeah, but I think there was a lot broader support than that. I think there were an awful lot of people that had no personal interest in it except for the fact that they felt it would be something good for the whole area, primarily because of the livability in the area here that it would contribute to.
What was the general condition of the state at that time?
Things were beginning to boom. I can relate to my administration, during the first four years, things were rather tough. We had a little recession and this is prejudiced, but we referred to it as "the Eisenhower recession." There was quite a bit of unemployment. I inherited, from my predecessor, a government that was in the hole. It sounds like peanuts today, but it was over $50 million in the hole. Plus, the more important thing, our institutions and highways and things like that hadn't been kept up to date. So during that period, we had a pretty serious situation. We accelerated all the projects that had been funded, but weren't due to start for several years. We urged the counties and cities to do the same thing--everything to stimulate the economy. When we get back to the early '60s and from then on, I think things started picking up all over the country and certainly around here.
What was your role in trying to bring major league baseball here?
I would think that the governor should show some leadership in trying to do it and I think I did when I created this committee for the purpose of trying to put it together but, of course, it failed. After that, I don't think I did anything further because we had it and I was busy doing other things as governor.
Were you involved with the possibility of bringing the Indians here?
Why did people support the Rainiers and not the Pilots?
Dewey has been a good friend of mine for years and he always sent me some tickets to the games and I went to a couple of them, but I remember it was a cold, rainy night out there. I don't know whether it was priced too high because they had to pay so much for the professional players or why. Or poor management, I've heard that, too--that the Soriano brothers weren't handling it as efficiently as it should have been handled.
Was the condition of Sick's Stadium really as bad as everyone says?
I don't think so. Because the Rainiers used to pack them in. The times I'd been there, it appeared very nice. Just a nice field. I don't know if the Rainiers were actually making money or not. Sick, from his standpoint and the Rainier Brewery, it was a great opportunity to expose their products to the public and to sell a lot of beer out there. Whether it was financially feasible or not as far as just the baseball part and concessions, it's hard to tell. Who knows?
What does a major league team mean to a community?
I think it's a tremendous attraction, bringing people in from all over the area to provide entertainment and also economic development. I think you'll find a lot of major companies would take a look at an area, find out what there is there that would, for instance, keep their employees happy and willing to come and work in that area. It would mean dollars and cents from a state standpoint and also from a general business standpoint. I think it means an awful lot. It adds to the overall livability of the community.