WILLIAM RUCKELSHAUS is probably best known for his role in the "Saturday Night Massacre." On October 20, 1973, Ruckelshaus quit his job as deputy attorney general under President Richard Nixon rather than carry out Nixon's order to fire Watergate special prosecutor Archibald Cox. In the 25 years since Watergate, Ruckelshaus has remained in the public eye, serving as a top executive with Weyerhaeuser, head of the US Environmental Protection Agency under President Reagan, an associate of Seattle's largest law firm (Perkins Coie), and CEO of the nation's second-largest waste handler (Houston-based Browning-Ferris Industries).
Two years after returning to the Seattle area (Medina, to be precise), Ruckelshaus remains an imposing figure. He's still on the board of Weyerhaeuser. He's now the chair of Browning-Ferris. He was the campaign finance chair for two prominent Republicans, US Rep. Jennifer Dunn and recent Senate hopeful (and longtime friend) Chris Bayley. He and his wife, Jill Ruckelshaus, are superstars of Seattle's corporate, political, and nonprofit establishments. In addition to Weyerhaeuser, his directorships include Coinstar, Gargoyles, Jefferson Awards, Nordstrom, Seattle Aquarium, Washington News Council, and the Washington Roundtable. Hers include the Committee for the Seattle Commons, Costco, Lakeside School (chair), Seafirst Bank, Seattle Symphony, Sustainable Northwest, and the Washington State Women's Forum. Both serve on the board of the Discovery Institute, a conservative/libertarian think tank that unites members of Seattle's corporate and political establishments. William also serves on the boards of Cummins Engine Co., Monsanto, and several conservative economic- and social-policy think tanks based in Washington, DC.
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What's different, though, about how William Ruckelshaus comports himself in the 1990s (as opposed to the '70s and '80s) is his new, low-visibility working style. The close relationship he's quietly nurtured with Mayor Paul Schell and the connections his friends and business partners have made with some of the area's most influential people and institutions put Ruckelshaus at the center of a little-known but vast web that ranks among the most impressive in Western Washington.
Ruckelshaus' partners in the high-tech venture capital firm Madrona Investment Group include establishment veterans Tom Alberg and Jerry Grinstein. Madrona's financial consultant is former Boeing executive Doug Beighle, chair of KCTS 9, a Washington Mutual Bank board member, and former president of the Seattle Commons Committee.
Alberg—a former McCaw Cellular executive, Perkins Coie managing partner, Seattle Weekly investor, and an ubiquitous high-tech figure who holds directorships with Amazon.com, Teledesic, and Visio—is an old friend of Schell who co-chaired the mayor's transition team this past winter. Alberg chairs the Discovery Institute's board, which also features the Ruckelshauses, Bayley, and Doug Raff, a prominent lawyer, longtime Schell friend, and former Seattle Weekly chair. (Top executives from Boeing, GTE, Microsoft, Perkins Coie, U S West, and Weyerhaeuser also serve on Discovery's board.) And Alberg is vice chair of the Technology Alliance, a Greater Seattle Chamber of Commerce affiliate chaired by Bill Gates' father, attorney William Gates Jr.
Some of these relationships have stood for more than 25 years. Schell, until recently the Discovery Institute's vice chair, shared office space at Perkins Coie with Alberg and current Discovery president Bruce Chapman during the 1970s. The Chapman-Bayley connection goes back to the early '70s, when Chapman won a seat on the Seattle City Council and Bayley was elected King County prosecutor on a ticket assembled by a group called Choose an Effective City Council. CHECC also helped elect as mayor Wes Uhlman, for whom Schell worked in the mid-'70s as the city's community development director.
Grinstein—the recently retired chair/CEO of Burlington Northern Santa Fe who lives in Bill Gates' former Medina mansion—served as co-chair of the Seahawks Stadium Financing Task Force, a Gov. Gary Lockeappointed panel that recommended last year using state sales taxes, lottery ticket revenues, and car rental taxes to help pay for a new stadium for Paul Allen's football team. The task force also included Uhlman, Sur La Table president Carl Behnke, Washington Mutual Bank president Phyllis Campbell, and King County Prosecutor Norm Maleng (a former Bayley prot駩 and fellow staffer with Grinstein for Sen. Warren Magnuson).
GRINSTEIN AND THE Ruckelshauses often run into each other; he serves on the Browning-Ferris board with William, and the Seafirst Bank and Seattle Symphony boards with Jill. Grinstein and Bayley have a shared history, too; Bayley was a senior vice president at Burlington Northern when Grinstein served as CEO. Grinstein, a former Preston Gates & Ellis partner, also serves on the boards of PACCAR and Delta Air Lines.
Little is known about the influence Alberg has had over Schell's fiscal, affordable housing, growth management, and other policies—many of which have taken on a decidedly free-market flair. Schell spokesperson Vivian Phillips was vague when asked about Alberg's role in the administration, saying in an e-mail ostensibly written by Schell: "Tom is one of my oldest and best friends. He is a non-assertive, common-sense counselor whose advice I seek on occasion." And little is known about Grinstein's role in drafting the Seahawks stadium public-financing plan for Locke. At the behest of Allen's lobbyists, all of the task force's meetings were closed to the public.
What is known about this web of friends and business partners is that it's been of substantial monetary benefit to Schell. Alberg, Bayley, Raff, and Jill and William Ruckelshaus each contributed the legal maximum of $400 to Schell's 1997 election campaign. In addition to that $2,000, other Discovery Institute directors and staffers pitched in $1,000. Grinstein contributed $200. In June, Alberg gave $250 to Schell's internal "Office Fund," a coffer used for expenses not covered by the city's budget. (Other recent donors to the fund include Behnke, SAFECO Field architect Bill Bain of NBBJ, Pacific Place developer Jeff Rhodes, Foster Pepper & Shefelman partner Judy Runstad, and veteran downtown developer Herman Sarkowsky.)
Also contributing to Schell's mayoral campaign were partners and staffers of Raff's law firm, Graham & James/Riddell Williams, who gave a total of $2,350. (Clients of the firm, Seattle's eighth largest, include Active Voice, a high-tech company whose board includes Alberg and Beighle.) Raff serves on the board of the Bullitt Foundation with Gerry Johnson, the well-connected Preston Gates & Ellis attorney whose work on behalf of Pacific Medical Center will enable Amazon.com—where Alberg holds a directorship—to move into PacMed's publicly owned hospital building in Beacon Hill.
Ruckelshaus, now 66, says he's officially "retired," though his busy schedule usually limits him to one round of golf per month. As busy as he's been since moving back to the Northwest in 1996—pursuing business and political connections instead of chasing little white balls—he's maintained a remarkably low profile. "It may be an advantage," he said with a chuckle. "This story might blow my cover."