Al Rosellini and his 100-candle cake
"Hello governor," Congressman Dave Reichert said, walking in Saturday morning. "And governor, governor, governor..." There were six in all - Mike Lowry, John Spellman, Dan Evans, Booth Gardner, Gary Locke, and Chris Gregoire. At the Skyline assisted-living facility meeting room on Pill Hill, they awaited the arrival of the seventh, Albert Rosellini - the first Italian American Roman Catholic governor elected west of the Mississippi and America's oldest living former governor. It was a breathtaking sight: All these past and present chiefs of state. Just try to imagine how many tax hikes they had approved.
Al Rosellini and his 100-candle cake
Rosellini, who lives upstairs, came through the door in his wheelchair, very thin and quite old, for two reasons: He's weakened from a recently broken hip, and on this Thursday he turns 100. "Sorry for being so crippled," he said sincerely. This was a pre-birthday bash to pay respects and bestow a few gifts: Locke, now the Commerce Secretary, brought a letter from Barack and Michelle Obama; Reichert had a flag that had just flown over the nation's capitol; Gregoire pronounced Thursday Al Rosellini Day. The idea was to recall good times and skip past the bad like, say, Strippergate. But Rosellini's eyes brightened when, left alone for a few minutes, we asked him about that.
"Just politics," he said of his role aiding racketeer Frank Colacurcio and his son, who illegally bundled up political contributions to city council members in 2003; longtime family friend Rosellini assisted in fund raising and lobbied the council for a parking lot rezone of Colacurcio's Lake City strip club. The Colacurcios plea-bargained felony violations and were fined; Rosellini was never charged.
"Everybody, not everybody but many, on the opposition looks for these things to criticize," said The Governor, as he prefers to be called. "I've never been concerned about it, because things happen in the world...sometimes all hell breaks loose.
"That's politics, and if you can't take it, you should get out of it. I am willing to stand up to any criticism."
But that was old news, the two-term governor (1957-65) added, just as was his loss to Evans in a smear-marked comeback attempt in 1972: Eight days before the election, the P-I ran a Page 1 piece claiming Rosellini had helped one of Frank's brothers obtain a liquor license in Hawaii.
Rosellini said it cost him the election. Back then, he referred to the incident as "wop baiting." Now he said you get past things like that. "We're all friends." He sat across from Evans, laughing and chatting, and then several of the governors joined in to help him blow out 100 candles.
"Al brought us together," said Evans, 84, of the annual birthday gathering, "and I think we represent now more years of [living] ex-governors than any other state in the nation."
Lowry, 70, told Rosellini, "I asked you last year what was the secret to longevity. You said, 'Good health.'" Lowry and the others laughed.
He still seemed sharp, Lowry said, and, glancing around the room, all the ex-governors appeared a hearty lot. "I look at the longevity of former governors sitting here and I think it is obvious that being a governor is a plush job. I mean, just check around here - obviously, we didn't work very hard."
Everyone kept asking Rosellini how it felt to be 100 and he kept saying "fine" and grinning each time. He was delighted when someone asked about his impressive achievements, including leading the battle to establish the University of Washington School of Medicine. "I am very proud of that," he said in his wheelchair, stiffly patting his hip. "Especially now."