OLYMPIA, Wash. — Former Washington Gov. Albert Rosellini, a son of Italian immigrants who became the oldest living former governor in America, died Monday. He was 101.
A Democrat who always wore a rosebud on his lapel, Rosellini served as governor for eight years ending in 1965. His tenure in office was defined by efforts to reform state prisons and modernize mental health institutions while shepherding through the creation of the 520 floating bridge that now bears his name.
Rosellini’s daughter, Lynn, recalled how he was able to connect with voters so quickly because of his ability to identify with average people and his interest in their concerns.
“He always said if he shook somebody’s hand it was a vote,” Lynn Rosellini said. “He would look at you like there was nobody else in the room.”
The family said Rosellini’s health had declined in recent weeks because of pneumonia. He died at a retirement community in Seattle.
Rosellini served as governor from 1957 until 1965 before losing to Republican Gov. Dan Evans.
In 1972, Rosellini made another run for governor, winning the Democratic primary but losing to Evans in the general election. Rosellini believed ethnic and religious prejudice defeated him again, as bumper stickers at the time said: “Does Washington Really Need Another Godfather.” The Oscar-winning film “The Godfather” was released the same year.
“That Mafia crap really hurt. Overnight, I dropped over 12 percent in the ratings. I don’t think people believe it so much as it scared the hell out of them. They were scared away from me,” he said during a 1986 interview with The Associated Press.
Rosellini was friends with Seattle strip club magnate Frank Colacurcio Sr. and represented the fellow Italian-American during his early years as an attorney.
Colacurcio was later implicated in a 2003 campaign finance conspiracy relating to donations made to three City Council members, at a time he was seeking to expand a strip club parking lot. Rosellini helped deliver several of the campaign contributions, but was not charged.
After leaving politics, Rosellini went on to become a mentor for Democrats in the state, providing U.S. Sen. Patty Murray her first endorsement, helping fundraise for U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell and mentoring Gov. Gary Locke.
The family has not finalized details for a memorial service.