Revelle to be honored by Muni League

Former King County Executive, two-term Seattle City Council member and Magnolia resident Randy Revelle will be honored April 26 with a civic award from the Municipal League of King County.

He's getting the James R. Ellis Regional Leadership Award, which closes a circle of influence in a way. "He [Ellis] was a mentor of mine," Revelle said of his time as county executive and member of the city council.

Magnolian Bruce Carter, Muni League chairman, was tight-lipped about why Revelle was tapped for an award named after the so-called "Father of Metro." Individual and business members of the league submit nominations, and the league's board of directors makes the decision on the winners, Carter said.

But Revelle hazarded a guess as to why the Muni League is honoring him this year. "I think there are four things," he said. The number-one reason is that he spoke out publicly about overcoming mental illness, said Revelle, who developed bipolar disease during his successful run for a second term as a city council member in 1977.

"The credit really goes to my father," Ravelle said of longtime Superior Court judge George H. Revelle Jr. His father, Revelle remembers, said that if he wanted to continue his political career, he had to tell people about his mental illness if they asked. He did, too.

"I think I was probably more afraid of my father than telling people," Revelle smiled.

Revelle was in pretty bad shape as a disease also known as manic depression took hold, and he remembers hallucinating and swinging a fireplace poker in his living room one night.

Getting help wasn't easy. "We couldn't get admitted to a hospital in those days," Revelle said of mental patients because they weren't covered by insurance for in-treatment.

Revelle's father came to the rescue by convincing his son's doctor to lie so he could be admitted for a bad back, and his condition was quickly stabilized by Lithium. "It's been 30 years since I had an episode," Revelle added.

Although he told numerous people about his mental illness, the news didn't become public until he was elected King County Executive in 1981 "and the issue exploded" across the state, Revelle said.

A KING-TV reporter thought he was hiding his disease, and she was ready to do on hatchet job on him. But Revelle did an end run around the reporter by talking to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, which broke the story.

Revelle said he and longtime friend and King County Council member Larry Phillips thought it was the right approach, and they proved to be correct. Of the 750-some comments the county executive's office got after the story broke, not one of them was negative, Revelle said.

But Revelle wasn't finished with the issue. As chairman of the Washington Coalition for Insurance Parity, he led a successful effort in 2002 to force medical-insurance companies to cover mental-health treatment the same way they do other diseases, he said.

In 2007, the effort was expanded to include individual coverage and health insurance for small businesses, Revelle added. "It helped a lot of people," he said, "and it's the strongest law [of its kind] in the country."

Phillips, who's had to deal with mental illness in his own family, has supported Revelle's insurance-parity efforts, Muni League chairman Carter said.

"He's been willing to speak out more than anybody I know," Phillips said of Revelle's revelations about his mental illness. And now, Revelle is a nationally known speaker about the disease, said Phillips, who also praised his colleague for winning the battle over parity. "One of the great things about Randy," he said, "is he works hard to get things done that matter."

That includes chairing the King County Sheriff's Blue Ribbon Panel following the Post-Intelligencer's publication of more than 100 stories about problems in the department.

The panel came up with around 36 recommendations, and Revelle thinks 90 percent of them will be implemented within a year. The panel will also do a report card about how well the sheriff's department follows up on the recommendations, he added

The fourth reason Revelle thinks was behind his Muni League award is his chairmanship of the Seattle City Light Superintendent Search Committee following the ouster of former superintendent Gary Zarker.

Zarker was roundly criticized for his actions during the West Coast energy crunch in 2001, but Revelle said he was less harsh on Zarker than others were.

The search committee settled on hiring Jorge Carrasco for the position. But unknown to him at the time, Carrasco lives just a couple blocks away from him, Revelle said. "So it's all this incestuous Magnolia group," he joked.

Phillips said Revelle deserves the civic award for a host of reasons. "I think it's great, and in the words of the Muni League ... it's long overdue."

Staff reporter Russ Zabel can be reached at or 461-1309.