Former Seattle mayor Paul Schell, a Port of Seattle commissioner and urban design academic, whose single term between 1998 and 2002 was rocked by the WTO protests and the Mardi Gras riots, died on Sunday at Swedish Medical Center.

Schell, 76, had heart bypass surgery at Swedish earlier in the week. 

Former Seattle Mayor Paul Schell, February, 2000

Schell, an attorney with a bent for the arts and city design, beat neighborhood populist and dissident City Council member Charlie Chong in the 1997 mayoral election, but lost his 2001 reelection bid in the primary to then City Attorney Mark Sidran and King County Council member Greg Nickels (who went on to become mayor for two terms before losing himself in the 2009 primary.)

From today's Seattle Times front-page obituary

Mayor Schell was hired by a Wall Street law firm. It was there that “Schlachtenhaufen” became “Schell,” a move he said was made because the longer name wouldn’t fit on computer punch cards used in those days.

Having gotten a taste of the Northwest as a summer law clerk in Portland, Mayor Schell wanted to settle here. In 1967, Paul and Pam Schell moved to Seattle so he could take a job with the Perkins Coie law firm. A few years later he left to form his own small law partnership.

His civic engagement began as he quickly befriended a group of young and educated idealists bent on transforming Seattle. In the 1970s, Mayor Schell became president of Allied Arts, a civic group that campaigned to save Pike Place Market from redevelopment and successfully pushed enactment of a city law setting aside 1 percent of municipal construction budgets for art.

He rallied support for Mayor Wes Uhlman’s re-election bid but clashed with Uhlman on a plan to redevelop Pike Place Market. Uhlman later hired Mayor Schell as director of his community-development department, where he made a name for himself by pushing to speed up neighborhood-improvement projects.

In 1977, Mayor Schell made the leap into politics himself by running for mayor against former TV newsman Royer. The two clashed over Mayor Schell’s proposal for a major redevelopment of Westlake Mall that would include two new public squares, theaters and a hotel. Royer criticized the plan as out of scale with downtown and went on to win easily.

Mayor Schell detoured from politics after the loss, going on to be a developer of downtown buildings and then serving as interim dean of the University of Washington College of Architecture and Urban Planning.

In 1989, Mayor Schell was elected a Port of Seattle commissioner and played a role in the port’s major waterfront developments.

Josh, who covered the Schell administration as the news editor at the Stranger at the time, has a vivid memory of Schell showing up late in the afternoon on November 30 at the city council offices on the one-year anniversary of WTO ("N30!"). The day was being marked by a fresh round of protests on the streets below. Simultaneously anxious and placid, Schell, who seemed as if he had just discovered the art of politics for the first time, was popping his head in to each council members' office as a large crowd was assembling outside.

Schell, speaking to no one in particular as his entourage trailed him, was assuring the council and himself that things were going well. "Things are going well out there" he said abstractly, "they are."

Current Mayor Ed Murray released a statement on Sunday morning: 

It is with great sadness that Seattle Mayor Ed Murray announces the passing of Seattle’s 50th mayor, Paul Schell, who served from 1998-2002. Schell died this morning surrounded by family and friends at Swedish Hospital. He was 76 years old.  

Schell will be remembered as one of the great city builders of the Pacific Northwest. As a citizen activist, lawyer, director of community development, port commissioner, dean of architecture and mayor he directly shaped the civic infrastructure of Seattle for more than 40 years. 

Schell’s greatest professional accomplishment has been the infrastructure that he built and influenced. The first Libraries for All campaign was a brainchild of Schell’s, establishing and building a new downtown library and rebuilding branches throughout the city. He led the effort to fund Seattle’s first parks levy, rebuild the opera house and was instrumental in building the Olympic Sculpture Park, Seattle’s City Hall and Justice Center.

During his time as mayor, Schell helped develop Seattle’s 37 neighborhood plans, laying the foundation for the strong neighborhood system that is seen today. Schell was not only committed to the infrastructure, but also to the people of Seattle. He worked tirelessly to increase service for Seattle’s homeless and immigrant communities, bringing them much-needed services.

“Paul will be greatly missed. He was truly committed to the people of Seattle, working to improve the city both as an elected official and private citizen. He was dedicated to the lives of the people of this city, evidenced by his countless contributions and the legacy he built here,” said Murray.

“Paul fell in love with Seattle when he moved here, as a lot of us then younger people did, then as a civic leader and a mayor he went about making this city even a better place. In a relatively brief time in office, he made a huge and lasting difference in our city,” said former mayor and friend Charlie Royer. 

Schell is survived by Pam, his wife of 51 years, and daughter, Jamie. The Schell’s have been patrons of the arts in Seattle and Whidbey Island, supporting institutions like the Whidbey Island Center for the Arts.

 

Seattle Met and PubliCola deliver breaking news and essential updates from around the Northwest. See an example!