Former Oregon Governor Tom McCall once told Charles Royer—who as a reporter for KOIN in Portland covered McCall’s gubernatorial campaign—that he thought it was a good thing that reporters were willing to run for public office. McCall’s reasoning: “If they’ve been good reporters, they’ve had a graduate education in public policy. They are mostly idealistic people. And they have a good sense of smell.” McCall’s words were prophetic. Royer‘s political successes have served to strengthen his journalistic ideals. His career—encompassing journalism, politics, and education—has been distinguished by a vision for the long-term quality of life in urban areas nationwide.
A Medford native, Royer worked as a reporter for KVAL-TV and KEZI-TV in Eugene while attending the university. He spent the seven years following his 1966 graduation from the School of Journalism as a reporter and news analyst. He reported first at KOIN and then at KING in Seattle, where he shared a beat with his brother, Bob. In 1969, he received an award from the American Political Science Association for distinguished public affairs reporting. He was awarded a fellowship to study government and public policy at the Washington, D.C. Journalism Center. He was also a visiting Associate at the Harvard-MIT Joint Center for Urban Studies from 1969 to 1970. In 1977, he traded journalism for politics, defeating 13 other candidates to become the mayor of Seattle.
Royer served three four-year terms in that office—longer than any other mayor in the city’s history—and guided it through the tough times of the early 80s and the business and population booms in the later part of the decade. He oversaw a number of improvements in the city, including a recycling program that is recognized as the best in the nation. His administration tackled Seattle’s social issues such as poverty, teenage pregnancy and drugs. As President of the National League of Cities in 1983, he became a spokesperson for American cities on housing, healthcare, civil liberties, and the needs of children.
In 1989, Business Month named Seattle as one of the best-managed cities in the nation. Places Rated Almanac called it the nation’s “Most Livable City,” and the national Urban Coalition named Royer the Distinguished Urban Mayor of the Year.
In 1990, Royer left Seattle for Cambridge to succeed Richard Thornburgh as director of the prestigious Institute of Politics at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard. Upon Royer’s nomination, Democratic National Committee member, the late Ronald H. Brown of the IOP’s senior advisery committee stated, “Mayor Royer believes that people make the real difference in politics, and in bringing the people of his city together he has been one of the most innovative and artful city executives in the nation.” Royer’s appointment also created recognition that, as The Seattle Times commented, “not all political savvy emanates from the East Coast.”
Today, Royer is the national program director of the Urban Health Initiative, which is funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. UHI works closely with five U.S. cities to help improve the health and safety of children living in those areas. In addition, Royer serves on the University of Washington faculty as a senior lecturer at the Evans School of Public Affairs.