Longtime Spokane attorney Joseph M. Cooney, one of the area’s best-known political stalwarts, died Monday. He was 73.
Cooney worked on behalf of Democratic Party candidates for more than 40 years.
He died at home with his wife, Sadie Charlene Cooney, Spokane County’s assessor, and his sons, Michael and Clancy. His death was the result of prostate cancer complications.
A 1951 graduate of Gonzaga Law School, Cooney helped hundreds of people, either as an attorney, political mentor or friend.
“He was a quiet guy who worked behind the scenes who did an awful lot for the little guy,” said Gonzaga University basketball coach and athletic director Dan Fitzgerald.
“I remember him helping find summer jobs for all five of my starters one year - guys who were in need and didn’t have anyone else here to help them,” he said.
Cooney helped dozens of political candidates gain community support. He was a key backer of the state’s last four Democratic governors, spearheading the Eastern Washington campaigns of Gov. Mike Lowry and Gov.-elect Gary Locke.
Cooney’s brother, John, served as a state senator for 24 years. He died in 1982.
A man who never desired public office, Joseph Cooney loved to help younger people seek office or consider public life.
“He was totally honest and ethical,” said Superior Court Judge Tari Eitzen. She said she was a Gonzaga professor who had no plan of becoming a judge until Cooney encouraged her five years ago.
In the late 1950s, Cooney and partner Frank Malone started a storefront law firm on Garland Avenue not far from his Corbin Park home. He took great pride in not losing touch with the common man and the people who built the machines and buildings of the city.
“He took everyday cases,” said Superior Court Judge James Murphy. “He represented the working guy and did it well.”
Lowry called Cooney “a superb, grand man. We’ll miss him so much.” The governor considered Cooney one of his best confidants, relying heavily on him for recommendations to key state and county posts.
“But never once did Joe ever ask for anything for himself,” he said.
“I think Joe really didn’t want to end up himself in public office or as a judge. He really enjoyed the broad involvement of meeting everyone - sports coaches, mechanics and politicians alike,” Lowry said.
“He didn’t want a job that confined or didn’t allow him that wide freedom he enjoyed.”