Former Washington Gov. Gary Locke has been named Bellevue College’s new interim president, a role that will require guiding the Eastside school out of turmoil that led to the previous president’s resignation, and through potential financial problems stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Locke will start June 15 and earn an annual salary of $281,459, the college’s Board of Trustees voted unanimously Thursday. Bellevue College is currently holding remote classes for its 29,000 students as required by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The former governor replaces Jerry Weber, who resigned in early March with Gayle Colston Barge, a vice president who was involved in the defacement of a campus mural, “Never Again Is Now,” which depicted two Japanese American children in a World War II incarceration camp. Provost Kristen Jones has been serving as acting president since their resignations.

Locke was chosen over Yoshiko Harden, a Seattle Central College vice president; and Raúl Rodríguez, interim president of East Los Angeles College. Board members said the decision was difficult; they delayed the announcement by a week because they wanted more time to deliberate, Chair Rich Fukutaki said in an interview.

Locke’s political career spans decades; he called himself a nontraditional candidate for the job because he hasn’t worked in academia. He was King County executive and served in the Washington State House of Representatives. He served as governor from 1997 to 2005, and was the first Chinese American to be elected governor in the United States. During the Obama administration, he served as secretary of commerce and U.S. ambassador to China.

The mural defacement that forced the college to conduct a search for a new leader “impacted the reputation of Bellevue College not only statewide, but nationally,” Locke said during a public interview with the college community. No one mentioned the defacement during Thursday’s announcement, however Fukutaki’s background during the Zoom session was a photo of the mural.

Though Locke’s name has been floated as someone who could be appointed to a position if Joe Biden were elected president, Locke said during an earlier campus interview that he is committed to staying in Washington state to be close to his children.

Locke’s contract will run through June 30, 2021, or until a president is hired and becomes familiar with the position.