Follow us:

Politics Northwest

The Seattle Times political team explores national, state and local politics.

August 19, 2013 at 10:05 AM

Can McGinn recover from weak primary showing? The Uhlman comparison

Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn’s second-place showing in the Aug 6. primary puts him in a precarious position headed into his general election campaign.

Former Seattle Mayor Wes Uhlman

Former Seattle Mayor Wes Uhlman
(Photo by Greg Gilbert / The Seattle Times)

McGinn finished with with 28.5 percent of the vote in the nine-person race. State Sen. Ed Murray topped the field with 29 percent.

Conventional wisdom says to stick a fork in McGinn, since more than 70 percent of voters chose someone else in the primary. “This result means Ed Murray is the next mayor of Seattle,” crowed former City Councilmember Jim Compton on election night.

But one modern mayor pulled off a comeback after an even weaker primary showing.

In 1973, Mayor Wes Uhlman placed a distant second in the primary to City Councilman Liem Tuai. Uhlman took just 30.5 percent of the primary vote, compared with Tuai’s 43.7 percent. The rest was split among other challengers, including City Councilmembers Sam Smith and Tim Hill.

Nevertheless, Uhlman went on to defeat Tuai in the general election by 5266 votes.

So it can be done. But should McGinn take heart in the example?

Uhlman doesn’t think so.

“If was a different kind of time and very different issues,” he recalled.

Uhlman was a flashy figure at a chaotic time in Seattle history. Elected in 1969 at age 34, he cut a reformers’ path through city government — clashing with municipal unions over his efforts to hire more women and minorities, especially in the police and fire departments. (The unions ran a failed recall election against him in 1975.) Uhlman also proclaimed Seattle’s first Gay Pride week.

Tuai had a more conservative nature. At one debate, he questioned whether an Uhlman backed anti-discrimination ordinance went too far by protecting political radicals and gay people in the city hiring process. “Is he in favor of hiring homosexuals for all jobs in the city?” Tuai asked, according to a Seattle Times article.

Tuai also accused Uhlman of cronyism in city hiring. When he lost, some supporters blamed the negative tone of his campaign, saying it didn’t fit with the generally amiable councilman’s personality.

Uhlman said he doesn’t think the dynamics this year are similar. He predicted any efforts to portray Murray as a substantially more conservative figure in the race will fail. “They’re both pretty progressive,” he said.

Uhlman has a mixed view of McGinn. He endorsed City Councilmember Bruce Harrell in the primary but said he personally likes McGinn, and thinks he handled the “police fiasco” well, despite what the mayor’s critics say. “Overall, I think the SPD is managed quite well,” he said.

But Uhlman, who has been a real-estate developer in recent years, criticized McGinn’s effort to block a Whole Foods development in West Seattle over wage issues. “I have a real problem with that,” he said. Uhlman said he hasn’t decided whether to endorse anyone in the general election.

Comments | More in 2014 elections | Topics: ed murray, mike mcginn, seattle mayor's race


No personal attacks or insults, no hate speech, no profanity. Please keep the conversation civil and help us moderate this thread by reporting any abuse. See our Commenting FAQ.

The opinions expressed in reader comments are those of the author only, and do not reflect the opinions of The Seattle Times.

The Seattle Times

The door is closed, but it's not locked.

Take a minute to subscribe and continue to enjoy The Seattle Times for as little as 99 cents a week.

Subscription options ►

Already a subscriber?

We've got good news for you. Unlimited content access is included with most subscriptions.

Subscriber login ►
The Seattle Times

To keep reading, you need a subscription upgrade.

We hope you have enjoyed your complimentary access. For unlimited access, please upgrade your digital subscription.

Call customer service at 1.800.542.0820 for assistance with your upgrade or questions about your subscriber status.

The Seattle Times

To keep reading, you need a subscription.

We hope you have enjoyed your complimentary access. Subscribe now for unlimited access!

Subscription options ►

Already a subscriber?

We've got good news for you. Unlimited content access is included with most subscriptions.

Activate Subscriber Account ►