Uhlman was first elected as mayor in 1970 and was reelected in 1974. He instituted a number of changes that angered city employees and their bargaining units. Among these was the appointment of former Fire Chief Gordon Vickery (1920-1996) as the Superintendent of Seattle City Light and the replacement of firefighters on Medic One units with civilians. In December 1974, Uhlman dismissed Fire Chief Richards.
The firefighters' union circulated a recall petition that gathered enough signatures to place the matter on the ballot. The justifications were Uhlman's violation of his oath of office in his appointment of Walter Hundley as the budget director, alleged by the union to be unqualified and incompetent, and budgetary actions that were detrimental to the fire department. The recall campaign strongly suggested that Uhlman was soft on arson.
Uhlman found support among his traditional opponents -- Republican neighborhoods and the downtown business community. Uhlman stressed that the issue was the right of an elected official to manage city employees.
The preliminary vote totals were as follows:
Against Recall - 77,009
For Recall - 44,741