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Seattle City Council appoints Cecil B. Fitzgerald mayor on August 28, 1919.
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On August 28, 1919, the
Seattle City Council appoints Cecil B. Fitzgerald (1881-1971), a Republican,
mayor of Seattle. He replaces Ole Hanson (1874-1940), who had achieved national
fame during the Seattle General Strike six months earlier and now is more
interested in pursuing higher office. Fitzgerald, who is three weeks short of
his 38th birthday, is Seattle's youngest mayor up to that time.
A Well-Regarded City Councilman
Cecil B. Fitzgerald was born
September 16, 1881, at Fitzgerald Station in Wisconsin, and moved to Seattle in
1894. His early career included stints as an accountant and in real estate. He
was also interested in politics, and in 1914 he was elected to Seattle's city
council. Given his accounting background, he served as chairman of the council's
finance committee for most of the next five-and-a-half years. Well-regarded by
many of his peers, he was not an unlikely candidate to replace Mayor Ole Hanson
as Hanson began planning his resignation in August 1919.
Hanson had been elected mayor
the preceding year and had made a name for himself during Seattle's failed
general strike six months earlier. His strong stance in staring down what many
perceived to be the opening salvo of a worker's revolution earned him praise nationwide.
He took it to heart, touring the country, giving rousing speeches, and courting
ideas for a possible presidential run in 1920. However, his term as mayor didn't
expire until March 1920, and that presented a problem for him. If he took an
extended leave of absence, his enemy W. D. Lane, president of the Seattle City
Council, would become acting mayor, and Hanson wasn't about to let that happen.
He explained it to the Seattle Star
with typical Hanson flair: "Lane is a man whom I know full well is unfit
for the office. I have no confidence in his citizenship or his patriotism ... I
would as soon have taken a man from the penitentiary and left him in the mayor's
chair" ("Fitzgerald Is to Be the New Executive").
To have more control over
naming his successor Hanson had to work out a deal with the city council, which
would make the choice, and then resign. By this time he had more than one enemy
on the council, so the council chambers were rife with intrigue during the last
week of August 1919 as Hanson worked to ensure that his choice would be appointed.
Labor, still a potent force despite its setback in the strike earlier that
year, argued for Lane, but he wasn't a serious contender. The wily Hanson
removed him from the equation entirely by making sure he didn't get a vote when
the council met on the afternoon of August 28, 1919, to vote on Hanson's
resignation. After it was unanimously approved, Councilman James Carroll advised
all that Lane was now unofficially the mayor of Seattle and ineligible to vote
for Hanson's replacement. The remaining councilmembers then elected Cecil B.
Fitzgerald mayor five votes to three over former corporate counsel (city
attorney) Hugh Caldwell. The Seattle Times said the entire process
took four minutes.
Seattle's Youngest Mayor
Just three weeks shy of his
38th birthday, Fitzgerald was Seattle's youngest mayor up to that time. (Wesley
Uhlman [b. 1935] was 34 years old when he became Seattle's mayor in 1969.) During
his six months in office he bore the brunt of attacks of those dissatisfied
with the city's newly assumed ownership of its streetcar system, and he was no favorite
of labor. Still, it was a surprise when he lost in the primary in February
1920, for reasons only vaguely explained in contemporary press accounts. (Fitzgerald
himself later blamed it on having worn a silk topper hat when President Woodrow
Wilson [1856-1924] visited Seattle the preceding September; even in those days,
Seattleites didn't like their public officials putting on airs.) But he was
gracious in defeat, urging voters to support Hugh Caldwell in the general
mayoral election, which they did two weeks later.
Seattle voters returned Fitzgerald to the city council
in 1921. He served for another three years, including as council president in
1923 and 1924. In 1923 he presciently founded an early bus line, the Washington
Motor Coach Company, and owned it for nearly 25 years before selling it to
Greyhound. He lived in the same house in Ballard (8023 32nd Avenue NW, near
Golden Gardens Park) from 1918 until 1971, and remained active until the end of
his life. He died in Ballard on July 20, 1971, when a car in which he was a
passenger was struck by a speeding driver.
"Hanson Plans to Quit as Mayor; Fitzgerald
Slated as Successor," Seattle
Post-Intelligencer, August 28, 1919, p. 2; "Fitzgerald Made Chief
Executive by Majority Vote," Ibid.,
August 29, 1919, pp. 1, 2; "Fitzgerald Is to Be the New Executive," The Seattle Star, August 28, 1919, p. 1;
"Fitzgerald Succeeds to Position," The Seattle Times, August 28, 1919, pp. 1, 5; "Fitzgerald Is
Assured of Nomination," Ibid.,
February 15, 1920, pp. 1, 8; "Caldwell Is First Choice of Electors," Ibid., February 18, 1920, pp. 1, 9;
"Ex-mayor 1 of 2 Killed in Crash," Ibid., July 21, 1971, p. E-12; "Fitzgerald Was Major Figure in
Government and Business," Ibid.,
July 21, 1971, p. E-12; "Seattle City Council Members, 1910-1946,"
Seattle Municipal Archives website accessed October 19, 2015
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C. B. Fitzgerald
Courtesy Seattle Municipal Archives (Item No. 12282)
Ole Hanson, ca. 1918
Courtesy MOHAI (No. 1922.214.171.124)