Voters elect John F. Dore mayor of the City of Seattle on March 8, 1932.

  • By Kit Oldham
  • Posted 2/11/2014
  • Essay 2815

On March 8, 1932, John F. Dore (1881-1938) is elected mayor of Seattle in a landslide. He defeats Robert H. Harlin, who was appointed mayor after the recall of Frank Edwards in 1931. In his campaign Dore has promised to shake things up at City Hall and he begins doing so right after the results are announced, demanding that he be sworn in immediately to replace the appointed incumbent. The courts disagree. Dore will be sworn in just after midnight on June 6, 1932, after the end of Harlin's term and will immediately announce sweeping police department reforms.

Stirring the City 

John Francis Dore began his career as reporter for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and other papers. While working the police beat, among other assignments, he studied law and, once admitted to the bar, became a well-known trial attorney. In the 1932 mayoral race, Dore ran a dramatic campaign promising a total shake-up at City Hall, starting with the police department. According to The Seattle Times, which strongly supported Dore in its news articles as well as editorials, his campaign "stirred the city as never before in its history, producing some of the greatest mass meetings ever seen in this state" ("Candidate Swept In ...").

In the March 8, 1932, contest, Dore won 72,614 votes to Harlin's 41,279. Dore's vote total and his margin of victory were both the largest in city history to that point. Shortly after the vote, Dore asserted that he should be sworn in as mayor right away, rather than waiting until the new mayoral term began on June 6. He contended that because Harlin had been appointed to replace Edwards, the incumbent should immediately give way to the mayor chosen by the voters.

Harlin disagreed. So did the courts. Dore appealed all the way to the state Supreme Court, where he personally presented some of the arguments on his behalf, but lost. Harlin served out the rest of the term that Edwards had originally been elected to. But Dore did not wait any longer than legally required to claim his office. He insisted on taking the oath one minute after midnight on June 6, 1932, in "an unprecedented ceremony" ("Dore Given ..., p. 1") held at City Hall in front of several hundred supporters.

Stopping Police Graft 

Moments later, Dore made good on his first promise of reform, appointing police captain L. L. "Tony" Norton as chief of the department, and ordering Norton to implement a long list of reforms designed to "Stop Police Department graft" ("Dore Given ..., p. 3"). These included abolishing the "dry squad," ostensibly devoted to enforcing prohibition but, according to Dore, "largely used for the collection of [graft] money from gamblers and prostitutes;" reducing or eliminating bail for minor offenses "to put an end to the bail bond sharks who have been robbing the unfortunates who happen to fall into the hands of the police;" and limiting police use of force in making arrests, requiring a written report when force was used and stating that "The mere fact that an officer has been insulted or is being subjected to oral abuse is not justification for striking anyone" ("Police Shake-Up ..."). 

Dore had enjoyed widespread support from organized labor in his successful campaign, but he alienated unions and unemployed workers when he clashed while in office with the Unemployed Citizens' League. This contributed to his defeat when he ran for reelection in 1934. Dore repaired his relationship with organized labor, especially Teamster leader Dave Beck (1894-1993), and regained the mayoral office in 1936. By the time of the 1938 election he was seriously ill and could not campaign, losing in the primary election. Dore died in office that April shortly before his second term would have ended.


"Candidate Swept In By Record Vote," The Seattle Daily Times, March 9, 1932, p. 1; "Dore Argues Harlin Ouster Appeal Suit," Ibid., April 5, 1932, p. 2; "Right Now! Mayor-Elect Dore Gets Some Good News," Ibid., April 14, 1932, p. 1; "Dore Given Tumultuous Reception in City Hall," Ibid., June 6, 1932, pp. 1, 3; "Police Shake-Up Is First Order of Mayor Dore," Ibid., p. 3; "Mayors of the City of Seattle," Seattle City Clerk website accessed February 11, 2014 (; Online Encyclopedia of Washington State History, "Dore, John Francis (1881-1938)" (by David Wilma), (accessed February 11, 2014).
Note: This essay replaces an earlier essay on the same subject. 

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