On March 8, 1938, Seattle city councilmember Arthur B. Langlie (1900-1966) defeats Washington Lieutenant Governor Vic Meyers (1898-1991) to win election as mayor of Seattle. Incumbent Mayor John F. Dore (1881-1938), seriously ill and unable to campaign, finished third in the primary race behind Langlie and Meyers. Langlie will take office early, as Dore dies several weeks after the election and the city council appoints Langlie to complete Dore's term before starting his own.
Arthur Bernard Langlie was born in Minnesota and grew up on Washington's Kitsap Peninsula. He practiced law in Seattle for a decade before being elected to the Seattle City Council in 1935 as a candidate of the conservative reform group New Order of Cincinnatus. The next year Langlie became the Cincinnatus candidate for mayor, challenging incumbent Charles L. Smith. Langlie won the most votes in the primary, but lost the final vote to former Mayor John Francis Dore, who had narrowly edged Smith for the second general-election spot.
Two years later, in 1938, Langlie ran against Dore again. As in 1936, the incumbent lost in the primary. Dore's support had declined because of splits in the ranks of his labor allies and public dissatisfaction with the bankrupt city-owned streetcar system. Dore was also seriously ill and could not campaign actively. He finished third in the primary, and Langlie, who again finished atop the primary field, faced off against second-place finisher Victor Aloysius Meyers in the general election.
Meyers was a popular Depression-era bandleader who initially got into politics as a publicity stunt, when some Seattle Times editors and reporters convinced him to join the crowded Seattle mayoral primary in 1932. He finished out of the running in that race, but enjoyed campaigning and threw his hat into the ring again for that fall's campaign for lieutenant governor, running as a Democrat. This time his name recognition helped him win the primary, and Meyers swept to victory with the rest of the Democratic ticket in the nationwide landslide headed by Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882-1945).
Meyers had already been reelected once as lieutenant governor (he would serve a total of five terms in that post, and later two as Secretary of State) when in 1938 he decided to make another try for mayor of Seattle. Although Seattle city elections were (and remain) officially nonpartisan, the conservative Langlie drew Republican support, while Meyers theoretically enjoyed support from Democrats. But plenty of conservative Democrats, including Governor Clarence D. Martin (1884-1955), who feuded with Meyers throughout their joint tenure in Olympia, supported Langlie, while the flamboyant and erratic Meyers had trouble gaining support even from the more progressive party members with whom he was ostensibly allied.
Langlie trounced Meyers by a vote of 80,149 to 48,563 on March 8, 1938.
Mayor then Governor
Langlie's term was scheduled to begin on June 6, but less than six weeks after the vote, on April 17, 1938, Dore succumbed to his illness. The City Council appointed mayor-elect Langlie to finish out Dore's term, and he took office on April 27.
Langlie proved a popular and competent mayor. He bolstered his conservative credentials by putting the city on a sounder financial footing, although ironically he did so in considerable part thanks to his success in obtaining funds from the liberal Democratic administration of President Roosevelt. Langlie had no significant opposition when he sought a second term in 1940, becoming the first Seattle mayor to win reelection since Frank Edwards a decade earlier.
But Langlie served less than a year of his second term. Republicans saw the rising star as their best chance to regain the governor's mansion, and Langlie became their gubernatorial candidate that fall. He narrowly edged former Senator Clarence C. Dill (1884-1978), who had ousted Martin in the Democratic primary, in what was otherwise an overwhelmingly Democratic year. Langlie eventually served three terms as governor (losing in 1944, but winning in 1948 and 1952), before leaving politics after a failed challenge to Democratic U.S. Senator Warren G. Magnuson (1905-1989) in 1956.