William Devin becomes first Seattle mayor to win four-year term when he is re-elected on March 9, 1948.

  • By Kit Oldham
  • Posted 10/31/2018
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 2825
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On March 9, 1948, Seattle Mayor William F. Devin (1898-1982) narrowly defeats challenger Allan Pomeroy (ca. 1907-1966) to win the first four-year mayoral term in Seattle history. All six incumbent Seattle city councilmembers on the ballot are re-elected, as are most incumbents in the other local elections around the region. Devin, first elected mayor in 1942 and re-elected twice previously, benefits from a new charter, approved by Seattle voters in 1946, that increases the term for mayor from two years to four. That first four-year mayoral term will be Devin's last; Pomeroy will oust him in a 1952 rematch.

Increasing the Term

Seattle was first incorporated in 1865 as a town governed by a board of trustees. The territorial legislature repealed that incorporation in 1867. Two years later, in 1869, the legislature incorporated the City of Seattle. The city charter granted by the legislature created the office of mayor and set the mayor's term at one year. In 1890, a new city charter, prepared by a panel of citizens and known as a Freeholders Charter, was approved. It increased the mayor's term to two years, but prohibited incumbents from running for re-election (former mayors could run again two years or more after leaving office). Another Freeholders Charter adopted six years later removed that re-election prohibition, but kept the term at two years.

The charter adopted in 1896 remained in effect for half a century. During that time several new charters were proposed and submitted to voters, but rejected. The 1896 charter was amended a number of times, but the two-year term for mayor remained. One of the more significant amendments, approved in 1910, made all city elective positions officially nonpartisan: Political party affiliation was no longer listed on ballots, although candidates were free to identify their party affiliation elsewhere and receive party endorsements. Seattle city offices continued to be nonpartisan under the new charter approved in 1946, and remained so as of 2018.

The 1946 charter was prepared by 15 freeholders based on significant citizen input. It was supported by the League of Women Voters, the Municipal League, and many city leaders, including Mayor Devin, and won approval easily in the March 1946 election. The charter prospectively increased the mayor's term from two years to four and granted the mayor some additional powers. It also increased the term of city councilmembers from three years to four.

Pomeroy versus Devin, Round One

William Devin was first elected mayor of Seattle in 1942, defeating incumbent Earl Millikin, and was easily re-elected in 1944. He won a third term in the same March 1946 vote in which the new charter was adopted, defeating Vic Meyers (1898-1991), the flamboyant bandleader and Democratic politician who had been Washington's lieutenant governor since 1933. The win gave Devin only two more years in office because the new four-year term did not take effect until the 1948 election.

As a well-respected incumbent who had led Seattle through the World War II years, Devin had an edge in the contest for Seattle's first four-year mayoral term, but he faced a perhaps unexpectedly strong challenge from Allan Pomeroy. Both candidates were lawyers who had held judicial office. After working in the firm of prominent criminal-defense attorney Alfred H. Lundin (1886-1963), Devin served as a judge in Seattle's police court before his election as mayor. Pomeroy also began his career in private practice, and had been both a justice of the peace in Kitsap County and an acting judge in Seattle Municipal Court. For the six years before his 1948 mayoral run, Pomeroy had been an Assistant United States Attorney for the Western District of Washington.

Although the mayoral race was officially nonpartisan, Devin had strong Republican support, as he had two years earlier in his race against prominent Democrat Vic Meyers. Devin was also endorsed by The Seattle Times. Pomeroy in turn won support from Democrats. Even as votes in the 1948 mayoral race were still being counted, Pomeroy was introduced at a March 13 meeting of the King County Democratic Club as a potential Democratic candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives in that fall's election. (He declined the suggestion that he run for Congress.)

The difference in the candidates' bases of support was reflected in the geographic distribution of the vote. An article in The Seattle Times the day after the election noted that "Precincts in Laurelhurst, the University District, the Lake Washington shoreland districts, the north tip of West Seattle and other areas of medium to high income favored Mayor William Devin" ("City Vote ..."). Pomeroy won majorities in less-affluent areas, including the Rainier Valley, Beacon Hill, White Center, along with Fremont, the central business district, and parts of Ballard and West Seattle.

In declining the suggestion at the March 13 Democratic Club meeting that he seek a congressional seat, Pomeroy said "I have no other political office in mind at the present time" than that of Seattle mayor ("Pomeroy Is Cool ..."). Pomeroy also defended his refusal to concede to Devin even though from election night through that point, four days after the election, vote counts consistently showed him behind by several thousand votes. Not until the counting of absentee ballots had been completed on March 17 did Pomeroy concede the race. The final official tabulation showed Devin had won by 2,439 votes, with a total of 68,071 to Pomeroy's 65,632, and he claimed Seattle's first four-year mayoral term.

Despite the defeat, Pomeroy continued to keep the office of mayor in mind. Four years later, he defeated Devin in a rematch of the 1948 race by a similarly narrow margin.

Incumbents Prevail

Mayor Devin was far from the only incumbent re-elected on March 9, 1948. All six Seattle city councilmembers on the ballot -- Mildred Powell, Mike Mitchell, Robert Harlin, Alfred Rochester (1895-1989), David Levine, and Frank Laube -- won their races easily. In local races in other cities and towns around the region, mayors Perry Mitchell of Renton, Harry Everett (1893-1958) of Kirkland, and Byron Baggaley (ca. 1910-1997) of Bothell were among the incumbents returned to office.

George Byron Baggaley, who went by his middle name, was then a teacher at Seattle's Roosevelt High School. He had first been elected mayor of Bothell in 1945 and would hold the position until 1951. He later moved to Kirkland and served as mayor of that city from 1956 through 1965. In its coverage of the 1948 election, The Seattle Times devoted an article to the teacher-mayor, reporting that "Baggaley's pupils at Roosevelt High ... consider it a rare distinction to have a mayor on their faculty, and quite a number of them squandered 15 cents last night to telephone Baggaley and ask how he came out" (Magnuson). Their teacher was able to tell them that he defeated challenger Wallace Hampton, described as a "fuel dealer" (Magnuson), by 205 votes to 138.


"Mayors of the City of Seattle," Seattle City Clerk website accessed October 28, 2018 (http://www.seattle.gov/cityarchives/seattle-facts/city-officials/mayors); Ross Cunningham, "Count for Mayor Still Unofficial," The Seattle Times, March 10, 1948, pp. 1, 2; Don Magnuson, "Ballots, Not Fire Trucks, New Interest," Ibid., March 10, 1948, p. 2; "City Vote Along Sectional Lines," Ibid., March 10, 1948, p. 2; "Hot Contests in King County," Ibid., March 10, 1948, p. 2; "Pomeroy is Cool to 'Nomination,'" Ibid., March 14, 1948, p. 19; "Devin's Edge Set at 2,439 Votes," Ibid., March 17, 1948, p. 17; "Allan Pomeroy Dies After Heart Attack," Ibid., July, 1966, p. 53; Tyrone Beason, "George Baggaley, 87, Former Mayor of Bothell and Kirkland," The Seattle Times, September 6, 1997 (www.seattletimes.com); HistoryLink.org Online Encyclopedia of Washington State History, "Seattle voters approve new city charter and re-elect Mayor William F. Devin on March 12, 1946" (by Kit Oldham), http://www.historylink.org/ (accessed October 31, 2018).
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