Wesley Carl Uhlman (born March 23, 1935) was the 47th mayor of Seattle, Washington.[1]


Uhlman was born in Cashmere, Washington. He attended Aberdeen High School, Seattle Pacific College (now Seattle Pacific University), and the University of Washington. In 1958, as a 23-year-old law student, he won election as the youngest member of the Washington State House of Representatives. He served four terms before running for, and winning, a seat in the Washington State Senate. He was elected mayor of Seattle, Washington in 1969 and reelected in 1973. At 34, he was Seattle's youngest mayor.[2] Among his accomplishments are the preservation of the historic Pioneer Square district and expansion of services for senior citizens. Uhlman ran for governor of Washington in 1976 but was defeated in the Democratic primary by Dixy Lee Ray, in a three-way race.[1]

By Uhlman's own account, prior Seattle mayors had all been "members of the 'establishment'; I was not."[3] Uhlman, a Democrat, and progressive Republican Mort Frayn faced off in the November 4, 1969 election, which Uhlman won 99,290 to 56,312.[4][5] He took office December 1, 1969, a month earlier than would usually have occurred, because his elected predecessor J.D. Braman had accepted a position in the Nixon administration.[6] (Floyd C. Miller held the office as an appointee from March 23, 1969 until Uhlman took office.) Roughly a week after he took office, the Boeing Bust began; Seattle-based Boeing would eventually shrink from 103,000 employees to 49,000. As Seattle headed for 25% unemployment, Uhlman had to cut city budgets. "The greatest challenge," he would say years later, "was just keeping the economic ship afloat."[2]

Uhlman inherited a police department rife with corruption, and ran through a number of acting police chiefs and otherwise short-lived occupants of that office attempting to clean it up. The prior chief had resigned in disgrace. Uhlman's own choice to clean up the mess—Frank Moore, a department insider who was one of Uhlman's series of acting chiefs—had, according to Uhlman, begun making progress on the cleanup, but it became untenable to appoint him as the permanent chief because he was, himself, called before the grand jury investigating the corruption.[2][7]

This was also the period in which the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) staged several violent raids on Black Panther Party strongholds. Moore advised Uhlman that ATF wanted to stage a similar raid in Seattle. Neither man was enthusiastic about the prospect. Uhlman viewed the Seattle chapter of the Black Panther Party as "fairly benign" despite some "fairly outrageous statements" by members of the party elsewhere, and refused active cooperation. While he could not prevent ATF from going in on their own, he made it clear that if such a raid were to be staged in Seattle and the local police were called in as backup, they would need to "determine who the aggressors are." The ATF canceled the raid.[2]

Seattle in this era saw a good bit of political violence. Shortly before Uhlman took office, Edwin T. Pratt was murdered. Seattle was the target of bombings by factions of the SDS and by Black Power groups, to the point where it had the highest per capita level of bombs in the country. According to Uhlman, the bombings ended after Seattle police shot a black man named Larry Ward in the act of setting a bomb and Uhlman made it clear that bombers would be met with deadly force.[2]

On November 6, 1973 Uhlman was narrowly reelected by a margin of 97,115-91,849 over Liem Eng Tuai,[5] a Republican who was the second Asian American (after Wing Luke) to serve on the Seattle City Council, and who later went on to serve 18 years as a judge.[8] Early in his second term, he established the Office of Policy Planning in 1974.[1]

Uhlman's drive for efficiency in government antagonized city workers, resulting in a recall campaign. Much of their ire was directed at Budget Director Walt Hundley, an African American who had risen to prominence through the federal Model Cities Program; race became a significant issue in the recall. They were also unhappy with Uhlman's dismissal of fire chief Jack Richards and his appointment as Seattle City Light superintendent of another former fire chief, Gordon Vickery. Vickery had, in the words of Emily Lieb, "fired or dismissed hundreds of employees, had others prosecuted for theft, and changed City Light's staffing policies to make sure more women and minorities (and fewer inept relatives) were hired and promoted." In a vote on July 1, 1975, the recall was defeated by a wide margin, with Seattle's downtown establishment rallying behind Uhlman, who was hardly their own, but whom they preferred to the insurgent workers.[1]

Wes Uhlman in Pike Place Market, 1976.

Uhlman's period in office saw a significant increase in opportunities for non-whites and women in city employment and in the mayor's own administration. He also supported similar changes in broadening the membership of labor unions.[2] His administration crafted the agreement with United Indians of All Tribes that ended an occupation of Fort Lawton and led to the peaceable establishment of the Daybreak Star Cultural Center on ten acres of former fort land within a city-run Discovery Park.[2]

In 1977, Uhlman proclaimed Seattle's first Gay Pride Week and in 1978 he opposed repeal of the city's civil rights protections for gays and lesbians. After 1978, Uhlman largely retired from politics, turning his attention to land development. He later opposed expanded legal rights for renters.[1] According to Uhlman in 2005, that and declaring a Cesar Chavez Day in the city were the two actions of his administration that attracted the largest number of phone calls in protest.[2]

Uhlman had a non-speaking cameo in the movie Harry in Your Pocket released in 1974 and set, in part, in Seattle, where he played a "victim" of the pickpocketing main character "Harry".[9]


  1. ^ a b c d e Emily Lieb (2006-12-21). "Uhlman, Wesley Carl (born 1935)". HistoryLink. Retrieved 2015-11-16. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h Wes Uhlman, Seattle Civil Rights and Labor History Project, University of Washington. Accessed online 3 November 2007.
  3. ^ Wes Uhlman, Seattle Civil Rights and Labor History Project, University of Washington. Accessed online 16 November 2015. This is part of a recording on that page; orally he says "quote-unquote establishment", transcribed here as "'establishment'".
  4. ^ Alan J Stein, Voters choose Wes Uhlman and Mort Frayn in Seattle mayoral primaries on September 16, 1969, HistoryLink.org Essay 1274, 1999-06-06. Accessed online 16 November 2015.
  5. ^ a b General and Special Elections, seattle.gov. Accessed online 16 November 2015.
  6. ^ Alan J. Stein, Voters elect Wes Uhlman as Seattle Mayor on November 4, 1969, HistoryLink.org Essay 1318, 1999-06-09. Accessed online 16 November 2015.
  7. ^ The police corruption in this era is discussed at length in Christopher Bayley's book Seattle Justice: the Rise and Fall of the Police Payoff System in Seattle, Sasquatch Books, 2015. ISBN 9781632170293.
  8. ^ Alan J. Stein, Seattle City Council appoints Liem Tuai to Council on May 19, 1969, HistoryLink.org Essay 1233, 1999-06-04, updated 2003-03-13. Accessed online 16 November 2015.
  9. ^ Harry in Your Pocket on IMDb

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