Art Langlie weighs grandfather’s legacy and a run for Seattle mayor

Mar 10, 2021, 10:18 AM | Updated: May 12, 2021, 7:44 am
Art Langlie...
Art Langlie was mayor of Seattle and then governor of Washington 80 years ago; his grandson, also named Art Langlie, is considering a run for Seattle mayor this year. (Seattle Municipal Archives and Art Langlie)
(Seattle Municipal Archives and Art Langlie)

UPDATE: On Tuesday, May 11, Art Langlie officially declared his intention to run for mayor of Seattle. This profile was originally prepared when Langlie was mulling the decision earlier in 2021.

Original story, published March 10, 2021:

With Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan not seeking reelection this year, more and more people are signaling their intent to vie for leadership of the Emerald City. One of those potential candidates has some serious history on his resumé – his grandfather was mayor — and then governor — 80 years ago.

Art Langlie is in his early 50s. His grandfather – with the same name – was on the city council, and then became mayor of Seattle in the late 1930s.

“Grandpa was a son of Norwegian immigrants,” Langlie said by phone last week. “Grew up in Bremerton, Washington, and went to the University of Washington after high school over on the Kitsap Peninsula, and then went on to law school and then practiced law in Seattle for about 10 years before he won his first Seattle City Council seat in 1935.”

The elder Langlie was elected mayor in 1938, then ran for governor in 1940 as a Republican, and won. So far, he’s the only Seattle mayor to successfully make the leap to the Governor’s Mansion. Wes Uhlman tried in the 1970s, and Norm Rice tried in the 1990s.

There aren’t too many living voters who remember Mayor Art Langlie these days, and very few who even remember Governor Art Langlie, whose third and final term expired with the inauguration of Albert Rosellini in early 1957. The elder Langlie passed away in 1966, a year before his grandson was born.

But this doesn’t mean that the young Langlie — now thinking about a run for office in 2021 — hasn’t bumped into plenty of people over the years who at least remember his grandfather’s name, and there were many who also shared some kind of positive anecdote.

While Art Langlie’s name – and his sense of history – does endow him with a certain political pedigree, it can’t really be said that the Langlie family is a political dynasty with a brand name, like Kennedy, or Bush, or Adams. And here in the West, or, at least, in Washington in particular, it’s challenging to come up with other examples of elected officials who have ancestors – or descendants – also in the family business (or thinking about joining).

A quick but fairly comprehensive list would have to include Mayor Jenny Durkan herself, whose father Martin Durkan was in the state Legislature for years and ran for governor a few times. When Martin Durkan passed away in 2015, now Lieutenant Governor Denny Heck told the Seattle Times that Durkan was “one of the best governors we never had,” and that the Durkan family “never quite became the Washington version of the Massachusetts Kennedys, but came about as close as you could get.”

Another example would be the late former Seattle City Councilmember Cheryl Chow, whose mother Ruby Chow was the first Asian-American elected to the King County Council. And, former Port Commissioner Courtney Gregoire, whose mother Christine Gregoire was governor and attorney general, would also make the list.

There’s also Randy Revelle, former City Councilmember and King County Executive who passed away in 2018. His grandfather Thomas Revelle was on the city council, as was his father’s cousin, Paul Revelle; Thomas is even credited with authoring the legislation that created Pike Place Market way back in 1907.

And finally, there’s Thomas Humes – who looked just like Mark Twain – and who served as Seattle mayor around 1900. His son Samuel was on the Seattle City Council in the 1930s and early 1940s.

One more recent example for the list is Jordan Royer. His father, Charley Royer, was mayor from 1978 to 1990. When Jordan Royer ran unsuccessfully for Seattle City Council in 2009, he found that being the son of a recent mayor was something of a mixed blessing at best.

Royer told KIRO Radio about a time he was campaigning in the Fremont neighborhood, with his young kids in tow, and carrying a big sign that said “ROYER.”

“This woman who’s kind of an aging hippie lady comes walking up to me and she says, ‘Royer, huh?,’ and then she goes, ‘Is Charley your dad?’” Royer said. “And I said, ‘Yeah,’ thinking that she was going to want to chat and stuff. And she goes, ‘Well BLANK him and BLANK you!’”

“‘Nice. Right in front of my kids,’” Royer told the woman, chuckling now, a dozen years after the fact, as he recalled the perils of retail politics that face a local scion.

While Art Langlie has not officially decided to run – and hasn’t yet faced a foul-mouthed multi-generational detractor – he told KIRO Radio that he’s on a listening tour and talking to several people before he does make a decision about the mayor’s race this year.

Langlie also said that though his grandfather was mayor and then governor, his late father – also named Art Langlie – was never interested in politics.

But, the younger Langlie says this non-political parent did say something pivotal while father and son were on a drive together about 35 years ago, returning from a trip to the dump.

“My dad did not like the public eye of the political world,” Langlie said. “He was less outgoing and social than I am, I suspect, but he also had grown up in it. And the fact that he saw the toll that it probably took on my grandfather to some degree [meant that] I don’t think he really wanted that public spotlight, so he served the community in other ways rather than be on those front lines.”

“But in that conversation on the way home,” Langlie continued, “he turned to me and he said, ‘You know, you’re an awful lot like your grandfather. You’re more outgoing. You love people. You get in and try and help people when they need help. And you may find a time that it becomes very obvious to you that you need to get into leadership in order to change something.’”

And, in looking around at the problems of the present, Art Langlie might now finally be feeling that need to “get into leadership,” as his father predicted all those years ago.

It seems that a person can’t help but have a pretty good sense of local history when your grandparent was mayor and governor, so Art Langlie knows the stories of the big community successes of the past – though those stories only diminish as the years go by, as elders pass on, and as the community becomes populated with recent arrivals who likely don’t know Jim Ellis, or even Dale Ellis, for that matter.

But, perhaps the political stage in these strange times is ripe for someone able to connect with younger voters and recent arrivals by harnessing those now somewhat distant stories, and the hope for better times ahead.

“Back in the day, Seattle was different and some of the big things that we’ve done around here have all been because we got together and did it,” Langlie said. “And if you look at some of the major initiatives that to this day still remain largely historical, the World’s Fair was one, [and] Forward Thrust, [and former mayor] Norm Rice had his Education Summit during a difficult time in education.”

These watershed moments of the past 65 years or so are worth revisiting, Langlie seems to think, not merely as history lessons, but for the way that they were accomplished.

“As a group, we need to start bringing people together rather than pushing them apart,” Langlie said. “And that’s where I see the difference, and that’s why I really felt like now may be the time to do that.”

Art Langlie has never run for office before. In his career, he’s managed a number of businesses, mostly in construction, and he’s very active as a volunteer in public service.

Like many people in Seattle in 2021, he looks around and sees the problems that seem almost intractable, and he laments the level of civil discourse. And, invoking the past again, Langlie has some definite ideas about how he would govern, based on what he knows of his grandfather’s approach – which he says is all about listening and teamwork.

“Think of back to when my grandfather was in office, we had Boeing and we had forest products,” Langlie said. “Now look at the big ideas that we’ve accomplished as a group together. I get these are private industries, but it’s more than one person at Microsoft. Bill [Gates] and Paul [Allen], obviously, were a big deal, but there’s a ton of people that were involved in making that huge leap in technology and in other successes.”

“McCaw Communications brings you the cell phone, Boeing brings you the advances further with airplanes, the biotech industry, Fred Hutch, Amazon,” Langlie said. “I mean, when you think of what’s come out of the great state of Washington, and particularly the city of Seattle, it’s really quite remarkable.”

That all sounds great, of course, and seems ready-made to be shaped into a stump speech and a campaign website. But what qualifications does Art Langlie believe he possesses simply because of his grandfather’s successful political career 80 years ago?

“Zero,” Langlie readily acknowledges. “I don’t think it gives me anything other than there’s a few people that are older that recognize my name, which is always nice because I usually hear a great story that makes me very appreciative.”

“I think that the only thing that maybe that does is that it’s kept me very cognizant of politics over the years and very cognizant of how it affects people,” Langlie continued. “I know how my grandfather behaved as far as listening and being very compassionate to people and trying to help both sides of the aisle.”

About a dozen others have announced Seattle mayoral campaigns, including City Council President Lorena Gonzalez, Rodney Holt, Colleen Echohawk, and former Sonic James Donaldson. Filing week, when candidates can submit official paperwork, begins May 17 at King County Records and Elections; the Primary Election is Tuesday, August 3; and the General Election will take place on November 2.

If and when Art Langlie announces his candidacy, you might just see him around in Fremont. He’ll be the one carrying the big sign that says “LANGLIE.”

You can hear Feliks every Wednesday and Friday morning on Seattle’s Morning News, read more from him here, and subscribe to The Resident Historian Podcast here. If you have a story idea, please email Feliks here.

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Art Langlie weighs grandfather’s legacy and a run for Seattle mayor