A previous time a Tacoma politician took leave to join the military

Mayor Harry Cain missed 18 months of his six years during World War II

Tacoma News TribuneNovember 27, 2013 

Tacoma's Mayor Harry Cain posing in uniform during a leave of absence to fight in World War II

FILE — News Tribune file photo

Tuesday's announcement that Tacoma City Councilman Anders Ibsen is taking a leave of absence to enter officer training in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserves came as something of a surprise.

Here is Kate Martin's story on Ibsen's leave of absence.

But the news of the 11 month leave reminded me of the story of former Tacoma Mayor Harry Cain, who left the job for two and a half years during World War II to join a newly formed military government branch in the U.S. Army.

Cain was a fascinating and complex man who later served in the U.S. Senate from Washington state. His story is well told by C. Mark Smith in "Raising Cain: The Life and Politics of Senator Harry P. Cain."

Cain was elected mayor in 1940 after finishing third in the primary. He was allowed onto the general election ballot, however, after the top vote getter G.B Kerstetter died during a debate. He was 34 years old.

Tacoma was governed by a commission system. Five commissioners made up the legislative body of the city but each also had an administrative role. Cain was mayor but shared executive duties with a finance commissioner, a utilities commissioner, a public works commissioner and a public safety commissioner.

According to Smith, his departure produced mixed opinions.

"We believe we speak for all Tacoma when we say 'thank you, good luck, God bless you - and a speedy return,' " editorialized the Tacoma Times.

But Smith noted that "regret over his pending departure was not shared by his fellow commissioners, by the various gambling, bootlegging, and prostitution interests, or even by some citizens who merely needed a rest."

During his second to last commission meeting, Smith wrote, one of the other commissioners, Utility Commission Robert O'Neil, asked if he planned on keeping his city paycheck while also drawing pay from the Army.

"I'll do everything in my power to keep you from getting pay from the city and the government," O'Neil said. Cain considered the question an insult and confronted the commissioner after the meeting.

"Cain was out of his chair in an instant and squarely facing the shorter O'Neil, who had also risen to his feet," Smith wrote. "Cain started to confront him. 'Robert ...,' but then caught himself and left the chambers."

Cain did not choose a temporary successor. The other commissioners designated finance commissioner C.V. Fawcett, the son of former mayor Angelo Fawcett, to fill both jobs.

He was gone from May 5, 1943 until December 3, 1945, rising to the rank of lieutenant colonel and serving in North Africa, Italy and Germany. One of the oddities of Washington political history came in 1944 when Cain was the Republican nominee for the U.S. Senate while never leaving Europe. He lost to Warren Magnuson.

Cain was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1946 but lost his bid for reelection in 1952 to Henry Jackson.








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