SEATTLE (AP) — A controversial member of the Seattle City Council – firebrand socialist Kshama Sawant – faces a recall election Tuesday one month after voters chose moderate candidates over progressives in the general election.
The recall is seen as a further test of whether the left wing is in retreat in one of the most liberal U.S. cities. Business-friendly candidates won a council seat and the mayor’s office in November.
Sawant, 48, an Indian immigrant and an economics professor, is the longest-tenured council member.
She has had an outsized influence on the tone and direction of Seattle politics since she launched her political career under the banner of the Socialist Alternative party in 2012, when she ran unsuccessfully for state representative.
Sawant was elected to the City Council the following year, and her threat to run a voter initiative drive for an immediate $15 minimum wage has been credited with pressuring business leaders and then-Mayor Ed Murray to reach a deal raising the wage to $15 over a few years. Seattle was the first major city in the U.S. to adopt such a measure.
But critics have said she offers more rhetoric than substance and that her brash antics are incompatible with good governance.
Henry Bridger II is leading the effort to recall Sawant.
“She literally blasts people who don’t agree with her,” Bridger said. “If you’re not in lockstep with her ideology, you become the enemy. You’re called a right-wing Republican. You’re called a racist. You’re bullied and pushed around.”
At stake is how the city approaches homelessness, police reform, taxation and other pressing issues.
Sawant has been pushing for rent control, cutting police funding and expanding taxes on high earners such as Amazon to pay for affordable housing, schools and community services.
But Seattle and other cities are banned by state law from adopting rent control. And last month, a federal appeals court ruled that two Seattle police officers could sue Sawant for defamation after she claimed a fatal shooting they were involved in was “a blatant murder.”
The recall question on the ballot cites a minor campaign finance violation that Sawant acknowledged and for which she paid a fine and her alleged leadership of a protest march to the home of Mayor Jenny Durkan, even though Durkan’s address was protected by a state confidentiality law due to her prior work as a federal prosecutor. The recall question also cites her decision to let a crowd of protesters into City Hall while it was closed due to the pandemic.
Bridger insisted that his motivation for bringing the recall campaign was to hold Sawant accountable and that it has nothing to do with her politics.
But to Sawant’s supporters, the charges are a pretext for an effort by big business, developers and commercial real-estate interests to accomplish what they failed to do in 2019 — when a late, million-dollar push by Amazon to defeat her and other progressive candidates backfired. Sawant was reelected by about 4 percentage points.
Sawant denies having led the march to Durkan’s house, though she did participate in it.
She has defended her decision to let Black Lives Matter demonstrators inside City Hall following George Floyd's murder by Minneapolis police. She said the protesters were only there for an hour and that it was important for them to be seen in the halls of power.
Bryan Koulouris, spokesman for the Kshama Solidarity Campaign, called the attempt to recall Sawant part of a national backlash against the Black Lives Matter movement.
“From the nature of the charges and from when this election is happening, it begins to scratch the surface of why this is a right-wing recall," Koulouris said.
The two groups supporting the recall — Recall Sawant and A Better Seattle — have raised close to $1 million combined, as has Kshama Solidarity.
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