Councilmember Kshama Sawant appears poised to prevail over an attempt to recall her, squeaking by with 50.38 percent of the District 3 vote as of Dec. 13.
The recall attempt makes the fourth time in eight years that Sawant has won the majority of District 3 voters, making her simultaneously the longest-serving councilmember and the most embattled. Sawant and her supporters celebrated their presumed victory in a morning press conference on Dec. 10.
“The wealthy and their representatives in politics and the media took their shot at us and we beat them again,” Sawant said.
Sawant also called out her council colleagues, who she said were “not on our side” and not on the side of the working class.
“Not one of the woke City Council progressives — in fact, not one of the eight Democrats — said one word against this rightwing recall despite the enormous amount that was at stake for the working class in this fight,” Sawant said. “This should tell you everything you need to know.”
The effort to recall the councilmember was rooted in three charges approved by the courts to move forward. The recall campaign alleged that Sawant had used city resources to promote the Tax Amazon campaign; that she had opened up City Hall to a crowd of protesters during the coronavirus shutdown; and that she had helped lead a protest to the door of Mayor Jenny Durkan, whose address has been kept private because of her previous work as a federal prosecutor.
A fourth charge — that Sawant had outsourced her office’s decision-making to her Socialist Alternative party — was thrown out by the Washington Supreme Court. There were six charges in the original filing.
The close electoral call should send a message to Sawant and those “dealing in her style of divisive politics,” said Henry Bridger II, the Recall Sawant campaign manager, in a statement on Friday.
“While this election may not end with removing Sawant from office, let her narrow escape send a clear message: Seattle voters will not tolerate slash-and-burn politicians who shirk accountability and divide the city,” Bridger said in the statement.
This is the first time that a recall of a sitting councilmember has made it to Seattle voters. An attempt to recall Durkan — primarily because of her handling of the protests in summer of 2020, which resulted in chemical irritants blanketing the Capitol Hill neighborhood — was nixed by the courts.
The recall tool has been available for a long time, but it’s never been used, said Mark Smith, a professor of political science at the University of Washington. Compare that to the initiative and referendum powers that also allow voters to weigh in directly on policy and have been exercised with far more frequency.
“That tells me there’s something going on in our politics right now that’s bringing this out,” Smith said.
“What I interpret is going on is politics is becoming more intense for a lot of people,” Smith said. “Politics have always been there, and people care about it. It’s just a lot of people now care about it even more and their identities are really wrapped up in their political ideas, preferences, issues and candidates.”
The recall effort and the campaign to oppose it raised nearly $2 million and brought out a higher percentage of District 3 voters than the city as a whole during the November general election. Sawant supporters had accused the recall campaign of voter suppression for working to get the recall on a December ballot after the November general election. They went so far as to offer to gather signatures for the recall campaign in order to get the vote on the November ballot.
The pro-Sawant solidarity campaign attempted to characterize the effort as a rightwing attack on one of the highest-profile socialists in the country, but that take has to be put in context, Smith said.
“How many right wingers are there in Capitol Hill? You can probably count them on one hand,” Smith said. “The people pushing this are probably Seattle center left: somewhat progressive people who are not a fan of the outright socialism.”
Read more of the Dec. 15-21, 2021 issue.