As Kshama Sawant awaits to start her four-year stint at the helm of Council District 3, the logistics of assuming the office are already underway. Coin flips to decide who gets two corner offices, shuffling staffs, and behind the scenes negotiating for committee assignments are all playing out inside City Hall.
After King County Elections certifies the vote on November 24th, Sawant and the rest of the council will be sworn into office in a small ceremony
the following day sometime in December. During her election night speech, Sawant called on her supporters to pack the chambers for a rally. The one exception will be Position 9’s Lorena Gonzalez, who will be sworn in this month on the 24th as City Council member John Okamoto’s temporary position technically ends as soon as the ballot is certified.
The real action happens January 4th, when members elect the council president and committee chairs. It’s been an open secret for some time that City Council member Bruce Harrell wants to take the presidency. First he will have to secure a win in District 2 race, where he’s leading Tammy Morales by just 357 votes as of Friday.
Sawant has previously said she wants to chair the housing and human services committee after chairing the energy committee during her first term.
The first new council meeting is also when we will learn about any official changes to how the committees themselves are organized. For instance, there was considerable discussing during the election about carving out gender pay equity from the committee that oversees the parks and libraries.
Jockeying for who gets to chair which committee is likely already underway. Council members must get five votes to win a committee assignment of their choice. Typically, committees like housing and transportation go to the most senior members. Waiting to vote on committee assignments until January will be especially necessary with two closely contested races still ongoing. On Friday’s ballot drop, Lisa Herbold overtook Shannon Braddock with just 27 votes.
January 4th will also include a ceremonial swearing in for council members.
While most council members have supported the idea of opening district offices, there is no requirement to do so or funds reserved for it. City Council members will have a new district-based presence online, with district specific websites to be rolled out sometime early next year.
The inaugural district-based Seattle City Council election may have failed in its promise to bring cheaper campaigns, but it did spark an unusual amount of voter interest around Capitol Hill. In a year when Washington State has so far only tallied an abysmal 37.8% turnout of registered voters, turnout so far for the off-year election inched over 50% in District 3 and 46.2% citywide as of the latest counts.
District 3 victor and incumbent candidate Sawant has pushed her triumphant tally to a near 12-point win. Challenger Pamela Banks conceded the race last week. King County Elections will certify the final ballot count on November 24th.
What exactly can be gleaned beyond wins and losses from the election depends on who you ask. Socialist Alternative representatives say their candidate has a clear mandate to pursue groundbreaking policies that extend beyond the borders of District 3, like a millionaires tax and rent control.
The opposing spin is that Sawant’s win fell short of expectations. In 2013, Sawant barely pulled out a victory, squeaking by incumbent Richard Conlin with a 1.7% margin in a late ballot turnaround. But Sawant walloped Conlin in the neighborhoods that would eventually make up D3, winning 58% of the vote across Central Seattle and even better on Capitol Hill.
Those great heights have led some to call Sawant’s 2015 win a step back. Seattle political analyst Ben Anderstone says the socialist revolution in Seattle may actually be contracting. “After two years and a well-run campaign, Sawant has not expanded her base — despite a savvy campaign team and incredibly energized constituency,” Anderstone wrote in Crosscut. While Anderstone says Sawant’s hold on District 3 is still fireproof, he doubted whether Sawant could have won anywhere else in the city.
Still, Capitol Hill and the Central District, representing nearly all of apartment-dense precincts in the district, went solidly for Sawant. In fact, first-night returns show Sawant took nearly every precinct west of 31st Ave and south of Roy, most by huge margins. Sawant also made inroads north of the Republican St divide that characterized the 2013 mayoral race between Mike McGinn and Ed Murray.
In what became one of the most monied City Council races in Seattle history, Banks ended up spending $322,618 of the $382,513 she raised in campaign contributions, while Sawant spent $393,000 of her $450,188, according to the state Public Disclosure Commission.
By many accounts, Mayor Murray was the biggest winner of the November 3 election, spearheaded by the passage of the $930 million Move Seattle levy. Sawant aside, Murray will also start the new year with the City Council firmly on his side. When asked by Seattle Times columnist Danny Westneat what he would do with all that political capital, Murray said school reform was at the top of his list.