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A Sawant challenger steps into Seattle Council District 3 ring

Rod Hearne

Rod Hearne was the former director of Equal Rights Washington, where he still sits on the board.

A marriage equality organizer and progressive fundraiser is building his campaign to challenge Kshama Sawant in the race to represent Seattle Council District 3.

Rod Hearne told CHS he will enter the race after he filed his campaign paperwork on Tuesday. The former director of Equal Rights Washington told CHS he had been exploring a run in district for months.

“I think I have a good shot at it,” Hearne said. “I’m very, very motived in the new year to get going.”

Hearne, 47, has never run for office, but comes into the race with political experience as a Democratic fundraiser and director of ERW, a group that played a key role in winning statewide marriage equality in 2012.

“I’ve always been a more behind the scenes supporter. A coalition builder, not a front a man,” he said.

The Capitol Hill resident said his decision to step into the limelight was significantly influenced by the block-by-block campaigning now possible under the new district elections. Also appealing, Hearne said, was the opportunity to challenge Sawant under a new voter base.

Election night 2012 revelers will soon have an opportunity to vote for one of the people who helped boost the R-74 campaign to victory (Image: CHS)

Election night 2012 revelers will soon have an opportunity to vote for one of the people who helped boost the R-74 campaign to victory (Image: CHS)

While Sawant has filed to run in District 3, that’s not set in stone. She could opt to challenge a sitting City Council member for one of two at-large seats after priming District 3 for an ally candidate. The Stranger reported Sawant is considering taking on Sally Clark for one of the at-large seats, leaving District 3 open for fellow Socialist Alternative member Jess Spear. Spear was trounced in her race for a seat in Olympia against incumbent Frank Chopp this fall.

UPDATE: Sawant quickly dispelled the idea she intends to run at-large Wednesday morning by telling The Stranger she is “definitely” running in District 3. Staffer Jeff Upthegrove, apparently fueled by “enthusasium,” was the source of the misinformation.

Philip Locker, political director for the Sawant camp, told CHS Sawant’s intention is to run in District 3, but all options were still on the table. He said Spear is still contemplating her next move within Socialist Alternative.

Hearne will have his work cut out for him if Sawant does in fact run in District 3, where she enjoys a 61% favorability rating. Socialist Alternative already got an early jump on the ground game as well, launching a Sawant-focused newsletter last month. Still, Hearne thinks his record as a coalition builder will appeal to voters who are turned off by Sawant’s ideological approach.

“It’s not going to be a matter of left, right, socialist … It’s going to be ‘solve issues for my district,’” Hearne said. “A lot issues aren’t on the political spectrum.”

Integrating the district’s new public transportation systems, addressing Capitol Hill crime, and exploring city-owned broadband are the issues Hearne said he most wants to tackle. He’s hoping those issues will be central to his campaign as well.

“I’m not really framing things in terms of Kshama Sawant, I really want to run for the district,” he said.

As for other potential candidates, ACLU attorney and pot law author Alison Holcomb is out leaving a hole that sent anti-Sawant camps scrambling to recruit a suitable and willing candidate. It’s anyone’s guess if another major candidate will enter the race. The deadline to file for the November election isn’t until May 15th, so there’s still plenty of time to jump in.

Don Blakeney, executive director of the Chinatown/International District BIA, was rumored to be strongly considering a run. On Tuesday, Blakeney told CHS he had “no plans to hop into the race this year.”

Political consultant Sandeep Kaushik said Democrats can win District 3 by finding a candidate steeped in progressive credentials and with a proven track record to build coalitions. By Kaushik’s estimation, there are two types of viable candidates: the populist progressive and the “communitarian” progressive (think of the 2012 mayoral race between Mike McGinn and Ed Murray.)

“Populist progressives are very good at playing the politics of symbolism. They embody the values their constituents share,” Kaushik said. “Communitarian progressives (can be) just as progressive, but different. They’re trying to reach consensus.”

43rd District Democrats chair Scott Forbes said he agreed.

“There’s room to run on (Sawant’s) left as a practical progressive,” Forbes said, but conceded the task would be easier said than done. “Whoever runs against Sawant is going to get painted as running to the right of her, whether they are or not.”

(Image: CHS)

(Image: CHS)

In addition to proving herself as willing and able to go toe to toe with the status quo on the current Seattle City Council, Sawant’s $15 per hour minimum wage victory runs deep in the progressive district never mind how many area business owners she freaked out in the process.

With Hearne now in the race and Sawant possibly pursuing a higher profile seat, it may open the door for more candidates to emerge in the coming months. Forbes speculated that several candidates were waiting for someone else to absorb the first socialist blows.

“Socialist Alternative have a fill-in-the-blank smear campaign ready,” Forbes said. “There’s an advantage to being a the second candidate to declare.”

Maybe Forbes is that candidate? “I’m not really planning on running for District 3,” he said. We’ll let you parse that statement. Forbes lives in Montlake and will be stepping down as chair of the 43rd Democrats this month to focus on his new job as a patent attorney.

Seattle District 3 includes Capitol Hill, First Hill and the Central District as well as the heavily residential, homeowner-dominated neighborhoods of Madison Park, Madrona, and Montlake.

As Hearne starts revving up his campaign machine, Locker said Socialist Alternative are ready to launch an “unprecedented” ground game in the coming weeks.

“We have no doubt they will eventually find someone to take up the mantle of corporate interests and run against Kshama,” Locker said prior to Hearne’s announcement. “The main reason Kshama will be re-elected is because of her proven track record in one short year.”

Expect to hear more from Hearne in the coming weeks on his track record, as well as his deep roots in District 3 (his great-grandparents lived in Madrona). “This is my natural habitat. I care very deeply about it,” he said.

UPDATE: Hearne has posted an announcement of his candidacy and is seeking financial support for the Friends of Rod Hearne campaign:

Friends, it’s true. I’m running for Seattle City Council in the 3rd District.

I’m very excited to try to make Seattle’s new district system work, not just for the people of the 3rd, but for the city as a whole. I’m energized to walk door-to-door over the next several months getting to know my neighbors and meet new friends. In the next few days I’ll be putting up a website with all the trimmings, and I’ll keep you up-to-date on what’s going on.

I want to thank the many friends who’ve been providing me with advice and insights. It’s going to be a tremendous year for the city, and I look forward to making a new path forward together. More tomorrow!

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42 thoughts on “A Sawant challenger steps into Seattle Council District 3 ring

    • Hate to hate, but it sure seems like Hearne is a party machine opportunist. Snore. I’m sticking with a candidate with courage to present and push for original, compassionater, well thought out SOLUTIONS. I’m sticking with the one person at City Hall who’s willing to loudly buck the BS, overly romanticized “process-driven Seattle nice”. I’m with Kshama.

  1. Looking forward to ending the embarrassment of Sawant on the city council. Although the districting may make the whole body even more of a clown show than it already is.

    • I agree Adam. Sawant is a total embarrassment and is anti-business. Not just big business but all business. Sometimes I wonder if she understands where all the revenue comes from to keep the City running. Yes, its from some property taxes but it’s mostly from free enterprise paying taxes in various forms. I have met many small business owners on Capitol Hill who are liberal, but Sawant has turned off all of them with her anti-business rhetoric. No surprise to read that Sawant wants to take on Sally Clark to open a spot for Jess Spear on the Council. Yuk.

      • Gee, let’s be pro-business and anti-people. Gee, let’s assume anyone lobbying for the health of people before profits is “anti-business. Kshama is only “an embarrassment if one chooses the myopic path of failure we’ve been going down for decades. Wake up and smell the future -it’s not middle-of-the-road, govern by consensus (read: bow to the Seattle business and old money establishment0. It’s time to embrace new solutions that will ensure tax revenue AND societal/environmental health. Sky’s NOT falling JerryGarcia.

  2. I welcome Mr. Hearne into the race, as he will probably be a more moderate voice in the campaign….and it’s encouraging that he mentions his priority issues (crime, transit etc) as these are things which need to be addressed. I will be paying close attention to what he has to say in the coming months.

    Although I do not share her views, I don’t mind that Ms. Sawant is on the Council, as she brings ideas to the table that at least need to be debated. But I feel she is mainly a one-issue, one-dimensional politician….it’s “anti-corporate” and not much else. Other than the $15/hour minimum wage, I can’t think of a anything else she has accomplished, and she had a lot of help with that. And the possibility of another socialist on the Council (Jess Spear)?…, thank you.

    • I think it’s a bit generous to say she accomplished the $15 minimum wage. At best, she raised awareness of it in the city of Seattle. It took legitimate politicians such as the mayor to find a way to actually execute.

      This is the difference between a real politician and someone that repeats talking points.

    • One wonders what you would have thought of any of the other councilmember’s first year in office. Sawant has accomplished her signature piece of legislation from her campaign, which working with her fell councilmembers (accomplishing some changes in the city’s budget, for example) and “not making too much noise”. Your standard is way off.

    • Wow, I am surprised both by the amount of anti-Sawant, anit-Soclialist commentary in these comments, as well as the glossing over of her accomplishments and the different she has made on the council.

      I will support Sawant again not because she is “anit-corporate”, but because she has consistently been one of the most active members of the council in offering progressive ideas and questioning the status quo – and I’m not using the term in a radical, attack the state sort of way, but rather noting that she has actually sought out solutions rather than agreeing to sign off on everything without questioning it’s validity. A handful of the things she has done (not always successfully) that I agree with:

      – She was the only voice of dissent when the council tried to rubber stamp a massive pay raise for the head of Seattle City Light, when it was clear that it was undeserved (the council later reversed course and did not approve the raise, which would not have happened otherwise).

      – Minimum wage increase – yes, she can not take sole credit, the rest of the council and the Mayor deserve recognition for this as well, but we all know that her election sparked the council into action.

      – She proposed an alternative to the Mayor’s proposal on funding transit to try to avoid cutting service (prior to the passage of additional funding in the last election). I agreed with this, and any of you who had their service cut or lessened would have benefited from her ideas being heard

      – She is a strong supporter of the tent cities (including proposing funding of internet connections for their residents).

      – She is actively trying to support homeowners who are facing foreclosure

      This is just a quick list, I know there was more. Really, compared to the other council members, Sawant has actually gotten an amazing amount accomplished, we could use more like her.

      • Jay is right. The only rhetoric here is the anti-“socialist” rhetoric. The only “sound bites” being used are the ones these critics have clung to. Sawant has voted and acted ethically on all the major issues facing the city. One of the few things I can proudly stake claim to as a Seattleite—a politician with a spine. We don’t need more moderates. We need more people who will stand up for average individuals and families.

      • You’re good at stating her positions, not what she has actually *done*.

        “actively trying”….”strong supporter…”voice of dissent” blah blah blah.

        Show me an initiative she came up with, or even supported, who she worked with to get it passed, and how it was executed. You make it sound like she deserves a seat because she has opinions and one of them actually happened, by no real effort of her own.

      • uh, she is one of 9 council members, she can not pass anything on her own – and neither can any of the other council members. She DID question the Seattle City Light CEO’s pay raise, which was then revoked; it would have gone through without question if Sawant had not voiced her objection. She DID propose an alternate transportation funding package – the fact that it did not pass doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. I am not sure of the current state of the funding for internet for tent cities, but she DID vote in favor of the most recent resolutions regarding tent cities.

        I am not a reporter, just a blog commenter, I am not going to provide you exacting details of everything that has happened in the city council for the last year, I have better things to do. Try google, or paying attention a little bit instead of relying on anonymous blog commenters (such as myself) for information.

      • To those who have already decided to vote for Sawant in the next election, doesn’t it make more sense to hear what Rod Hearne has to say before you vote against him? In my opinion, you are guilty of “knee-jerk voting,” aka “I’m voting for him/her come hell or high water, no matter what transpires between now and the election.”

      • He’s not dead-on-arrival, but he has a lot to prove if he wants to unseat Sawant. So far, I’m not impressed. Of course, it’s very early.

      • Adam. You are being unfair because you seem to dislike Kshama. Anyone who thinks Kshama wasn’t the pressure and linchpin that made $15/hour a go is so high on drugs as to not warrant anything more than the playful dig I just typed. Stop your insane ignorance, please!!!

  3. After seeing her speak, I don’t think Jess Spear could be elected to student council, let alone take a district city council seat.

  4. I’m actually surprised Sawant has come out blasting like the loose cannon she has, considering she’s the first Socialist elected (at least in a long time, anyway). Whenever you’re the first, if you screw it up or alienate too many people, you run the risk of ruining it not just for yourself, but for those coming after you. Anyone who thinks Spear’s thrashing had nothing whatsoever to do with Sawant is pretty naive.

    I’ve already seen Sawant supporters predicting she’ll crush anyone who runs against her. This reminds me of that old quote by Pauline Kael that’s been used as an example of “the bizarrely naive quality of hermetic liberal provincialism”. Kael, who was a film critic for the New Yorker, when she was shocked by the outcome of the 1972 Presidential election said: ‘I live in a rather special world. I only know one person who voted for Nixon. Where they are I don’t know. They’re outside my ken. But sometimes when I’m in a theater I can feel them.’ This perfectly fits Sawant supporters who are so convinced she has such widespread support and she’ll decimate any opponents.

      • It’s good to see the level of discourse is starting off on a highbrow, respectful level. Not surprising…. if Sawant’s supporters are as loose-cannon and immature going forward as we’ve seen so far, this will be a childishly nasty election we have to look forward to.

  5. I will support whichever candidate presents ideas and proposals I find most conducive to a free and civil society: improving education, supporting commerce, promoting order over chaos, and enhancing the chance for prosperity for all who desire to achieve it, along with a reasonable approach to the social safety net for those who cannot care for themselves. Utopian unicorns and rainbows, not so much.

  6. I’m sure Rod Hearne is a great guy, nothing against him at all, but as long as Sawant stays unbought and unbowed, she has my support. Someone has to represent the poor and disenfranchised at City Hall and ensure that their concerns are heard. We have plenty of “coalition builders” in local politics already. Probably too many.

  7. @Jay, thanks for explaining why you support Sawant and giving all of her accomplishments so far. I had started to forget why I had voted for in the first place, but she is doing things few politicians have done, and that is follow through on her campaign promises.

    Some of the crap she has said I don’t agree with either but I like that she is there and part of the mix of the council, representing so many different groups of people, I am glad she is making some noise and not rolling over like it seems many politicians do.

  8. All politics are local, as the old bromide goes. I don’t care if person belongs to the Martian Independence Party…if they deliver the goods (mass transit, clean environment, good police and crime control, etc etc), they got my vote. If my own mother was a lousy politician, I wouldn’t vote for her.
    So I’m going to ignore the Socialist Utopian bloviating and the 1950s Red Baiting and see where Sawant and her opponent stand on the issues that matter to me. Like fixing those potholes and making sure the garbage collectors don’t go on strike. Unsexy, unidealogical stuff like that.

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