With promise of tens of thousands of volunteers and support of the Socialist Alternative movement, Kshama Sawant kicked off her 2019 re-election campaign Thursday morning inside Saba, the 12th Ave Ethiopian restaurant she has committed herself to help save as it searches for a new location in the face of planned redevelopment.
“This year will be a referendum on one vital question: Who runs Seattle? Amazon and big business,” Sawant declared. “or working people?”
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“I know I want to live in a city rooted in social justice and which is affordable for all,” she said. “I don’t think working people can afford to return to big business politics as usual in our city. That is why if you share my vision for our city, then I invite you all to join our movement.”
Joined by labor representatives and representatives from a wide array of social and community organizations from District 3 and well beyond, Sawant kicked off the race she says threatens to be dominated by a flood of corporate spending.
“We fully expect corporate PACs and big business and developer lobbyists to pour money into the election race to try to stop us,” Sawant said. “My last reelection race in 2015, my opponents were backed by CEOs, the Chamber of Commerce, the real estate lobby, the restaurant lobby, the hotel lobby, Amazon, and three giant corporate PACs. That year, our race was the most expensive in Seattle city council history with big business spending almost half a million dollars.”
Sawant said she expects the pool of spending to oppose her to grow in 2019 after Amazon spent an “eye-popping $350,000 in 2017 to buy their mayor Jenny Durkan.”
Sawant said concerns that rose around reports of how much influence Socialist Alternative has in her Seattle office won’t, apparently, lessen the organization’s role in her campaign.
“Socialist Alternative and the larger movement that has been behind every election campaign and every victory that won for the ordinary people in the city, will be playing a role together because we have seen that, the victories that we’ve been able to win, it’s not because one person got lucky because they have great qualities,” Sawant said, “but it’s because that person got elected and stayed true to a movement that has continued fighting.”
“The only reason I’m standing here is because Socialist Alternative and the wider movement that includes LGBTQ people, people struggling against homelessness, people fighting for housing rights and renters rights. All of us have stood together and I hope that we are able to build it even broader and more powerful.”
CHS broke the news last week that Sawant’s re-election committee had formally filed to enter the race to defend the incumbent city council member’s seat against a field that has already grown to three challengers. A campaign spokesperson told CHS that unsolicited campaign contributions drove the decision to get the campaign up and running.
Thursday, Sawant said she supports the “progressive” program but will not participate in the city’s Democracy Voucher program because her campaign believes the fundraising limits that are part of the program will be too limiting in the face of the likely major spending on behalf of her opponents.
“We’re going to have definitely more than half a million dollars, probably a million dollars thrown at this race to try and defeat us and that is why we need to make sure that we have a fighting campaign that is sustained as much as it needs by working people’s donations,” Sawant said.
Boosted by a huge advantage in the number of individual contributions though not in total dollars, Sawant scored a relatively easy victory in her 2015 campaign against challenger Pamela Banks. With a base in the district’s densest areas and the Central District, Sawant is set up for a similar battle in the more affluent District 3 neighborhoods of North Capitol Hill, Madrona, Madison Park, and Montlake in 2019. More than 90,000 people live in District 3.
While early contribution totals don’t favor him, Beto Yarce, a member of Mayor Jenny Durkan’s Small Business Advisory Council and director of a nonprofit dedicated to economic mobility for small business owners, is currently positioned to give Sawant her greatest challenge. Marijuana retail store owner Logan Bowers and small business owner and Beacon Hill neighborhood activist Pat Murakami have also declared for the race. Each has said they do plan to be part of the Democracy Voucher program.
Born in Mumbai, Sawant’s political career in Seattle was formed out of the Occupy movement when the economist was still teaching at Seattle Central and Seattle University. Sawant’s leadership, the council member has said herself, has been focused on larger, sometimes global issues. As other district leaders have made habits of community meetings and “coffee talk,” Sawant has mostly avoided that kind of interaction in favor of rallies and protests. A September agenda-less community gathering at a Central District coffee shop was a rarity for Sawant. At the local level, this has left Sawant open to criticism about her office’s interest and availability in neighborhood issues and day to day problems around homelessness, drug use, and street safety. Some Capitol Hill community leaders have praised her “alternative” style and leadership on issues like the minimum wage.
Sawant addressed criticism that she is not a strong presence in D3 issues Thursday.
“I think there are going to be countless people in the district who would not only disagree with that assessment, but will find that patently untrue and honestly quite absurd,” Sawant said, citing the phone calls and emails her office fields on District 3 issues.
“People talk to me in grocery stores, coffee shops, just walking on the street and we hear about your day to day situation related to parts or crosswalks or any other situation,” Sawant said.
“We worked tirelessly to help address those issues and we used the help, of course, of thousands of staff members of the city.”
Sawant did not focus as much on legislation when discussing her major accomplishments on the council as the many surgical issues she has chosen to champion including the end of Columbus Day in Seattle, saving the Showbox, a cap on move-in fees for renters, and restriction on rent increases by so called “slum lords.”
“I have brought the voice of ordinary people to City Hall,” she said.
You can read more about the Sawant announcement from her campaign here.
Thursday night, Sawant will continue her busy day around Capitol Hill with a meeting of her Human Services, Equitable Development, and Renter Rights Committee for a hearing on confirmation of the director of the Seattle Human Services Department. Interim director Jason Johnson has been serving in the role since his appointment by Mayor Jenny Durkan last May. The session (PDF) begins at 6 PM.