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‘Who runs Seattle?’ — Sawant bracing for million dollar battle for District 3

Sawant embraces Ubah Warsame, a Seattle East African community leader, during Thursday’s press conference at 12th Ave’s Saba restaurant

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 challengeMarijuana 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.

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40 thoughts on “‘Who runs Seattle?’ — Sawant bracing for million dollar battle for District 3” -- All CHS Comments are held for moderation before publishing

  1. I can only speak for myself, but I’ve contacted Sawant’s office directly about an issue that affects most of us here in district 3 and received total radio silence.
    A note, I’ve heard from the Beto campaign as recent as yesterday (1/23) that they’re applying for the democracy voucher program if they can get the signatures they need.

    • Yep, they also need to get $10 donated from 150 people to qualify, donated yesterday. Very excited for the upcoming elections:

      2019: Vote out Sawant
      2020: Vote out Trump

    • Can concur. My home and workplace are both in D3 – you can. not. get. her. attention. on district issues unless it fits with her activism interests (also must have a photo op). We are basically without a district rep on the council. She simply doesn’t care about the day-to-day local issues in our neighborhoods. Personally I’m going to work my ass off to see that she is booted from the council.

    • Know of any official campaigns started for any of those people? The SA’s do not represent D3 and I want to get a reasonable voice back into that seat.

      • Hi Chris,

        Yes! I have a campaign up and running. You can sign up for updates at my website at

        The biggest issues for me are housing and homelessness. We have a severe shortage of homes, yet the city council has outlawed everything except mansions and luxury apartments in 96% of the city. I want to end the housing prohibition and legalize low cost, townhomes, duplexes, walkups, and brownstones in the 74% of the city currently reserved for mansions.

    • Hey Ella! If you’re looking for a positive change in District 3, I’d love to earn your support! I’m focused on listening to the needs of the district and tackling our toughest problems: a severe housing shortage, a homeless crisis, and increasing gridlock.

      We have a severe housing shortage in our city, but a lot of folks don’t realize that it’s becaise the Council has outlawed construction of everything except luxury apartments and mansions in 95% of the city. The council is the reason we don’t have affordable duplexes, townhomes, walkups, and cottages. It’s wrong and I want to end this housing prohibition.

      I hope to hear from you at my campaign website:, and I’d love to learn more about the issues that animate you.

      • An apartment vacancy rate of 10% means that for every 100 apartments, 90 are occupied. This is great news. Let’s build more apartments. People are still moving here in great numbers. While we’re at it, let’s legalize and encourage building other forms of multi-family housing, like duplexes, triplexes, and backyard cottages.

      • @Logan: If you are going to distinguish yourself from Sawant, you’re going to have to stop exaggerating your description of what our residential neighborhoods look like. They are not filled with “mansions and luxury apartments.” That is just leftist nonsense. Backyard cottages are already allowed. Zoning should be changed to allow duplexes and triplexes. Would you go beyond that to include apartment buildings (including apodments) in single family zones? If so, you’ve lost my vote (and many others).

      • Hi Bob,

        You are, of course, quite correct that that our neighborhoods are not filled with mansions today. But that’s because most of the housing stock was built many decades ago before the modern zoning code was imposed. Many of the homes today are illegal to rebuild under modern codes because of, e.g. setback and parking requirements.

        You can tell what modern zoning code prescribes by looking at the NEW homes that get built. My guess is that like me, you’re only getting new, big ultramodern boxes valued over $1M in your neighborhood. I have found few to zero new, modest housing and that’s both because the city makes them illegal to build or otherwise they’re uneconomical (which is a reality the city must plan around).

        To answer your specific question, no I do not want to legalize apartment buildings in the SFH zones. I think either triplex or quadplex will be the largest structure we need. Paradoxically, bigger buildings don’t always help the housing shortage because bigger buildings (made with expensive concrete and steel) are more expensive per unit, so tend to only be luxury in price.

      • Thank you, Logan, for your measured response. Don’t pay too much attention to Bob. Although he often claims to speak for others (e.g., “you’ve lost my vote (and many others)”) he is but one lonely voice in our vibrant and growing district.

      • No, Jason, he’s not just one voice. He articulates what a lot of people think. Maybe not everybody, but he’s not “but one lonely voice”. Any candidate who ignores that perspective does it at his/her own peril. But they likely already know that, based on the visceral response to the other extreme (Sawant) you’re seeing articulated so resoundingly on these comments.

      • Logan, this is Jim. He doesn’t approve of anyone younger, wealthier, poorer, or more Mexican than he is occupying space on Capitol Hill. Like Bob, he tries to disguise his prejudices by claiming he speaks for others. You can ignore him.

      • Thanks for the kind words Jason! Unlike Kshama, I know that I will be elected to represent everyone, not just folks who 100% agree with me. That means listening, discussing, and doing my best to understand & represent the interests and desires of everyone.

        Bob, I always appreciate and enjoy the conversation, and while I am determined to solve the housing shortage, I want to do it in a way that addresses folks’ concerns and desires as much as plausible. Please keep sharing your thoughts. :)

      • @Jason: Why do you have this obsession to put me down whenever I make a comment? Don’t you have something better to do?

      • Ad hominem attacks are usually the last resort of people who can’t sway anyone to their view through any other means. And Bob: apparently the answer is “no”. Logan: thank you for understanding that echo chambers don’t work.
        PS…those are “kind words”?

      • Ummm no… a non-sequitur would be if Bob said something like Logan if you are going to distinguish yourself from Sawant you need more flying fish…

        What Bob said is pretty on topic… and I agree. Sorry Logan – you’ve wrecked any interest I might have had in voting for you too.

        Some of your statements are entirely inaccurate – like our neighborhoods being full of mansions LOL… not mine for sure, and it being illegal to rebuild your home. That is absolutely untrue. My house, if it were destroyed, could be rebuilt in the same footprint, even though there are things about it that don’t entirely meet zoning about it – like it is built nearly on the lot line one side We’ve looked into it as we have a very small lot and it was a concern should disaster ever occur that we would not even be able to rebuild anything and be stuck – and we found it’s OK – you can rebuild, though there is a time limit. I also think that you can exercise creativity… if you have an existing structure that is non conforming you can ‘remodel’ with an almost complete tear down to the same footprint as long as you preserve some small part of the existing structure. It requires some creative use of the rules, but I’ve seen it done around here….

        Stop the egregious hyperbole – it makes you sound untrustworthy.. and back your statements up. You cannot just proclaim city council outlawed affordable housing. That is ridiculous.

      • Hi AB,

        I’m glad your home (mostly) meets modern zoning and code, that’s awesome! Of course, you are correct that the neighborhoods in D3 aren’t full of mansions, but that’s because zoning only affects NEW homes. Most of the homes in our district were built many decades ago before the economic and legal circumstances changed.

        You can see what modern zoning allows based on the new construction. I think you’ll be hard pressed to find anything other than huge, boxy, $1M+ houses being built today. Some of that is because it’s literally outlawed, some of that is because modest designs would be theoretically legal but are just uneconomical.

        You also make a particularly good point, which is that zoning changes don’t change the neighborhood overnight. Boxy mansions have been the norm for new construction for the last decade, yet they’re still only a few percent of the homes in any given neighborhood. Similarly, if we legalize duplexes and triplexes, we’re not going to see upheaval, we’ll see only slow and mild change over many years.

      • @Logan…. you need to slooooooow down and listen, really listen if you want to be a city council member.

        Firstly I’m not AB… and secondly my house *does not* meet modern zoning codes. My house is more than 100 years old. It’s on a very small lot. It sits nearly on the lot line on one side and 5 feet from the lot line on the other – I believe it has more lot coverage than would currently be allowed and may even be slightly over height (even though it is just two stories, many of the others on the block are only one) Yet, if I were to lose it in a disaster – say a fire, earthquake, etc. I would still be allowed to rebuild to the current envelope. Basically – I can put my house back the way it is, even though it doesn’t meet zoning. So, your statement that “Many homes are illegal to rebuild today under modern zoning codes” is untrue…

        Perhaps you *meant* to say that many existing homes could not be built today within modern zoning rules – but that’s not quite what you *did* say. Like I said slow down – semantics matter, meaning matters.

        I think if we drilled down you and I and Bob are probably more on the same page than we might think right now – but you seem more than over eager and are trying to place blame solely on the city council rather than acknowledging that there are many factors driving prices up – it is the market, the sudden desirability of certain neighborhoods, the influx of people and yes in part, rezoning driving prices up to ridiculous levels.

        There are many cottages and row homes going in near where I live – as well as a ton of new apartments. It hasn’t done anything to drive prices down, because the demand is still there. While I think it is far preferable to infill than tear down and redevelop, I don’t think that has been or will be able to solve affordability any more than anything else that has been tried. Bringing more people in has also brought in amenities – stores, restaurants – things that people want, which makes the neighborhood more desirable, which brings in more people, which raises prices… it’s a cycle that’s not going to simply end..

        Honestly… you want to make houses affordable? Institute a city income tax and freeze most new development completely – you must fix the existing house, nearly no complete tear downs or total redevelopment allowed.
        That’s what it’s like in Pittsburgh where I grew up and while it’s not a rock bottom as it was when I was growing up, you can still find rather cheap fixer-uppers there….(think mid sized car priced – really!) Some of them aren’t even in horrible shape – they are simply ugly… But I don’t expect that to happen. It would be intentionally suppressing economic growth.

        Only when developers have little incentive to over pay for land in Seattle will prices drop, at least to a point where it’s only potential homeowners who are competing… and it still won’t be cheap, because there’s still demand… but you might see a little more of what happened down the street from me. A young man was able to buy a house down the block for around $300,000 last year- unheard of in Seattle right – well it’s on a lot too small to develop and it’s a very small 1br, 1bath, no basement, 100+ year old house that had been empty for some time. With no development potential only a homeowner had any interest, and only a homeowner who wanted to fix an old house. He’s done all of the work himself and made a very nice little home.

      • @CD Neighbor…..I believe AB’s comment was directed at the comment by “bobtr”, not to me.

        Thanks for your thoughts….yes, we agree. Logan’s assertion that only “mansions and luxury apartments” (costing over $1 million) are being built under current zoning laws is not true on Capitol Hill. There are very few, expensive single-family homes being built. I see mainly townhouse complexes (8-10 units packed into a small lot) going up…as well as a sprinkling of condos and backyard cottages. The latter, presumably, are mainly rentals….and the townhouses, while not cheap, go for less than $1 million. So, this is not increasing the “affordable” housing stock. To do that, we need to build more modest duplexes and triplexes, as well as subsidized apartments in those areas where the zoning allows them. What we don’t need are more market-rate apartment buildings, especially in residential areas.

      • > @CD Neighbor…..I believe AB’s comment was directed at the comment by “bobtr”, not to me.

        Yep, I didn’t expect that there would end up being two different ‘bob’s replying to this post or I would’ve been more specific.

        Bob Knudson – I think you’re spot-on. We desperately need to see Minneapolis-style upzoning across Seattle.

        Logan – I will vote for whichever candidate pledges to fight for upzoning all of Seattle to triplexes. Kshama isn’t going to pledge to fight for this. Will you?

  2. I don’t want a city counsel member representing me who is more focused on ‘Global Issues’ than what is going on right here in District 3. We have some major issues in our neighborhood to tackle and she has done nothing to help. She is all lip service and no action within this district. She doesn’t seem willing to work with the other counsel members to solution the issues instead, she bullies with threats of racism or siding with big business . If she is trying to usher in some grand change for the US, let her run for political office in DC. I feel its time for change in our representation on the city counsel.

  3. I want a socially conscious councilmember, which all are. There current.y isn’t a pro-big business candidate for the 3rd. So the next criteria is who will actively take care of the district and it’s citizens and causes? I too have not received responses from Ms. Sawant or her staff, so the only thing I can take away from this is she doesn’t care about small issues in the 3rd.

    Therefore, I’m eagerly looking forward to finding out more about the other candidates and actively helping their campaigns.

    • Hi Prost,

      I’m a lifetime resident and long time fan of Die Bier Stube and Feierabend. I’d really like to earn your vote and as a fellow small business owner, I know what it feels like to be collateral damage.

      I hope you’ll sign up on my website,, and I’d love to hear from you about the issues you’re facing.

  4. She is a terrible representative for the 3rd. She doesn’t run for a higher office because she can’t win. But there’s a group of idealists who believe what she says because they like the propaganda, and don’t seem to care that she doesn’t deliver. Not unlike Trump voters, just the other side of the political coin.

  5. Wow, the passion against her is evident in every media outlet including the Stranger, Seattle Times, this site and others.

    Whoever wins the primary if she is the other candidate will likely dominate by a landslide, But be ready for Antifa jerks from out of the district and area coming in to campaign and perhaps wreak havoc, vandalize and tag, and likely intimidate. And the amount of recycled paper will be massive. Signs will be everywhere. And it is perfectly legal I believe to remove signs that are on public property (is this correct someone?)

    In my fantasies, two of the other 3 who have declared will win over her but likely votes will split until we have two finalists.

    Her days are numbered and she knows it. This is not like the last time.

  6. “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.

    Oh yeah, they *field* the calls.
    Then she ignores the ones that don’t fit her agenda.
    But yeah, those calls sure do get *fielded*, all right.

  7. “Tens of thousands of volunteers.”

    You’re completely credulous if you believe 1/10,000th of that claim. Sawant can rally a few dozen last gasp supporters, and a motley collection of people who ‘support’ her because she panders to them, making promises she can’t keep.

    Sawant’s entire public life has been based on fiction, beginning with her own ‘proletarian’ pretense, her claim to represent a mass ‘democratic movement,’ and running to her risible claim that it’s gonna take a million dollars to unseat her.

    Sawant’s a Narcissist and demagogue, pure and simple. She’s seized with the idea that she alone should be in control. She’s a historical inevitability and necessity, you know. Karl Marx personally passed the Torch of Revolution to her, to carry on his noble mission.

    The only thing that is inevitable about Kshama Sawant is that come November, she will be history.

    • I always wonder why District 3 keeps on voting for Sawant. But then I see and hear her opposition and it becomes obviously clear: people like you that have become delusionally obsessed with her end up driving people away from the opposition, even if they are a reasonable candidate.

      The same thing goes on with O’Brien in District 6. The opposition screams bloody murder, thumps their chest and ensures that their opposition candidate will destroy O’Brien. They flood the neighborhood blogs with comments pertaining to such. Then O’Brien ends up winning handedly.

  8. Sawant is only now talking about representing District 3 in a real way, but don’t be fooled! She is doing this only because she knows her LACK of interest in D3 issues is a very valid criticism, and will likely mean her defeat unless she pretends otherwise.

    And her claim that Amazon “bought” Jenny Durkan in the last election is pure BS.

  9. No more activists in city government. Activist politics are a big reason this city is turning into a shit hole. #DrainTheSawant