From Amy Hagopian, Precinct Committee Officer, 37th District Democrats
Around 150 people packed into the Ethiopian Community Center on May 20th to decide which candidates the Democratic Party’s 37th Legislative District would endorse in a number of local races this year. Following a spirited debate on the District 3 race, Council member Kshama Sawant “score[d] a ‘no consensus’ victory in the 37th,” as the Capitol Hill Seattle Blog put it. The rules of the 37th Democrats prevent us from endorsing candidates like Kshama who are not members of the party (she belongs to Socialist Alternative), so supporters of Kshama advocated for no endorsement.
Four Democratic Party candidates running for City Council in District 3 competed for the endorsement. But after four rounds of voting – with the weaker candidates eliminated each round – none of the Democratic candidates won even 50% support, much less the 60% threshold needed for a formal endorsement. The final round of voting was a simple yes or no proposal for a dual endorsement of Zachary DeWolf and Pat Murakami, but that motion was also defeated, with 51% against.
Many 37th Democrats declining to endorse recognize that on the issues that they care about most — affordable housing, climate justice, gender/racial justice, public schools, police accountability and worker protections — Kshama Sawant remains far and away the best representative for the District, despite not being a member of their party. The vote affirmed that for most grassroots Democrats, the party branding is less important to them than how the candidates stand and perform on the issues.
“The decision in the 37th can be chalked up as a loss for the most progressive of Sawant’s opponents,” according to the Capitol Hill Seattle Blog. “During the event, [Amy] Hagopian [a party precinct officer] ceded her time to allow Sawant to speak … [Sawant said] “The Chamber of Commerce and Amazon are fighting to take City Hall back to business as usual corporate politics,” Sawant said earlier in the night as she addressed the 37th. “Their goal in District 3? Anybody but Kshama Sawant. Why? Because they know that my office for the last five years has unwaveringly stood by and represented working people, people of color, and marginalized communities.”
The 37th decision was a big win. After her first surprise victory in 2013, and leading the charge to win a $15/hr minimum wage in 2014, big business and most Democratic Party establishment leaders combined forces to try and defeat Sawant in the 2015 election.
The 2015 District 3 race was the most expensive Council race in Seattle history, costing nearly $1 million. Sawant came out on top that year, in no small part because many registered Democrats supported Sawant’s working class platform above the policies and politics of their business-backed Party leadership. This was reflected in “no endorsement” votes by the 37th and 43rd LD Democrats in 2015, underlining Sawant’s substantial support among working class and grassroots Democrats.
This class divide seen in the Seattle Democratic Party around Sawant’s 2015 race was also reflected at the national level around Bernie Sanders primary challenge. Bernie’s campaign proved a growing openness to socialist working class policies was not limited to so-called “left-coast” cities like Seattle. Then, too, the party establishment chose a milquetoast candidate and swiped the nomination from the popular socialist contender..
The 2019 District 3 election is shaping up to be even more polarized – and more expensive – than 2015. Most of the Democratic Party establishment, especially elected leaders, appear to be lining up behind Zachery DeWolf’s campaign.
Business-backed Democratic leaders recognize that most voters – including most Democrats – are in no mood to replace Sawant with an openly pro-business candidate. So they offer up, DeWolf, whose political positioning suggest a progressive veneer but is devoid of anything objectionable to the Chamber of Commerce. So far, Amazon has donated $200,000 of the $700,000 war chest amassed in the Chamber of Commerce PAC. According to the Seattle Times, much of this is intended for the District 3 race to defeat Sawant. We believe DeWolf’s vague platform and lackluster performance on the Seattle School board will emerge during the campaign, prompting Democrats and progressives to stick with Sawant.
We can learn from the 37th District meeting. Reflecting the sharpending polarization of Seattle politics generally, several attempts to shout down speakers backing Sawant were made by supporters of DeWolf. Most egregious was when 12-year-old Natalya Rosenblum spoke in favor of Sawant, recounting how as a School Board member DeWolf had refused to meet with her and other students advocating for the school bus service to be brought into the public sector, while Sawant has actively supported the students efforts. Natalya was drowned out with shouts from DeWolf supporters when she attempted to finish the last sentences of her prepared statement.
With her strong record fighting for working people Sawant maintains continued enthusiastic support in her district, and was supported by an organizing effort in the weeks running up to the meeting, including a public appeal signed by 21 “Democrats for Sawant,” and an essay by Amy Hagopian published in the South Side Emerald which outlined this effort.
The 43rd LD Democrats will be holding their endorsement meeting on June 18th. We are encouraged that socialist and progressive Democrats there are also organizing to build the strongest possible movement for Sawant and the policies she has championed, like rent control, taxing the rich to fund affordable social housing, and organizing for a Green New Deal for Seattle.