Rent control was the topic on everyone’s mind at All Pilgrims Christian Church in Capitol Hill Saturday night as Seattle City Council member Kshama Sawant’s office and other local organizations hosted a rally to build momentum for the controversial — and currently illegal — policy.
But Sawant was nowhere to be found.
The Socialist Alternative council member who is facing a contentious reelection campaign for her District 3 seat excused herself from the event because of the threat of an ethics complaint for participating in a political rally after ballots have dropped for the August 6 primary.
Several of Sawant’s challengers for the seat criticized her in the lead-in to the rally for holding council-related events so close to the August 6th Election Day.
“Kshama is clearly using her city office to advance her political campaign by holding a city-sponsored rally and promoting it with her campaign,” entrepreneur and D3 candidate Logan Bowers said Friday, adding “Good policies and good leaders don’t need to resort to unethical tactics when they’re working in the interests of their constituents. We deserve better.”
“If Sawant is using city money to hold an election rally, I find this an egregious breach of trust and another reason why we need a change in leadership,” Broadway Business Improvement Area head Egan Orion said.
We're about to smash 10,000 petition signatures for #RentControl in Seattle b/c renters & working people know the rent's too damn high! Watch this short video and join us July 20 6PM @ All Pilgrims Church for the Rent Control Rally! pic.twitter.com/ovDlmhGvVm
— Kshama Sawant (@cmkshama) July 11, 2019
“The timing of the upcoming rent control rally is questionable. It would appear she is using this ‘City Council-sponsored event’ to her advantage,” neighborhood activist Pat Murakami told CHS. “Sawant jumped on the rent control issue late, only within the last few months.”
Even without the effort’s standard bearer, the night remained one dedicated to movement-building, and a raucous one at that.
“Justice happens because we make it happen,” said Nikkita Oliver, a 2017 Seattle mayoral candidate and founder of The Peoples Party of Seattle.
Sawant announced her rent control ordinance in mid-April, and since then a campaign has gathered more than 10,000 signatures for a petition on the issue.
“We have two choices,” Sawant said at a press conference at City Hall when she first announced her proposal. “One, just sit on our hands and expect that some day, in the distant future, the Democratic establishment will gather the courage to break from the real estate lobby and finally stand with us. We’ve done that kind of waiting for 40 years.”
“Or we can begin the fight here.”
In an early April letter to the council, the Seattle Renters’ Commission urged the body to implement rent control legislation that would be effective pending a lift on the state’s ban on the practice passed in 1981.
The council passed a resolution in 2015 pushing the Legislature to allow local governments to implement their own rent control policies.
Murakami added in her email that Sawant should concentrate on convincing state lawmakers, a necessary hurdle for any rent control measure.
“Rallies in Seattle aren’t going to change State Law, which is required for rent control to be a reality,” she said. “Sawant should be focusing on lobbying in Olympia if she is sincere about rent control.”
Clifford Cawton, housing chair for the Seattle King County NAACP, got at this point Saturday, saying he wanted to start with Seattle, then take the movement further.
“We shall stand in solidarity with our communities and demand that the Seattle City Council passes rent control, then we’re going to take it to the county, and then we’re going to demand a lift on the ban on rent control in Washington state,” Cawton said to some of the loudest applause of the evening.
In a recent survey of District 3 candidates by the Seattle Times, only Orion, who is endorsed by the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce, and Bowers said that the city could not benefit from rent control.
“I will not support a horrible policy like rent control,” Orion told CHS. “It would devastate our rental market. There should always be market forces at work; in a capitalist system like we have, that generally produces the best outcomes.”
Murakami, Seattle School Board member Zachary DeWolf, and public defender Ami Nguyen answered the Times’s question by saying the practice could “maybe” benefit the city. Sawant was the only candidate to unequivocally say it could help.
— HandsOffVenezuela!🌹✯✊ (@Last_Bolshevik) July 21, 2019
Many Seattleites, including representatives from several unions, came out in force on the balmy Saturday night to cheer for controls on rents that have skyrocketed in recent years and pushed people out of their homes.
“It’s not maybe rent control,” said Matt Maley, of the Seattle Education Association. “It’s we need rent control now.”
This urgency was a common theme among many speakers at the rally as some wished to move closer to their Seattle jobs and cut down on their commute or get closer to their child’s school.
The council’s Human Services, Equitable Development, and Renter Rights Committee, which Sawant chairs, is expected to discuss draft legislation for rent control for Seattle on September 11th at 6 PM at City Hall. By then, of course, Sawant will either be in a battle for her seat with the other top vote getter from the August Primary — or finishing up with a lame duck end to her tenure at Seattle City Hall.
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