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Three weeks before ballots drop, tensions rise as Sawant and Orion square off in Town Hall debate

“Please do not clap, do not cheer, and certainly do not boo.”

Such was the request from Seattle CityClub, the organizer of last night’s City Council candidate debate for District 3 at a packed Town Hall on First Hill.

It turned out an impossible ask, as supporters applauded and cheered when incumbent Kshama Sawant was welcomed to the stage, and fans of challenger Egan Orion seemingly tried to surpass the decibel levels just moments later.

Applause returned soon when Sawant hit the ground running when she called Orion a “poster child for big business” and took aim at the Amazon and Vulcan-backed Political Action Committees’ expenditures on Orion’s behalf, just moments after he made his first pitch.

Orion had said he would be equipped to serve in public office because he had served his “community” with his work at PrideFest and brought “a collaborative style of leadership” to the table.

“Unity and collaboration and coalitions with whom?” Sawant asked. “We know what corporations like Amazon and chamber of commerce are trying to do. They are trying to flip City Hall to the right.”

The comment set the tone for the rest of the debate — and potentially the rest of the campaign through November 5th — with jabs on both sides, either followed by applause or finger-snapping, one thing the organizers had not explicitly discouraged. 

But even as they sparred at times about campaign funding and accountability, and disagreed on rent control and the Employee Hours or “head” tax, Orion and Sawant agreed on some issues.

Both supported the new King County Regional Homelessness Authority. Both said that small environmental/design and street calming improvements, such as speed-bumps (Sawant) and revitalizing an empty parking lot (Orion) in the Central District could be a solution to gun violence in the area and that community members supported it. Both praised the efforts of the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion program.

They also both said the city needed more density, and both favored a tree ordinance. Both also were not in favor of downtown congestion pricing, though Orion hinged his support on “an equity option to address workers traveling downtown.” Sawant said there was none and that public transit should be expanded instead.

Both also avoided responding to questions directly, including one about whether they supported Mayor Jenny Durkan carving out more money to better recruit and retain police officers in her new budget proposal.

Orion brought up the recent stabbing near Cal Anderson and the police being “spread hyper-thin” that night due to another emergency, which was covered by a conservative pundit at MyNorthWest. “And so what if the next emergency was something that impacted you or your neighbors? We need to shore up the police’s — not that we necessarily need more police, but we have to stabilize the police force,” Orion said.

Sawant didn’t comment directly on Durkan’s budget increase either, but noted that “the police department of Seattle is the most funded department”  and that Seattle needs a police force that serves “ordinary people.”

“Many people, including LGBTQ people, will tell you they don’t go to the police because they actually had the opposite experience,” she said and called for more accountability through an independently elected police oversight committee.

Orion and Sawant diverged on plenty of issues, too. Highest up on that list: Sawant’s recent draft legislation for rent control in Seattle.

Sawant defended her proposal, citing recent rent control measures and “momentum” in New York, Oregon, and California. “This is the bill that Congresswoman [Alexandria] Ocasio-Cortez just released today or yesterday on rent control,” Sawant said while holding up a printed stack of papers. “And it is the same exact same policy that we have.” She also said that outreach with small landlords about rent control would be critical, and claimed many of them agreed with her proposal.

“The small landlords that she’s talking about, this would totally destroy their livelihood,” Orion countered when he took a stab at her proposal “released just six weeks before the election after six years of talking about it.” He argued it would not work and would “destroy the thing that you actually want to do.” Orion said he supported anti-rent gouging measures and a renters’ fund instead.

Orion did not repeat his earlier support for rent control à la Oregon.

“My opponent will never tell you how he is going to fund these emergency funds or any other proposal because his corporate benefactors are going to be absolutely opposed to any progressive measures to raise the revenues,” Sawant countered.

By which Sawant, of course, meant something akin to the head tax. “I would proudly push for [the head tax] again,” Sawant said, while Orion said he didn’t want to “go back and keep on fighting those old fights.”

“I think one thing that we learned from the head tax debate is that residents didn’t trust city council. One poll showed that 8% of voters trusted that council would use the head tax funds wisely,” Orion said, promising he’d work to regain trust as he repeated his pitch for a more accountable and transparent governance.

The sharper disagreements, however, were over campaign funding and accountability, as a Council Member, and as someone backed by money from corporations. Sawant read aloud some names of Orion’s campaign donors who also had backed Republicans, and Orion called out Sawant’s support for Jill Stein.

“What we need is elected officials who will not play games, telling one audience what they want and another audience the exact opposite,” Sawant said, while Orion took aim at her tenure and said: “We need someone who builds bridges, not burns them.”

A tense moment came after Sawant was asked about repeated cancellations of meetings of the Human Services Committee she chairs.

“The calculations that the corporate media has used for meetings is absolutely nonsensical,” she said. “These numbers are completely wrong and inaccurate.”

“You don’t have to ask the quote-unquote corporate media,” Orion responded. “You can just ask her colleagues at city council; she has the worst record of holding meetings for any committee chair. So either Council member Sawant doesn’t believe that we’re in a homelessness crisis or she’s not telling the truth.”

Campaign funding was a key issue that came back time and again. When asked what he would counter to Sawant’s claim that Amazon is trying to buy this election, Orion said “if you want to know about a person’s priorities, you should take a look [at] where the money that’s going directly into their campaign is coming from,” saying Sawant’s financial support from within D3 was at only 25% to his 60%. (Sawant later said she had more donations from within D3.)

“Let’s look at some examples,” Sawant said of Orion’s donor list. “Billionaire John Stanton, who has donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to Republicans. Richard Hedreen, owner of multiple hotels, known union buster and again, a known Republican supporter — and the list goes on and on.”

With the hugely expensive campaign moving into its final weeks, stakes were high Thursday night and even possibly well-intentioned moments on the Town Hall stage took on greater meaning on social media as video of the debate was made available online and voters began dissecting the forum on Twitter and Facebook.

Orion provided a tinder-dry moment for the social media fire in response to a question asking both candidates to name a District 3 resident who best typifies who they are working to serve. Sawant named a small landlord who also is a union member and a childcare provider. Orion named a couple who recently opened a new small business in the Central District.

“Kiana and Devon, the owners of The Postman at MLK and Union,” Orion said, are an “example of what Black business owners can do” if they have community support and “put their minds to it.”

Even a few supporters admitted the statement made them groan.

Back on stage, as a lightning round with one-sentence answers and later an “Overrated/Underrated” round — both like Volunteer Park, Orion likes Spinasse and Bamboo on Capitol Hill, Sawant prefers Saba in the CD— brought some levity, both candidates ended with familiar issues in their closing statements.

Sawant criticized “corporate politics,” and called for action and policies such as rent control, expansion of social housing, and a green new deal, all funded by taxing big business.

Orion repeated that he’d be the one to listen and show up to solve the homelessness crisis through a housing-first approach and treatment on demand for mental health and addiction, among other issues.

And then, right when Orion and Sawant shook hands, the pent-up boos were finally released as the moderator thanked Amazon, one of its main sponsors for the night.

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62 thoughts on “Three weeks before ballots drop, tensions rise as Sawant and Orion square off in Town Hall debate

  1. “The calculations that the corporate media has used for meetings is absolutely nonsensical,” she said. “These numbers are completely wrong and inaccurate.”

    This sounds like something Trump would say…

  2. “…..the pent-up boos were finally released as the moderator thanked Amazon, one of its main sponsors for the night.”

    Then everyone went home and returned to buying all kinds of stuff on Amazon…

      • You guys ever think we WANT to shop at those places. This is the problem with capitalism. You’re forced to spend money for food at places you hate because you’re too poor to own land and grow food yourself.

      • Yeah, the problem with capitalism is it prevents us all from living our dream as subsistence farmers. And this from socialist urbanites who can’t tell the difference between corn and wheat plants.

      • @Derek

        Yeah, because we’re all forced, FORCED I tell you, to shop at Whole Foods. Amazon’s armed thugs come into our homes and drag us to Whole Foods to buy their lettuce and cheese and celery-flavored waters!!!!!

        Please, with all the national, regional, and co-op options in Seattle you can’t possibly say that anyone that opposes Amazon is buying from them because they are “forced”. If you buy from them it’s because you WANT to buy from them; because it’s convenient. Don’t play it any other way. Your guilt may come AFTER your purchase when you realize you “betrayed” the party. But ultimately, you have choices. And if you are bad-mouthing Amazon at Sawant rallies and then ordering that next day delivery of toilet paper right after; then, maybe, you’re part of the problem?

        Either that or you are just a human being trying to make the best of this life. Who knows?!

  3. Sawant is such a hack. What’s with all the Amazon anger? Is she and her Bolshevik crowd mad that they employ hundreds of thousands of well paid people who contribute to the Seattle/world economy? Wow what a crime! As best as I can tell, Amazon provides opportunities for small vendors to sell their goods and services at a low cost which they wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford at a brick and mortar location. I’m really tired of all this BS. Do Socialists have any innovative ideas that lift people up? They seem to be all about bringing everyone down to shitsville. Sick of all this.

    • No one’s upset at fast package delivery (or S3 webservices). It’s the hundreds of thousands of dollars they’re spending to swing local elections to the right, their stalwart resistance to even minuscule taxes to build affordable housing, and their repeat abuses of the laborers who work the warehouses, to name a few.

      There was a healthy showing of alternative candidates in the primary, but Orion rode to the top of the ‘pack’ because the PAC money made it possible.

      I’m not the only software engineer supporting KS, and it’s not because we ‘hate’ Amazon–it’s merely time that they paid their fair share.

      • Exactly. Orion made a pretty good pitch and I’d strongly consider voting for him if he weren’t taking Amazon and the Chamber’s money. He didn’t have to do that! Plenty of people in this district find Sawant both personally tiresome and seriously deficient in important aspects of the councilmember’s role in the community. He would have been well funded through individual contributions. I don’t care for that Polyanna-ish slogan of his but cuturally he’s a progressive enough Democrat. Probably better than at least half of the Dems currently in Congress.

        But we cannot, and I mean cannot, allow a newly energized and motivated local class of tech billionaires and corporate interests to buy themselves a new council because they don’t like the current one. If we let them succeed because we’ve turned decidedly cool to Sawant, they’ll keep throwing their weight around election after election. We have to make it clear that Seattle won’t stand for that and if they want to be popular here, they have to bend their companies to fit the city’s political culture, not bend the city’s political culture to fit their companies. So for me at least, Sawant is who it’ll have to be. Sigh. If we can defeat Orion, hopefully next time we’ll have a better choice.

      • Bezos has committed $2b to to help with housing and other services for the poor. and if you’d ever gone into an Amazon warehouse you would know how ridiculous the claims are of people being abused are. I was just in one on a humid 95 degree day in New Jersey and not a single person was breaking a sweat

    • Pretending like Amazon is good because they gives us jobs is like an evil monarchy is good because they allow us to mow his kingdom’s lawn.

      • Some of the comments by the sawant supporters make my smile and I could never figure out why, then I remembered it was one of my favorite scenes in holy grail

        Peasant Woman: Didn’t know we had a king. I thought we were an autonomous collective.
        Dennis: You’re fooling yourself. We’re living in a dictatorship! A self-perpetuating autocracy, in which the working classes…
        Peasant Woman: Oh, there you go, bringing class into it again.

  4. Thanks for that comprehensive coverage. For all Sawant’s flaws, no way am I voting for anyone so bought an paid for by Amazon (Orion), so Sawant has my vote by default.

  5. Well, these comments are preaching to the choir (just as this debate appears to have been…)

    My two cents: I liked Sawant when I first moved out here 4 years ago. She had a different perspective and that felt refreshing.

    4 years later… I’ve been disappointed with her inability to get anything done.

    She’s also just kind of rude – I’m chill with her talking about how Amazon sucks or how rent control is great if that’s her political position. But yelling about it during city council meetings where the topic is preventing deaths from the Ducks or other unrelated topics… That does more harm than good.

    • It wasn’t all preaching to the choir. I was undecided when I walked into that event yesterday. My two favorite candidates, Bower and DeWolf (in that order) unfortunately didn’t make it past the primary, so I’m forced to choose between two candidates I’m not excited about. Orion won my support last night. I think his collaborative style will be a nice change that will allow much more to get done.

      Sawant sounded way too Trumpian from the very beginning, when asked why she’s canceled 13 out of 16 committee meetings, she avoided the question and went straight into her stump speech. She dismissed the question as fake news.

      I’m tired of her waging war against anyone that doesn’t believe in her 19th-century anti-market ideology. Market-based pricing due to supply and demand is fundamental economics 101 backed by a century of research. Setting prices for something like rent at below-market rates and expecting everything to be fine is just foolish. There will be a massive shortage of housing as demand exceeds supply (i.e. people will no longer be able to find anything for rent in Seattle if her rent control measure happens). You’d think someone with a PhD in Economics would get that.

      I’m tired of her using her position to hold campaign rallies at City Hall and calling them “committee meetings”, as she did on Monday so that her campaign doesn’t need to pay for the event. That kind of mixing of public funds with campaign funds is also way too Trumpian.

  6. I’m just here for the hilarious anti-Sawant commentors who have convinced themselves yet again that she’s going to lose in a landslide.

    *popcorn eating intensifies*

    Disclaimer: I am not pro-Sawant.

      • Derek, lol. There was just a whole mess of Ms. Sawant “supporters” removed the other day from the rent control comment thread for being sock puppets. No a good look my man.

        Agree with RapidRider though, don’t see this being a landslide win unless a whistleblower comes out with evidence that Ms. Sawant is trying to bribe the Mayor of Kent for dirt on Mr. Orion’s son. Even then…

      • Why, then, are you the only Sawant supporter commenting on an important article so close to the election?

      • think how happy all the Sawant non-fans will be if she loses. Not only because she will have lost, but because they’ll get to sit back and watch all the Sawant minions lose their minds in a massive meltdown. That’ll be almost as good as telling her “adios, Feleciana”.

  7. Remember, although the vote is binary (Sawant or Orion), this doesn’t accurately weigh a voter’s alignment with the candidate. It very well could be that when someone votes for Sawant, it’s more of a vote AGAINST Orion than a vote FOR Sawant, and vice versa. For all we know, John Stanton dislikes both candidates but simply dislikes Orion less.

  8. Everytime I hear Ms. Sawant say some company/person is trying to “swing the Council to the right” it makes my eyes roll so hard that my optic nerve turns inside out. Fact: You have to go really far to the right of Sawant to even reach a centrist position on the political spectrum in Seattle. So while it may be true that the direction is right, it’s absolute hogwash to say Orion is a right wing candidate or anything remotely close to it.

      • Really? Are you saying real estate investors want homeless people all over the streets? They want drug users and broken RVs and rats eating people’s tomatoes?
        If I were a real estate investor in Seattle, I ran the place, and I wanted to make money, I’d clean it up and make it much more livable.

      • Which city-level elected officials are in Amazon’s pockets or real estate developers’ pockets? It ain’t Durkan, Mosqueda, Gonzalez, Harrell, O’Brien, Herbold…I could go on but you get the point.

      • Derek, those are some steep claims. Could you please provide sources or evidence?

        Otherwise, I’ll give your comments the level of attention they deserve (e.g. none).

      • @Derek

        I appreciate you providing a source. So Amazon contributed to CASE, who then threw their support behind Durkan. Thus, Durkan *indirectly* received contribution from Amazon. This is an important distinction, especially considering how Durkan threw her weight behind the head tax that Amazon hated so much. This goes to show that indirect contributions do not equate to literal puppet strings. Durkan doesn’t bend over backwards for Amazon.

        On a related note, this is why I have confidence that Orion is not a puppet for Amazon despite having received similar indirect contributions via CASE.

      • @Derek

        You know what? You’re right, she probably knew where that money came from, but she acted against their interests all the same. Durkan ought to be admired for that, IMO. She clearly has the capacity to not bend to the wills of someone just because they flash some cash. How are you not getting this?

        If this is how voters think, maybe Amazon ought to form their a new PAC and then donate to Sawant through that PAC. Give Sawant supporters a little cognitive dissonance.

    • Evan – you do realize that less than a month later the City Council rescinded the head tax by a vote of 7-2, with Mayor Durkan also voicing support for repeal. And why? Because of pressure form Amazon, clearly and explicitly.

      I’m also not a huge Sawant supporter. But — choosing the head tax as your evidence that the city government doesn’t do Amazon’s bidding is pretty ironic (and hilarious, and hilariously ironic).

      • @Derek

        I am aware that the city council repealed the head tax. But why would Durkan and the city council sign something into law in the first place if one (or both) of them are in Amazon’s pockets? Your theory would hold more weight if they never passed the law in the first place.

      • @Steve. You have a very short and selective memory. The head tax was repealed because there was a groundswell of public opinion that the City Council would not spend the extra money wisely, and the Council/Mayor actually responded to this. I’m sure Amazon played a role, but it was not the primary reason for the repeal.

  9. Some of these comments for Sawant and against Amazon are true but not useful. KS likes to paint everything black and white but they’re just not. That Orion has received money from the likes of Amazon does not mean that he’s been bought or is their ‘poster child’. What we need is someone who will engage the big money groups and effectively negotiate real problem solving along with getting those groups to seriously up their dollar support for keeping a system alive that has served them so well. Kshama Sawant’s tactics of not playing nice because it doesn’t work, vilifying opponents with inflammatory rhetoric and cheering on a mob mentality will not result in the kind of effective negotiation we need with those corporate groups – my opinion. I hope that Egan Orion is the better politician for that work and I hope that in the upcoming weeks he will be able to convince his potential constituents that he’s not a corporate tool and that he starts to demonstrate his ability to bring his bigger $ support entities to the problem solving table. It appears to me that the KS supporters are ‘idealogy’ first and happy with the emotional charge that brings rather than willing to look at what a less extremist approach can yield in terms of positive benefits for the immediate future.

  10. Is this the same Derek who got booted off of the recent rent-control thread?
    I think this person is really a Poe: Pretending to be a dumbsh!te liberal is indistinguishable from being a dumbsh!te liberal.
    “Derek” throws out wild claims, and when asked to back them up, throws out more wild claims.

    Same thing happens over on mynorthwest dot com, but the posters on on the “opposite” side of the political spectrum.

  11. I wanted an interesting alternative to Sawant, but this guy ain’t it. He has an unimpressive work and policy background, which this site has captured well. He doesn’t know that PACs hold political positions (?!!) and he hasn’t finished studying for the police accountability part of the test. Read his latest interview for yourself:

    He also proved yesterday that he doesn’t know how to talk about race. Red flag, people!

    With all the money, political consultants, and charm school training in the world, he’s just not up to the task. Boy, the chamber must have been really hurting for a like-minded candidate to back this guy.

    Sawant isn’t my favorite but this guy is a hard pass. Maybe he should try a suburban city council instead? Or a mosquito control board? The state Apple Commission? Lots of other great opportunities to serve.

  12. Only in Seattle can a gay community activist get painted as a Koch brother. This city’s politics are toxic and dysfunctional, and Kshama is a big contributor.

    She’ll probably win again though, same game plan as Trump. Energize your base, hope everyone else is too apathetic to vote.