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In Africatown ‘showdown,’ Sawant and Orion trade blows over who shows up — and who calls each campaign’s shots

Stills from Africatown Seattle’s video of Friday’s forum

Tensions have been building in District 3’s Seattle City Council race for months.

After a recent forum, candidate Egan Orion even texted CHS: “Gloves are off.”

This friction was only intensified after Amazon’s recent $1 million contribution to the business-friendly Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce’s political action committee, which has endorsed Orion over Socialist Alternative incumbent Kshama Sawant.

In recent days, Sawant has been able to earn the support of fellow progressive city council members who had been reluctant to endorse her due in part to her sometimes polarizing governing tactics. The tech giant’s heavy-handed spending has apparently changed their minds.

These tensions spilled over into a Friday night forum — just a week and a half from election day — at the Central Area Senior Center as Sawant and Orion swapped jabs on their attendance records and the sources of their support: the chamber for Orion and the national network of Socialist Alternative for Sawant. 


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The sitting council member landed the first blow, calling out Orion for missing several recent candidate forums, including a Monday debate on housing, despite him repeatedly pushing the persona of someone who will be there for the community.

“My opponent has continually said he’s going to show up, he’s going to listen,” said Sawant, who has also declined to attend events, including a forum hosted by the Seattle Police Officers Guild earlier this month, naming several debates Orion has missed. “We do need people who will show up; we don’t need people who will say they show up and then they don’t show up. And it’s not just about showing up and listening, it’s about fighting for marginalized communities. You can listen and yet speak with two sides of your mouth.”

After Monday’s forum, Orion told CHS in a text message he would skip some forums to focus on meeting with voters. “We’ve had dozens of forums on every topic imaginable and while they’re important, this race is about representing District 3,” he said. “I’d rather listen to my future constituents than talk more about issues about which my views are widely and well known.”

Friday night in the Central District, Orion responded to Sawant’s attacks by slinging mud back at the incumbent, claiming she has also missed some of the most important forums of the election cycle. It was unclear which events he was speaking about.

Orion also claimed Sawant has frequently cancelled meetings of the Human Services, Equitable Development, and Renter Rights Committee, which she chairs.

“You’re paying the council member to do a job and then the biggest crisis that we have right now around homelessness and around displacement, it’s her committee that manages that,” Orion said. “And she cancelled nearly half of those meetings; the worst record of any council member. Those are the absences that you should be counting.”

Sawant called the remise false, and said she had a “long track record of bringing community to City Hall” or holding hearings in the community. As CHS reported in July, Sawant brought her committee to the Central District to talk gentrification, one example of her neighborhood efforts..

KING 5, citing public records, reported in March that the committee had cancelled four meetings in early 2019 and, at that point, had cancelled 13 of its last 18.

That being said, in the same answer, Orion voiced support for a higher earners income tax to fund housing championed by his opponent, arguing that the wealthy and large corporations are doing the best in Seattle.

However, the rhetoric heated up when the candidates were given the opportunity to pose questions to each other, with Orion taking the first stab, calling Sawant out for prioritizing her national profile and, in his estimation, turning her back on the district she represents.

The incumbent responded, saying “it’s patently false to say I don’t show up” and compared the attacks on her campaign and herself to the civil rights movement and Martin Luther King Jr.

“I’m in honorable company when I hear big business and their spokespeople attacking me,” Sawant said, being momentarily drowned out by hail pelting the Central Area Senior Center during Friday night’s freak storm that crossed Seattle.

Then, when the moderator mistook Orion for District 2 chamber-backed candidate Mark Solomon, Sawant said, “You might as well be” the same person “because you’re standing for the same things.”

Sawant used her question to claim Orion has flip-flopped on policy positions depending on the audience and attack him for seeking the support of the Chamber: “How are you going to escape your corporate masters?”

Orion used this prompt to note his small business bonafides and, in fact, decry the big money being spent on this race even if it’s in his favor.

“You’re going to think that this is disingenuous… but I’m appalled by the level of money that special interests, whether they be the labor union PACs or big business or otherwise, how much they’re pouring into this race,” he said. “The people of District 3 are gonna be able to decide on their own who they want to vote for.”

Orion added that his campaign has raised much more of its money from within the district. As of Wednesday, nearly 61% of Orion’s campaign funds have come from within the district, while that number is 27% for Sawant, according to the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission. Although, as CHS noted earlier this week, Sawant had 864 more donors from within the district than Orion.

The forum, which included a D2 debate and was hosted by Africatown Community Land Trust and others, was live-streamed on Youtube and can be watched here.

Ballots are due by 8 PM on November 5th. You can find all of CHS’s Election 2019 coverage here.

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20 thoughts on “In Africatown ‘showdown,’ Sawant and Orion trade blows over who shows up — and who calls each campaign’s shots

  1. “…and compared the attacks on her campaign and herself to the civil rights movement and Martin Luther King Jr.” My eyes couldn’t have rolled any further into the back of my head when I heard her make this comparison.

    • Agreed. What arrogance to put herself in the same company as Mr. King, who was a compassionate man who tried to unite people and not divide them.

      And what hypocrisy for Sawant to attack Egan for not showing up, when she is far more guilty on that score as he is.

  2. Won a few new Sawant supporters yesterday campaigning on 12th ave. I am so proud of the extra support she’s getting from long time and new CD residents!

    • Did you also tell them that voting for the Democratic nominee in 2020 is no different than voting for Trump? Are you going to the Democratic National Convention and berate progressives (including those in swing states) to get them to NOT vote Clinton, to vote Stein instead? Are you going to campaign your case nationally that Warren, Biden, et al. are no different than Trump?

      Sawant did all these things in 2016.

      I for one don’t trust the judgment of someone who cannot discern the difference between having a President Clinton vs a President Trump, or does know the difference but puts any microscopic advancement of their “movement” above all else, including above the welfare of millions around the globe.

      Does that make you proud?

      • James,
        The inability of sawant and her supporters to see all issues in anything but black and white, all or nothing is the exact reason why she should not be holding public office.
        sawant should be a community activist where she can focus on the issues that she is passionate about, most of which impact a small percentage of the constituents in her district.
        If as a public servant you are unwilling to act on the concerns of the majority of
        the people you represent then you should step down.
        Yell the kurds that trump is no different than hilary, tell the environment that trump is not different than hilary.
        tell women who are sexually harassed daily by men that trump is no different than hilary.
        Your childish views about not getting exactly what YOU want so fuck everyone else is why we are in the mess that we are in.
        Grow up.

  3. Did you also tell them that voting for the Democratic nominee in 2020 is no different than voting for Trump? Are you going to the Democratic National Convention and berate progressives (including those in swing states) to get them to NOT vote Clinton, to vote Stein instead? Are you going to campaign your case nationally that Warren, Biden, et al. are no different than Trump?

    Sawant did all these things in 2016.

    I for one don’t trust the judgment of someone who cannot discern the difference between having a President Clinton vs a President Trump, or does know the difference but puts any microscopic advancement of their “movement” above all else, including above the welfare of millions around the globe.

    Does that make you proud?

  4. I will say that i applaud sawant for changing her poster designs, it used to very easy to target the red posters to tear down, now i have to look more carefully as some are white, some green and purple.
    Thanks for keeping me on my toes.

    • Attacking legally placed candidate signs, is akin to attacking political speech, a protected right of everyone in D3 and beyond. It also makes you more like extremist supporters of Trump and Sawant, who take every opportunity to suppress political opposition to their “movements.” Leave the legally placed signs on place. Attack the message.

      • no it is not
        just as they are legal to put up, they are also legal to take down.
        i will fight the message in my own way, thanks for your input

      • Well, cd, if you can take down Sawant signs, your version of fighting the message, so much for my Orion signs. And I place them legally on my property only to have them disappear within days. That is suppressing my right to free speech, and I think it is wrong no matter which candidates supporters do it.

    • @cd resident

      You are in the wrong, legally as well as morally. According to the RCW, it is illegal to remove or deface yard signs without authorization (https://app.leg.wa.gov/rcw/default.aspx?cite=29a.84.040). On top of your actions being illegal, it is just plain rude and divisive. Why tear down a Sawant sign when you could do something more civically involved and mature, like attending candidate forums or legally installing your own yard sign?

      • Evan: So its okay for Sawant carnivores to break into condo buildings to distribute flyers but your complaining about this being illegal? WTF??? hypocrisy at its finest I guess!!!

    • My Orion yard sign was stolen a couple of days after I placed it. This is happening on both sides, probably in equal measure. I have to admit that I have been tempted to remove some Sawant signs, but I have not done so, because it’s just wrong.

  5. Hopefully Sawant left her bullhorn at home as bringing it to a contentious event where the Africatown founder is present has not gone well in the past.

    Legit question for those opposing gentrification in the CD: How is Sawant not a gentrifier? She’s a millionaire who moved in to D3 in order to establish residency so she could run for office – and she paid a suspiciously low amount for her house (I sold a house in the same neighborhood 15 years ago for what she paid for her house quite recently – seems she got a heck of a deal). So a millionaire moves in, pays well below market for her house, and is somehow NOT gentrifier?

  6. Thank you for all your reporting on this race. Is it possible to verify that Sawant has cancelled around half of the meetings for the committees which she heads (environment and human services?) Is this a big deal or routinely done? How has it disrupted the ability of the council to get work done?

    I voted for Orion but I am so mad at Amazon for pouring in money and upset that Orion has not repudiated it, that I am inclined to vote for Sawant, with her apparently ineffective ways and poor vision. But I want to know exactly what we are getting into. Well, my request for your next round! Thanks again!

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