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.