UPDATE 11/9/19 10:45 AM: In front of supporters and volunteers who gathered for training on her campaign’s weekend ballot “curing” effort, Kshama Sawant declared victory Saturday morning in the race for the District 3 seat on the Seattle City Council.
“Our movement has won our socialist office, for working people,” she said. “The election results are a repudiation of the billionaire class…and the relentless attacks and lies…and working people have stood up and said Seattle is not for sale!”
“Working people, people of color, young people, came out in huge numbers to vote by overwhelming majority for our socialist politics and against this attempted hostile corporate takeover,” Sawant said to hoots and hollers from the crowd.
The declaration shared across her campaign’s social media accounts marked the end of a week of tallying election results made all the more dramatic by daily updates under Washington’s vote by mail system.
In her statement, Sawant put Seattle’s large companies who opposed her on notice that she does not intend to back down, calling her success in the election “as close a referendum on the Amazon tax as possible.”
She also called the vote “a repudiation of the billionaire class, of corporate real estate, and of the establishment.”
“And,” she added, “a repudiation of corporate media. Like the Seattle Times editorial board which used a lot of ink to spread lies and distortion.”
“I look forward to working with this new, progressive council to pass a tax on Amazon and the biggest businesses …this council has a responsibility to the working people who elected it,” Sawant said.
In her speech, Sawant acknowledged it had been a hard fought race.
“What also are made it close was a section of people who have been misled by right wing ideas, who are correctly angry about homelessness and the massive crisis in our city, but are blaming the wrong people for it,” she said.”
Egan Orion’s campaign had not yet conceded the race. CHS has been told a statement from the campaign will likely be made Tuesday.
Original report 11/8/19 3:42 PM: Incumbent Kshama Sawant is poised to become the senior member of the Seattle City Council. With Friday’s first of two planned updates from King County Elections, Sawant became the leader — and the probable winner — in the race for the District 3 seat representing Capitol Hill, the Central District, First Hill, and nearby neighborhoods.
In the latest totals, Sawant has now claimed a 513 vote lead over challenger Egan Orion after trailing by more than 1,700 in Election Night’s first count.
UPDATE 8:20 PM: The Sawant trend strengthened with the second drop of the night — the incumbent now leads by more than 1,500 votes. Sawant captured 59.3% of the vote in Thursday’s drop. Our math adding in Friday’s second drop shows the incumbent capturing a total of 58.6% of the vote captured for the day.
Saturday morning’s training session for Socialist Alternative volunteers to help with rejected ballots might turn into a victory speech. Sawant is slated to hold a press conference at 10 AM at Langston Hughes in the Central District where she’ll be “commenting on District 3 ballot returns.”
King County Elections said Friday night there will be no more updates until Tuesday afternoon with the weekend and the Veterans Day holiday on Monday.
But even as her camp awaited the likely good news of the afternoon update, Friday, Sawant’s campaign was spending the day rallying 150 volunteers — and raising a goal of $15,000 — to help Socialist Alternative mount a ballot recovery effort starting Saturday to help turn up any cast ballots rejected with issues like signatures that don’t match a person’s voter registration.
“Our chances of defeating Jeff Bezos in this election have greatly increased,” Sawant wrote in a please for support sent Friday.
“Imagine the confidence of working people in Seattle — and across the country — to fight for this type of progressive change if we can successfully stop the corporate establishment and the richest man in the world’s most determined efforts to buy our city,” the Sawant campaign email reads. “We know that that Amazon will leave no stone unturned. They will challenge votes in an effort to disenfranchise supporters. They will cure ballots too. The worst mistake we could make at this moment would be to take our foot off the gas.”
Neither campaign, meanwhile, was ready Friday to talk about recounts. In King County, mandatory recounts are only triggered when the difference is under 2,000 votes and there is less than 0.5% separating the candidates.
Sawant’s 2019 performance follows a string of victories in the city where her campaign and the Socialist Alternative effort have been able to successfully harness the power of younger, mostly renting voters and students to blast through to victory on the back of “late voter” surges. The weekend and hours leading up to the Election Night 8 PM deadline brought a heavy presence from Sawant campaigns workers and volunteers as both campaigns waged last minute get out the vote pushes. The first thing thousands of riders exiting onto Broadway from Capitol Hill Station Tuesday was a table of information and volunteers from the Socialist Alternative campaign imploring passersby to vote for their candidate.
Sawant’s work on issues close to the Socialist Alternative movement also won attention, supporters, and, yes, critics through the summer including a high profile push to save the Showbox, heavy involvement in tenant issues at the Central District’s Chateau Apartments, and an effort to push back on displacement of 12th Ave Ethiopian restaurant, Saba.
The latest results mark a full turnaround in what started as a triumphant week for the challenger Orion. What happened? Even as he was still beaming Tuesday night, Orion said the massive outlay of PAC spending from the downtown chamber and efforts from the likes of Amazon, Expedia, and Starbucks to back “pro-business” candidates had backfired. The “Amazon bomb,” he said, “played right into Kshama’s hands.” Orion campaign manager Olga Laskin said the backlash “reignited” Sawant’s campaign.
With more than $1.3 million in contributions to the various D3 candidates who were part of the race, the uber-expensive clash became a cash battle. Orion raised more than $400,000 in contributions while Sawant eclipsed his totals with a showing exceeding $520,000. But support from the downtown chamber and Amazon coalition pushed Orion financial support into a new stratosphere with more than $600,000 in PAC cash also flowing into the race to make the 48-year-old a million dollar-plus competitor. The cash flow resulted in an Orion advertising, mailer, and flyer blitz through October while the Sawant campaign mostly played the long game with a majority of its spending going to support a relatively huge campaign payroll.
It’s no secret what the companies were targeting. Last summer after the council’s more moderate approach to implementing a head tax failed, Sawant pivoted to focus on a “Tax Amazon” movement.
Then, with echoes of her long and successful “$15 Now” fight, Sawant made rent control the next big step in the Socialist Alternative movement and the new core in the battles she is waging in Seattle. CHS reported here on her proposed legislation that would tie increased rents to the rate of inflation.
Sawant also repeatedly attacked Orion on housing and homelessness, accusing him of using the same tactics as people who are “peddling Republican talking points.” Sawant focused her response on homelessness on larger issues of housing affordability and social housing, rent control, the expansion of tiny home villages, and the end of sweeps of encampments.
While Orion attracted many voters opposed to Sawant’s more radical positions and the criticism of her sometimes caustic approach to politics, his campaign was also dogged by a series of small but well-covered ethics complaints.
If Sawant wins, she’ll bring her version of stability and experience to a council undergoing a shift. The next council’s makeup is set for major changes with incumbents Bruce Harrell, Mike O’Brien, and Sally Bagshaw opting not to run for reelection.
Meanwhile, the backlash to the Amazon cash also helped Sawant secure key new allies — her fellow council members. The council’s two citywide representatives — Teresa Mosqueda and Lorena González allowed bygones to be bygones and moved beyond past criticism and distancing from Sawant to embrace the Socialist Alternative leader and a slate of progressive candidates facing chamber and pro-business opposition — Lisa Herbold in D1, Tammy Morales in D2, Shaun Scott in D4, Dan Strauss in D6, and Andrew Lewis in D7.
Herbold, Morales, Strauss, and Lewis also appear set to join Sawant.
Sawant’s strengthened position will also have City Hall impacts outside of council chambers where she seems likely to remain an adversary to Mayor Jenny Durkan’s more moderate and business friendly approach.
Sawant’s apparent victory will mean a third term for the council member and a second under the city’s new district system. The 46-year-old grew up in a working/middle-class household in Mumbai, India, where she studied computer science. Upon moving to the US, she briefly worked as a software engineer before earning a Ph.D. in economics. She finished her dissertation in Seattle after moving here for her then-husband’s job at Microsoft. Around the same time, Sawant started attending political meetings and rallies. During an anti-war meeting where an Iraq war veteran spoke, her eye fell on some Socialist Alternative publications on a table outside. Their analysis of class-based capitalism was something she could get behind. “And then I attended a meeting and then I never looked back.” While she cobbled together “a poverty wage” teaching at various universities and volunteering for nonprofits, Sawant’s star rose at Socialist Alternative. As the SA candidate, she unsuccessfully ran for the Washington House of Representatives in 2012, later beating four-term incumbent Richard Conlin for a seat on the City Council, where she has served since.
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