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‘Recall Kshama Sawant’ — Court to decide if recall against District 3 leader can move forward — UPDATE: ‘Certified for election’

The homepage of the recall campaign’s site

UPDATE 4:44 PM: The recall campaign can move forward. Judge Rogers ruled Wednesday that the charges in the case are sufficient to certify the petition on the four allegations argued in the day’s hearing and that the matter can now move forward to the election process meaning signature gathering to place a vote on the ballot.

In the decision, Rogers outlined his role as gatekeeper and noted there is evidence to support both the recall effort and Sawant’s responses to some of the alleged improprieties. “(I)n this proceeding, this Court’s role is not to weigh factual disputes over allegations,” Rogers writes, “but to examine whether, if the the allegation, taken as true, are sufficient.”

Details on the four allegations that will move forward in the recall process are below. The full response from Rogers is embedded here..

Sawant was scheduled to make a speech to supporters following the decision. According to a Sawant representative, Sawant will launch an appeal supported by the City Attorney.

Judge Jim Rogers, top right, Iglitzin, top left, and McKay, bottom during the Wednesday morning videoconference hearing

UPDATE 12:30 PM: The closure of City Hall this summer due to the COVID-19 crisis and Kshama Sawant’s appearance at a protest outside Mayor Jenny Durkan’s Northeast Seattle home could be key factors in the decision on whether the recall effort against the District 3 councilmember should move forward.

In a Wednesday morning hearing, Judge Jim Rogers heard Sawant’s legal counter arguing against certifying the recall petition against her that would clear the way for a ballot decision on her recall next year.

In his presentation to the judge, Dmitri Iglitzin of the Barnard Iglitzin & Lavitt law firm representing Sawant argued the recall effort lacks “specificity” and said the issues cited are political and not legally substantial. “This is not a campaign event,” Iglitzin said.

Meanwhile, Davis Wright Tremaine lawyer John McKay representing the recall campaign said Sawant’s acts including opening a COVID-closed City Hall to protesters and participating in a protest in front of the “confidential” location of the mayor’s residence are violations worthy of the recall being sent to the ballot.

The hearing focused on four allegations against Sawant involving her participation in a brief June occupation protest inside City Hall, a rally and march to Mayor Durkan’s home at the end of that same month, the delegation of hiring decisions to Sawant’s political group Socialist Alternative, and the use of city resources to promote the Tax Amazon ballot initiative.

Two allegations from the original proposed petition related to Sawant’s involvement in protests at the East Precinct and the formation of CHOP were dropped by the recall group’s attorneys.

McKay argued Wednesday that Sawant’s leadership at the City Hall rally violated the mayor’s order for closure of public buildings during the COVID-19 crisis as she “used her passkey” to access a “locked city hall.” Iglitzin countered that the recall group failed to show “why she is not allowed to do that” and that there was “no clear legal basis” for arguing that having a rally about Black Lives Matter was a violation. “What rule or law is that supposed to violate?” Iglitzin asked.

Iglitzin also faced challenges in arguing against the allegations over Sawant’s participating in the June Black Lives Matter rally and march to Durkan’s home. McKay said it was impossible to believe Sawant’s stance that she was unaware of the location of the “confidential address” of Durkan’s “family home.”

CHS coverage from the June protest was also cited during Wednesday’s hearing

Iglitzin told the judge he had “great personal sympathy for Mayor Durkan” and “the safety concerns she has but that the allegation that Sawant did not protect the confidentiality of Durkan’s home address was “a political attack” on her participation in activism. Sawant didn’t lead the march, Iglitzin said.

Durkan has accused Sawant of “using her official position” to lead the march to the mayor’s home “despite the fact that it was publicly known I was not there, and she and organizers knew that my address was protected under the state confidentiality program because of threats against me due largely to my work as U.S. Attorney.”

The two sides also tangled over the two issues already raised with the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission.

The first over Socialist Alternative’s influence over Sawant’s office including personnel matters was dismissed by the SEEC last year. McKay cited media coverage from Seattle City Council Insight detailing financial, staff time, and hiring decisions as providing substantial evidence for the argument that the issue should be part of a certified recall petition. Iglitzin, meanwhile, argued that the way Sawant runs her office illustrates only that the council member takes “ideology very seriously.”

“The issues involved there should be determined by the citizens of Seattle,” McKay said of the issues around the political group.

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Debate over the seriousness of Sawant’s use of City Hall resources in the Tax Amazon campaign was the final allegation argued Wednesday. Iglitzin argued that any violations were not substantial enough to warrant recall and said there has been a “resurgence” of recall petitions for political purposes.”

McKay countered that the recall backers weren’t attacking Sawant’s “political views of affiliations” or her “style of office holding — which is certainly unusual.”

In discussions following the arguments, Rogers questioned whether any city employees truly complained about the City Hall protest and whether the mayor herself corroborated the location of her home in public statements following the protest. He also asked for more information about Sawant’s delegation of “discretion” to Socialist Alternative.

Rogers said he would decide whether to grant certification by the end of the day.

Any decision could be moved to appeal to the state Supreme Court.

What happens if all of this goes forward? Here’s how we understand the situation after talking with a City Hall spokesperson. If the petition is certified, enough signatures are gathered among D3 voters to make the ballot, and D3 voters eventually vote for a recall, the empty district seat on the council would be filled in the same process used when a member resigns or retires: a call for candidates to fulfill the rest of Sawant’s term and a council vote to determine the interim councilmember. For partisan positions in the state, the recalled official’s party would form a selection committee. That won’t be happening for the nonpartisan Seattle council.

UPDATE 9/17/2020 8:20 AM: Sawant released a blistering statement on the decision and said she will appeal the ruling.

“While working people should be angry at this outcome, we should not be surprised,”  the Sawant statement sent to media reads. “The laws and courts and police under capitalism do not serve working people, people of color, those already marginalized under capitalism. They are made to hold up the status quo of deep inequality, of violence, of racism, sexism, of ruthless exploitation of the whole working class and the environment.”

The Sawant fight isn’t the only recall battle going on in the city. Mayor Jenny Durkan’s case has also been appealed to the state Supreme Court.

ORIGINAL REPORT: This time last year, Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant was locked in a tight re-election battle in a race that many saw as a referendum on the future of the city. She, of course, surged ahead and won her third term on the council.

Now, Sawant faces another challenge to her seat as critics launch a recall campaign calling for an election to decide if the polarizing council member should remain in office after alleged violations of the oath of office.

Wednesday, the King County Superior Court is set to review the recall campaign’s petition before the signature gathering process can begin as Sawant supporters rally to defend the Socialist Alternative councilmember who has been in office since 2014 “against the right-wing recall campaign.”

“It’s the right thing to do and nobody is above the law,” recall Sawant campaign spokesperson and treasurer Henry Bridger tells CHS. With more than three years left on her term, Bridger says the issue is too urgent to wait to vote her out: “Should the Congress not have impeached Trump?”

CHS reached out to about a dozen donors named in recent campaign filings and the lawyers on both sides, none of whom responded. The recall effort’s lawyers are from the law firm Davis Wright Tremaine and include John McKay, who served as U.S. Attorney during the George W. Bush administration.

“Several signature issues and causes have made Sawant a lightning-rod in Seattle politics,” Sawant’s lawyers wrote in a recent court filing calling on a judge to dismiss the recall petition, tracing her campaigns for a $15 per hour minimum wage and to tax big business. “Subsequently, Amazon and Seattle’s other major business interests have become increasingly active in their attempts to remove Sawant from her position on the Council. Having failed to unseat her in two regularly-scheduled elections, most recently in 2019, her opponents have now turned to the recall process.

A summary of the charges leveled against Sawant, her declaration in the case, and the declaration of recall campaign leader Ernie Lou are below.

The petition being prepared against Sawant describes the handing over of council office duties to the national Socialist Alternative apparatus. Specifically, opponents say she relinquished the hiring and firing of office staffers to the political organization and in one case allegedly allowed the Socialist Alternative Executive Committee to decide to terminate an employee.

If approved on legal requirements, the recall proponents would have until early 2021 to gather a little over 10,000 signatures — or 25% of the nearly 43,000 votes cast in her November 2019 race — to send the issue to the voters.

Organizers have outlined four acts they say Sawant has made while in office that warrant sending the recall to the ballot next year. Most of the charges are from this year and relate to her response to protests over the past several months against police brutality and systemic racism.

An ethics complaint alleging Sawant misused her position on behalf of Socialist Alternative brought to the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission last year by then-District 3 campaign opponent Logan Bowers was dismissed.

“Fundamentally, I believe that elected officials are free to structure their decision-making process as they wish, subject to the will of the voters every four years,” SEEC director Wayne Barnett wrote in his March 2019 decision. “Campaigns are won and lost based on voters’ estimations of whose interests elected officials are serving and whose interests they are not. I do not find the way Councilmember Sawant makes her decisions to be a misuse of the position.”

Bowers told CHS this week that despite disagreeing with the councilmember on issues, he doesn’t think a recall is appropriate, saying “I encourage anyone who — like me — is unhappy with Sawant’s performance, to support a better candidate to challenge her in the next election.”

The recall effort also argues Sawant misused her office and flouted coronavirus-induced social distancing restrictions in opening City Hall to hundreds of protesters in one night in June. In arguing the court should dismiss the recall petition, Sawant’s lawyers with the Barnard Iglitzin and Lavitt law firm say that gatherings such as the First Amendment-protected demonstration are exempt from Gov. Jay Inslee’s proclamation and that city council members can invite guests anytime.

The protesters occupied the entrance to City Hall for about an hour, chanting, making speeches, and even at one point singing that Mayor Jenny Durkan needed to resign from office.

They also say she similarly used her official position to lead a march to Durkan’s home in July, a confidential address protected because she had received threats during her tenure as U.S. Attorney for Western Washington, showing what recall leader and D3 resident Ernie Lou called a “reckless disregard for the safety of Mayor Durkan’s family and children” in a court filing last month.

Lou’s declaration in the case is below. We’ve also included Sawant’s declaration. The documents are mostly legal in nature but some statements are surprisingly personal. “I am a liberal-minded voter, as I believe a majority of the citizens in Seattle’s District 3 are. I personally support the $15 per hour minimum wage, Medicare for All and the Green New Deal. I am a Democrat and have always voted for Democrats at the city, county, state and national levels,” Lou’s reads.

“I therefore support some of the Councilmember Sawant’s policy goals,” he says. “Unfortunately, Councilmember Sawant is very divisive and tries to achieve her goals via intimidation and bullying.”

In her declaration, Sawant lists her record of accomplishments with the council as “the first socialist to win a seat on the City Council since 1877, likens her participation in the protest at Durkan’s residence to that of a “private citizen,” and said she did not know the mayor’s address.

Sawant says that City Hall was open to the public on the day of the protest occupation. “City Hall was open to the public on June 9, 2020, and no rules that I am aware of prohibit me from inviting personal guests of my choosing into the building with me at any time I choose,” the declaration reads. “My fellow councilmembers also invite guests, there have been nighttime rallies in City Hall previously, and I am additionally aware that City Hall has, until recently, hosted an overnight homeless shelter.”

Sawant’s 2019 general election opponent Egan Orion condemned both the Durkan and the City Hall protest, but added “no one should be surprised by these tactics given her history.”

“I think those incidents merit further scrutiny and accountability but I worry about us trying to use the recall to settle political scores,” Orion told CHS. “I believe in stable and good governance and I think the misuse of this tool could easily undermine that. Do I think Sawant often undermines our attempts at good governance too? Yes, most of the time. But people knew that and elected her anyhow.”

Sawant argues she did not know the mayor’s address and did not lead the march, so the recall campaign can’t prove she intended to commit an unlawful act.

The final allegation is the use of city resources to support a Tax Amazon ballot initiative earlier this year that also failed to comply with public disclosure requirements. The SEEC fined the campaign $2,500 earlier this month over late filings on more than $100,000 in contributions.

Since last month, the recall campaign has raised over $40,000, with most of its donors shielded from disclosure because they’ve given less than $25. Only more than a dozen donors listed their names and addresses while the remaining 1,700 contributors are considered “unitemized contributors” because they gave less than $25, as first reported by The Stranger.

Orion confirmed to CHS he gave the recall effort the email list of about 2,500 of his supporters from last year’s election that he thought might be interested, but says he is not involved in the recall.

Brad Augustine, owner of Madrona Real Estate and developer and manager of several Capitol Hill properties, says he has been involved in the early stages of the recall process and that a formal committee is forming to run the effort.

Augustine acknowledges that Sawant held off efforts he supported to defeat her last November.

“We lost and she won,” he says matter of factly. After facing a deficit on Election Night 2019, Sawant clawed back with late ballots to defeat Orion by over 4% — or less than 2,000 votes.

But he says the stakes have gone up with Sawant’s actions since reelection and during the Capitol Hill Organized Protest, the highly controversial space also known as CHOP that sprouted following the police vacating its East Precinct in early June.

Bridger, the recall campaign treasurer, acknowledges it’s an uphill battle for his side, noting “the standard for recall is high but we are very optimistic.” He added that the grassroots strength of the campaign proves there is an outpouring of people who want Sawant replaced. How many of the contributors so far are from District 3 is unclear, but almost all of the listed donors are from outside the district, including one from Renton and another from Bonney Lake, about 40 miles south.

If it makes the ballot, only voters in District 3 would be able to vote on the recall.

Bridger says the campaign is going to need lots of cash as court proceedings could get expensive, especially if appealed to the state Supreme Court. In one 24-hour period earlier this week, the campaign raised over $3,000 through its site, he said.

On the other side, while Socialist Alternative maintains a “solidarity fund” that accepts donations “to help build social justice movements” and the city council approved legislation Tuesday that means the city will foot the bill for Sawant’s legal representation.

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28 thoughts on “‘Recall Kshama Sawant’ — Court to decide if recall against District 3 leader can move forward — UPDATE: ‘Certified for election’

    • I don’t like Kshama at all. But I’m dismayed by both this recall campaign and the one against Durkan, whom I also dislike. Both deflect time, money and energy away from the ONLY fight that matters right now — removing Donald Trump and his congressional enablers from power. Do you seriously think recalling Sawant and/or Durkan is going to improve your life if Trump gets another four years with a Senate (and maybe even House) majority? Focus, people, focus. Please.

    • Nope, not just right wing loonies who support the recall. I voted for her twice and support it. She abused her power and put the community at risk by opening up city hall and having a protest there during a pandemic. How is this any different than the right wing mask-less gatherings (protests, motorcycle rallies etc.) that people have rightly been upset about? It’s not.

      Also MarciaX – we can multitask. All corrupt people need to be removed from power, not just those on “our” side.

      • It’s not a question of multi-tasking. It’s a question of resource allocation. Every dollar pledged, every volunteer hour worked, to recall Sawant or Durkan is a dollar, or an hour, that could have gone to the Democratic candidate in a tight congressional race, of which WA has at least a couple. Recalling Durkan and Sawant is not going to make Seattle a better place if it helps Trump’s congressional enablers stay in power. Choose wisely where you spend your time and money is all I’m saying.

    • James you may love her not all of CD loves her and she violated 4 big things and the mayors house was a big one as she was on a national protection list due to the fact she worked under the Obama and when she lead a march to her house it endangered her and her family

  1. Sawant bit off more then she could chew in trying to bully the mayor, supporting violence during the protests, and trying to overthrow democracy. Leave it to a faithful Capitol Hill residents to take her out – AWESOME use of the few civic tools afforded us. Get your bags packed and resume in order Sawant – clocks ticking!

    • Good question that I’ve been working to confirm. Sounds like this is how it work. Also added up top.

      **If** the petition is certified, enough signatures are gathered among D3 voters to make the ballot, and D3 voters eventually vote for a recall, the empty district seat on the council would be filled in the same process used when a member resigns or retires: a call for candidates to fulfill the rest of Sawant’s term and a council vote to determine the interim councilmember. For partisan positions in the state, the recalled official’s party would form a selection committee. That won’t be happening for the nonpartisan Seattle council.

  2. I for one have been disappointed by some of Sawant’s actions, but among them one stands out – allowing people to congregate inside in close quarters, singing and yelling, during a pandemic. People taking over city hall is a powerful thing but during a pandemic it is foolhardy and also threatens the life of front-line janitors, who suffer disproportionately from covid. I voted her in – I am not eager to spend city resources on this. But I am ready to vote her out.

  3. As one of the district’s few Republicans, I’ll sign the petition but vote against recall. Having to fight recall will cow Sawant but keeping her on the council helps our framing of progressive causes by letting us attach her to them which can’t be accomplished if she’s just a rando community college adjunct pulling in $40K teaching Intro to Macroecon.

    A mainstream liberal capitalist with elite support like Egan Orion is utterly useless as a bogeyman.

  4. Ugh.

    I didn’t vote for Sawant. I’ve not been in support of much of what she’s done, I won’t vote for her again.

    But guys, we’re supposed to be a representative democracy, we have elections and she won.

    While I find her divisive and ineffective, I don’t think she’s done anything flagrant that justifies removing her from office prematurely.

    This is further eroding our trust in the political system and institutions.

    Suck it up and get a better candidate to run against her next cycle.


  5. “we’re supposed to be a representative democracy”

    Recall is part of democracy. We’re not talking about some extra constitutional procedure. Our democratic representatives created Recall to maximize the opportunity of the people to democratically express their will.

    A Recall election is an election. It’s weird to argue having an election is undemocratic.

    • I agree a recall *is* an election… it’s simply one that the constituents demand outside of the normal election cycle…. In many places/levels of government a recall doesn’t require any specific complaint against the elected official at all – simply the dissatisfaction of a large enough proportion of the electorate to, in effect, vote the subject of the recall out early.

      Even if here and at this level of government the rules require a accusation of wrongdoing, that standard apparently a judge has found that standard has been met…. I’ll happily sign the petition and vote for the recall.

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