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Councilmember Sawant signs her own recall petition

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Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant — Photo by Nate Gowdy
Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant — Photo by Nate Gowdy

Capitol Hill is currently embroiled in a political scandal, one that reflects bigger issues happening on the national scale. At the center stands City Councilmember Kshama Sawant, representative of Capitol Hill's District 3, member of the Socialist Alternative Party, and Indian immigrant.

Sawant has made a name for herself in Seattle as an advocate for the people. She strongly supports the rights of renters, has fought for a new rent control policy, and has called on the City to implement rent control, free of corporate loopholes, and a massive expansion of publicly owned and affordable housing. Sawant was also vocal about her mission to tax Amazon in order to provide emergency COVID-19 relief and fund housing.

Sawant's policies have been deemed "radical" by more conservative politicians, and now some are taking action. A campaign to recall Sawant has been circling Capitol Hill and will likely end up on the next ballot.

The recall campaign states that Sawant has misused City Council office resources and participated in electioneering, misused Sawant's position as a city councilmember by admitting citizens into City Hall after hours, and that she used her elected position to lead a protest march to Mayor Jenny Durkan's private residence.

If the recall movement receives enough signatures, these are the charges that will be presented on the ballot.

Signing the petition herself
Supporters of Sawant have opposed the recall, stating that Sawant has done nothing wrong, and all the accusations against her are really just retaliation for her progress in fulfilling her campaign promises.

However, a new twist was thrown into the conflict on the morning of Friday, July 9. On the steps of City Hall, Sawant spoke out to her supporters, and then did the unthinkable: she signed the petition in support of placing the recall on the November ballot.

I sat down with a member of Sawant's team, Bryan Koulouris, to discuss the new twist in this ongoing political struggle. "It's a very unique step for Kshama herself to sign the petition on whether or not there should be a vote for her to be recalled," Koulouris explained. "The message we are trying to send is that people shouldn't stand for voter suppression."

The voter suppression Koulouris is referring to would be waiting to hold the recall vote for a special election in February, instead of getting it on the November ballot. Special elections see far less voter turnout, especially in the demographics of the working class, young folks, and people of color. This is the base Sawant appeals to for support. In fact, political scientists estimate a 2022 February special election would have nearly 50% less voter turnout than a November 2021 election.

After hearing from the recall campaign manager that the group was hoping for a special election as opposed to running the recall in November, Sawant's campaign took a 180. "We're here to take the recall campaign up on its appeal for help in gathering the last round of signatures needed to make the August 1 deadline to get the recall on the ballot in November," Kshama Solidarity campaign manager Emily McArthur announced on Friday. "We believe the decision [regarding] the recall... of Kshama Sawant should be made by the largest possible District 3 electorate."

The charges
Despite signing the petition, Sawant's team still believes the campaign is using false language to deceive voters who are unaware of the real charges made against Sawant. The charges that will appear on the ballot were approved by Superior Court Judge Jim Rogers. They declare Sawant guilty of "misuse of City of Seattle Council office resources to promote a ballot initiative or other electioneering," "misuse of councilmember Sawant's official position in admitting hundreds of individuals illegally into City Hall after hours," and "using her official position as City Councilmember to lead a protest march to Mayor Jenny Durkan's private residence, whose location is in the state confidential program."

"The recall attack started in the courts, and we know the courts have been known to work against people who are oppressed," McArthur stated in the Friday press conference. "They exist to uphold the status quo. The courts have upheld Jim Crow and sanctioned pushing Indigenous people off their lands."

Koulouris broke down some of the charges. He explained that Sawant ran her campaign on a platform of enforcing taxes on Amazon, as well as providing rent control to Seattle's tenants. The first charge claims Sawant used $2,000 in city resources to promote her ballot initiative for the Amazon tax. "The way that they say it is patently false. The '$2,000 of city resources' was just her using her office to build a movement, not to build specific ballot initiative language, because it hadn't happened yet," Koulouris said.

However, according to the Seattle Times, "In a [May 7] settlement agreement with the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission, Sawant admitted to improperly using city money, employees, and other resources to support a proposed ballot measure. She also agreed to pay the city $3,516, about twice the amount of city funds she spent to advance the measure to create a payroll tax on big businesses like Amazon."

The other two charges against Sawant stem from Black Lives Matter protests. During the summer of 2020, Sawant participated in a BLM protest that ended up at City Hall. Later in the summer, she participated in another march, one that would end up at Mayor Durkan's residence. While the recall initiative phrases it to sound like Sawant led the march, Koulouris informed me that this was not the case. "The march was led by Indigenous elders and families of the victims of police violence, that's who led the march." He explained that the leaders of the march asked Sawant to speak and that "[Sawant] was not only not an organizer of the march, she didn't know the march was going to go to Jenny Durkan's house, and to this day, [Sawant] does not know where Jenny Durkan lives."

Koulouris and McArthur both believe it is crucial that the vote appears on the November ballot, in order to give Sawant the best chance to win the recall. A loss for Sawant, either in November or February, will be devastating to much of Seattle's low-income population, a high percentage of which are LGBTQ.

"Kshama has a tremendous amount of support in the LGBTQ community, because a number of the policies that she has fought for disproportionately benefit young people, and LGBTQ people in particular, and that comes from some things, like housing, because there is a disproportionate [number] of houseless LGBTQ people," Koulouris explained.

Sawant has run on the idea of giving a voice to the voiceless, and now she is calling on her supporters to use their voice to help her stay in office, so she can continue to fight for the rights of low income citizens in Seattle.