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The Democratic Party Scrambles to Stop Kshama Sawant’s Re-Election

by Ann Montague

Kshama Sawant PosterKshama Sawant’s re-election campaign is in full swing. The Seattle Socialist Alternative candidate who won a seat on the Seattle City Council two years ago is mobilizing her supporters to win again. Her last campaign was centered on a grass roots movement for a $15 minimum wage which complemented the ongoing organizing of fast food workers by SEIU. Last time around she received endorsements from a lot of unions, but SEIU stuck with the incumbent. But this time all the SEIU locals in Washington (SEIU 775, 1199NW, 925, 6) representing 86,000 workers state-wide and 12,000 in Seattle, endorsed her campaign.

Sawant worked with the movement for $15 minimum wage and after being in office for just 6 months the Council passed an historic $15 minimum wage which will lift up 100,000 low paid workers, 25% of Seattle’s workforce, and an added $2.5 billion to their paychecks over the next 10 years. She also put together an alliance of tenants and community organizations to campaign against the Seattle Housing Authority’s announced plan for a 400% rent hike for low income housing units. She fought against the mayor’s budget as it did not include enough resources to reduce the increasing homelessness and end skyrocketing rents. She brought together a broad coalition of unions and affordable housing advocates to demand a people’s budget. They won millions in increased funding for social services. She led the fight for stronger enforcement of labor laws and funding for a year-round low-barrier women’s homeless shelter. Kshama was also key in helping to finally win funding for basic services for the city’s growing homeless encampments after years of needless delays and supported action in the Puget Sound against Shell’s plan to drill for oil in the Arctic.

Clearly the Democratic Party machine has noticed the departure of unions and rank and file Democrats who want to give another two years to the Socialist Sawant. The Democrats are fighting back this time around. On Monday, May 12th she submitted more than 3,000 signatures to qualify for the ballot. “It’s exciting to be able to run yet another grass roots independent working class campaign,” Sawant said.

This election will be the first in Seattle that moves to elect candidates by district and this is the first time that prominent elected Democrats have announced their support for the Socialist. They include King County Council member Larry Gossett and state Senator Pramila Jaypal.

As the Democratic Party sees their rank and file members and also elected officials leaving to support a socialist they are fighting back. The 37th District Democrats were planning on co-sponsoring a candidates’ forum with the 43rd District where Sawant had also been invited to speak. David Corrado, chair of the 37th District Democrats in Southeast Seattle seemed shocked, “Philosophically it’s a problem that we’ve never dealt with before. There has never before been an incumbent who is not a Democrat and who sits so far to the left of the Democratic Party.”

There were strong objections when some Democrats realized that they would have to be sharing the stage with the popular Socialist Sawant. The Executive Committee of the 37th District pulled out of the forum and decided to hold its own — without Sawant. They also declined to invite independent Josh Farris, a housing activist who is running against incumbent Bruce Harrell. Jeanne Legault a Democratic Party activist stated, “I felt outraged.” She drafted a petition to have Sawant included in the forum and It was signed by 76 Democrats in the district. After receiving the petition the Executive Committee of the 37th District Democrats decided to cancel its candidates’ forum entirely.

There are also veiled attacks on Sawant coming from the Mayor and City Council itself. Goldy, A popular Seattle blogger wrote a piece entitled, “Politicians with Zero Grassroots Support Aim to Curb Activities of Grassroots Supporters.”

Mayor Ed Murray claims his proposed ordinance is not aimed at Sawant but merely to clarify whether or not political activity related to official events organized by city staff is currently prohibited.

The language being proposed: “No elected official, or the official’s agent, shall engage in campaign activities at, or adjacent to, any official city public event that is organized by that public official or any employee of the official’s office. The campaign activities may not occur during the event or at any time that attendees of the public event are present.

It does not define “official’s agent” or “campaign activities.” Goldy questions: “If a Sawant supporter, on her own initiative were to pass out a Sawant campaign flyer on the steps of City Hall at a Sawant organized public forum, would that make Sawant legally liable for her actions? This ordinance would bar Sawant from organizing any official city public event by making her legally liable for any action taken by any of her ‘agents’ — whatever that means. This pretty much only applies to Sawant because she is the only elected official who can claim any meaningful grass roots support — a base that is sometimes unruly, undisciplined, and not under anyone’s control.”

If passed this ordinance could just be an irritant to the Sawant campaign or it could prompt a legal challenge from Democrats wanting to overturn Sawant’s reelection under section 2.04.500: “If the court finds that the violation of any provision of this chapter by any candidate or political committee probably affected the outcome of any election, the result of the election may be held void and a special election held within 60 days of such finding.”

If the Democrats try to overturn her reelection they will really find out what the unruly, undisciplined grass roots will do.

In addition, the Seattle politico blog Publicola reported that rich donors had a breakfast fundraiser to set in motion the plans for an anti-Sawant campaign. The article reports “hefty out of state donations are going to be coming in from top-tier donor counterparts from around the country”. In other words, Super PAC money will be pouring into Seattle to defeat the reelection of a socialist for a city council seat. The primary election will be in 60 days.