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Three Seattle City Council incumbents coasted to re-election Tuesday, while a fourth held a smaller lead over a socialist challenger in initial returns.

Richard Conlin, who has been on the council for 16 years, said he viewed his 53.6 percent — 46.1 percent lead as insurmountable.

But challenger Kshama Sawant did not concede, citing the fact she gained 2 percent in votes counted after the night of the August primary.

(Read more about Sawant’s reaction and tweet predicting Conlin’s political demise.)

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Sawant, the first socialist to make the general election for the council in 22 years, said in a statement that “regardless of the eventual result, this is a tremendous victory.”

In the only other race that had been seen as somewhat competitive, first-term incumbent Mike O’Brien took 64.4 percent of the first returns against challenger Albert Shen, who was at 35.3 percent.

The race between those two initially centered on O’Brien’s friendship with Mayor Mike McGinn but later revolved around public safety.

Shen, a 46-year-owner of a small civil-engineering firm, said he wanted to reintroduce an ordinance to ban aggressive panhandling on city streets. O’Brien, 45, said that was not needed and would hurt poor and mentally ill residents.

Nick Licata and Sally Bagshaw each cleared 80 percent in Tuesday’s returns against challengers Edwin Fruit and Sam Bellomio.

But the closest of the races was the Conlin-Sawant battle, which in recent days had gotten national attention.

Sawant, a 41-year-old economics instructor at Seattle Central Community College, focused her platform on a $15 minimum wage, rent control and a millionaire’s tax, earning praise for bringing attention to those issues and giving Conlin a surprisingly stiff challenge.

The minimum-wage idea was later taken up by both candidates for mayor.

Conlin, 65, said he preferred to raise people out of poverty through training programs and a sound city economic strategy.

Sawant’s performance in initial returns was surprising to many because Conlin had never before won with less than 60 percent of the general election vote since being elected in 1997.

On Tuesday night, Sawant supporters gathered at an Election Night party on Capitol Hill celebrated the success of the campaign.

Ramy Khalil, the campaign’s manager, said it showed there is an alternative “to the two corporate parties.”

“Even if we don’t actually win the seat, we’ve already won, because we’ve changed the debate in the city,” Khalil said.

In an interview, Conlin said the close result was probably due to his long tenure on the council.

“When you’re looking for a fifth term, I think people hold you to a higher standard,” he said.

But he added that, “I think my opponent ran a very strong campaign and clearly tapped into some interest that people have.”

Brian M. Rosenthal: 206-464-3195 or

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