Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant’s relentless attempts to paint Mayor Jenny Durkan as a two-dimensional corporate shill are tiresome in the best of times.
During this historic moment of pandemic and protests, Sawant’s dogmatic activism is making a difficult situation worse.
Sawant’s accusations ring false. Seattle has an accomplished, smart and dedicated mayor who has supported police reforms since her time as U.S. attorney. Agree or not with her every move in response to massive Black Lives Matter demonstrations, the mayor is in a difficult position — balancing an obligation to ensure public safety with honoring the rights of protesters who are understandably outraged and demanding change.
Sawant could have engaged the mayor in civil debate over these nuanced issues without selling out her beliefs or her constituents. Instead, the council member chooses hyperbolic rhetoric and political grandstanding.
Sawant absurdly called for Durkan’s resignation or removal over crowd-control tactics that were legal when police deployed them. Marching with supporters to the mayor’s home, an address legally protected because of her law-enforcement background, was a reckless breach of confidentiality that exposed the mayor and her family to potential harm.
Durkan took the bait, requesting that the city council investigate whether several of the council member’s recent political activities warrant punishment or expulsion. It was a reasonable move in theory, but given the city’s political climate, it was doomed to fail.
Sawant’s response was predictable bombast. In a written statement, she called Durkan a “corporate politician desperately looking to distract from her failures of leadership and politically bankrupt administration.” She blamed the mayor for “a torrent of violence by Seattle police.”
Small wonder that City Council President M. Lorena González declined to pick up the issue as the mayor requested, instead urging the parties to set aside “personal and political grievances and work together.”
Vigorous debate is healthy for democracy and should be expected between two elected leaders with such different perspectives. But it is difficult to weigh the seriousness of Councilmember Sawant’s concerns when she peddles such embroidered accusations.
Perhaps Sawant feels she has a mandate to use every possible means to further her agenda. Certainly, constituents knew exactly what they were getting when they reelected her last November. But she would do well to remember that voters also sent Durkan to City Hall.
The City of Seattle is facing an extraordinary number of challenges, including flagging revenues, the continuing menace of COVID-19 and important discussions about policing. Managing these issues — not to mention longstanding issues of homelessness, transportation and routine city business — will take sustained cooperation.
Sawant should find ways to be constructive during these difficult times.