As the Tuesday election deadline looms for the recall of Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant, voters in her council district should get their ballots in to oust her from office two years ahead of schedule. The council can appoint a more scrupulous public servant.
Since winning her third council election in 2019, Sawant has repeatedly abused her authority with performative chicanery, shrugging at City Hall norms and the needs of a district stretching from Montlake to the Central District to Little Saigon. Residents and business owners complain she ignores their pleas for better city services, as described in a Nov. 23 public letter from 70 Black, Asian and Jewish leaders.
As the recall ballot states, Sawant spent public money on personal political causes, then used her City Hall keys to bring in hundreds of people for a protest speech in violation of a pandemic closure. She admits both acts. The Washington State Supreme Court unanimously ruled each is “factually and legally sufficient to support recall,” meeting the high threshold set in the state Constitution. Voters deserve this power to turn out an elected official who repeatedly abuses authority, rather than sitting helplessly for the remainder of a term. It’s time to use it.
Sawant disputes the third court-approved recall charge, concerning Sawant’s leadership role in a protest at Mayor Jenny Durkan’s home. That address is protected in a state confidentiality program. Sawant’s weak retort is that she didn’t “lead” marchers to the house and that she has never known Durkan’s address.
This denial rings hollow. During Sawant’s onstage speech in front of Durkan’s house, she reportedly spoke critically of the “Richie Rich” neighborhood. Shortly afterward, Sawant’s council Twitter account retweeted notes of gratitude “for speaking @MayorJenny’s rich house,” as one put it. Curiously, those notes appear to have vanished from Sawant’s timeline.
Sawant is campaigning hard to change the subject to ideological debate. Voters should not be fooled.
The 250 words of Sawant’s defiant ballot response invoke “the corporate elite,” the former president, “racist right-wing backlash attempting to criminalize protest” and various other conjured specters. It contains at least one evident falsehood. The statement says “Kshama didn’t break the law” — yet Sawant signed an admission May 7 she “violated the Seattle Ethics Code and the Election Code.”
Sawant campaigns behind this rhetorical smokescreen on a flood of out-of-town money. Of $953,173 Sawant’s campaign had raised by Dec. 1, 54.3% came from outside Seattle. Only 17.7% of Recall Sawant’s funding comes from beyond city limits.
Sawant’s allies have erected a handful of sidewalk tents around renter-dense Capitol Hill to hawk on-the-spot votes against the recall. A tabletop printer at each uses a cellphone connection to dispense ballots for district voters, inches away from anti-recall leaflets and posters. Visits to four outposts Wednesday found campaign staff energetically denouncing the recall while offering assistance with casting ballots. These “grassroots voting stations” exist beyond reach of Washington’s prohibition on electioneering at government voting centers, an omission the Legislature should correct to keep municipal elections clear of hands-on activism.
Sawant must not eke out a win under such dubious tactics. District 3 voters should insist on better representation and turn out to recall Sawant in the name of accountability.