Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant’s bullying breaches of city governance since reelection have trampled civil norms and even potentially endangered the mayor. A unanimous state Supreme Court showed this situation is extraordinarily serious when it agreed that a citizens group’s multiple charges were legally sufficient for her constituents to decide whether to recall her at the ballot box.
Three charges meet Washington’s high bar of malfeasance, misfeasance or violation of oath of office for a recall vote if true, the court found. Capitol Hill residents should support the “Recall Sawant” group, led by Capitol Hill resident Henry Bridger, in holding the District 3 council member to account. Voters knew Sawant was a rabble-rouser when they first elected her in 2013 and reelected her twice. But time and again, she has used her powerful municipal platform for combative denunciations — of city leadership, business interests and anyone “one little inch off-step,” as Bridger put it.
Her actions since the 2019 election have breached her duties too flagrantly to ignore. To force a recall vote, 10,687 of District 3’s 76,073 registered voters must sign petitions by late September. That’s a reachable goal in a district where more than 20,000 ballots went against Sawant just two years ago. She won 51.8% of the votes. District constituents should take a hard look at what has happened since and support the recall election.
Here are the charges:
- Sawant spent city money illegally in early 2020 to campaign for a “Tax Amazon” ballot initiative. She spent $2,000 of council funds supporting this cause, along with supplying picket signs and phone banking. Sawant shrugged and pleaded ignorance of the law. Way to take responsibility.
- She led hundreds of people into City Hall June 9 for a protest, even though the building had long been shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition to being a foolish public health risk, this outlandish act looks chilling in hindsight after the deadly insurrection at the U.S. Capitol Jan. 6. There was no reported violence at City Hall. Her response? Another shrug.
- And Sawant took a leading role in an angry march on Mayor Jenny Durkan’s home June 28, then repeatedly offered evasions. She denies that she led the march, even though she took a speaking role. She denies that she gave out Durkan’s address, which is protected under a state confidentiality program. But it had to come from some insider. Supreme Court Justice Barbara Madsen wrote in the April 1 ruling that Sawant “says that she does not know, nor has she ever known, the home address of Mayor Durkan,” even though she marched to the house with a crowd and gave a speech. Voters ought to be skeptical.
District 3 voters deserve better — including an explanation for why Sawant believes such provocations are acceptable. She did not respond to an interview request.
While she is silent in this moment, the record is clear. For all Sawant’s prowess at marshaling public attention, her incivility has overstepped acceptable behavior. Council President M. Lorena González also failed to show leadership to restore a semblance of municipal norms. Instead, González declined in July a request from Durkan to investigate Sawant’s disorderly or otherwise contemptuous behavior.
District 3 voters should decide if they still support the council member and her tactics. Citizens displeased with this style of representation were right to seek redress via recall. The state has a high bar for recall charges to move forward, and the Supreme Court is no rubber-stamp.
Sawant’s support for her defense fund leans heavily on outside interests. City records show 65% of her $426,000 war chest for the recall campaign comes from outside Seattle.
While her actions have wounded governance citywide, District 3’s residents and business owners have been directly shortchanged. They deserve a champion of safe streets and good homes for all, not a mouthpiece giving performative actions for global causes a higher priority than sidewalk-level constituent needs. Sawant shows no contrition. She will not do better.
The accomplishments in her first term, including leading the charge for a $15 minimum wage, showed a keen attention for fighting inequity often counterbalanced by troubling divisive rhetoric. Days after the 2016 police killing of Che Taylor, Sawant called the act a “brutal … and blatant murder” at a rally. Police officers sued her. Seattle funded Sawant’s defense until a judge dismissed the case. She said in 2013 just after election that Boeing workers should take over the factory to build buses.
That was talk.
Her escalating misconduct since her 2019 reelection requires extraordinary accountability. Sawant’s recall should go to her voters. Eligible voters should sign the petition.