Campaigns for and against a recall of Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant are gearing up now that signature gathering has begun in the attempt to oust Sawant.
Last week, the Recall Sawant campaign mailed petition copies and signature-gathering instructions to some voters in Sawant’s District 3, and the Kshama Solidarity campaign mailed literature to some voters arguing against a recall.
Spokespeople for both campaigns said they’re using the Postal Service to connect with voters rather than in-person canvassing, at least until the COVID-19 situation improves.
“We had to find out a way to do this safely,” said Henry Bridger II, campaign manager for Recall Sawant, adding, “We’ll see how this works” and reassess “in a couple weeks.”
In asking voters to gather signatures as volunteers, Recall Sawant hopes to save money that otherwise might have been spent on paid signature gatherers, he said.
Kshama Solidarity is focusing on “setting the facts straight” and getting volunteers and staff vaccinated “so we can look at the possibility” of in-person canvassing later, campaign spokesperson Bryan Koulouris said.
To secure a recall election (an up-or-down vote on Sawant), Recall Sawant must submit more than 10,000 valid signatures from District 3 voters (25% of the votes cast in 2019’s general election).
Only District 3 voters can sign, and only District 3 voters will be allowed to participate if an election is held. District 3 includes Capitol Hill, the Central District, Montlake and Madison Park.
The recall process allows 180 days for petition signatures to be collected; the clock began on April 22, when the ballot synopsis for the potential recall was finalized, so Recall Sawant has until mid-October.
If enough signatures are submitted, a recall election will be held as part of the Nov. 2 general election or as a special election at a later time, Bridger said. Voter turnout likely would be highest in November, when Seattle voters will elect a new mayor.
District 3 voter Ernest Lou launched the recall effort last summer, accusing Sawant of four offenses: delegating her office’s employment decisions to her political party, Socialist Alternative; using city resources to promote a “Tax Amazon” ballot initiative; letting demonstrators into City Hall during Black Lives Matter protests last June when the building was closed to the public due to COVID-19; and leading a Black Lives Matter march outside Mayor Jenny Durkan’s house despite knowing the address was protected by a confidentiality program because of Durkan’s past work as a federal prosecutor.
The Washington state Supreme Court ruled unanimously April 1 that three of the charges were sufficient, rejecting the charge that Sawant delegated employment decisions.
The role of the court in the recall process is to assume the charges are true and to determine whether they’re specific and serious enough to warrant possible removal from office. State law says the charges must represent “misfeasance, malfeasance or violation of the oath of office.”
Sawant has objected to the charges on various grounds. Many protests were allowed last summer and letting people into City Hall was within her discretion, she’s said. The council member didn’t organize the march to Durkan’s house; she only took part, she and other participants have said. Sawant used city resources only to promote discussions about a potential Tax Amazon initiative, before an official campaign was formed, she’s said.
The court rejected those arguments as reasons to block the petition, but Sawant now is appealing to public opinion. If a recall election is held, District 3 voters will decide whether the allegations are true and, if so, whether she should be removed.
In October, the court rejected a recall petition that accused Durkan of endangering community members by allowing police to use tear gas during demonstrations.
Sawant has been elected three times, most recently in 2019; normally, she would next face reelection in 2023.
More money has been raised in the Sawant recall battle to date than in Seattle’s mayoral race. Recall Sawant has raised $473,145 from 4,201 donors, with 36% in District 3 and 19% outside Seattle. Kshama Solidarity has raised $499,086 from 4,703 donors, with 25% in District 3 and 55% outside the city.
Kshama Solidarity, which has been endorsed by more than a dozen unions, has labeled the effort to unseat Sawant a “right-wing” recall, saying the campaign has attracted wealthy corporate executives as donors because they oppose her advocacy for renters and workers. The recall attempt also is part of a backlash against Black Lives Matter across the country, like state bills meant to restrict protesters, Koulouris asserted.
Many contributions to Recall Sawant have come from small donors, said Bridger, a self-described liberal Democrat who said he voted for Sawant in her first election.