Seattle City Councilmember Mike O’Brien’s endorsing Councilmember Kshama Sawant means every council member has weighed in on the big-money District 3 race.
In the big-money race for the Seattle City Council’s District 3 seat, every sitting council member has now picked a side, something Councilmember Mike O’Brien and others can’t remember ever happening before.
O’Brien was the final council member to weigh in, telling The Seattle Times on Wednesday he’s endorsing Councilmember Kshama Sawant.
Council members hardly ever back candidates challenging a colleague, and rarely do all get involved in one race. O’Brien and Councilmember Nick Licata are supporting Sawant while six others have endorsed her opponent, Pamela Banks.
“This situation is certainly unique, in my experience,” O’Brien said Wednesday.
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The council divide and the money rolling into District 3 are indicators of how important the contest has become to politics in the city and beyond, O’Brien said.
Sawant’s aggressive advocacy for objectives such as rent control and a $15 minimum wage have made her fierce enemies and passionate friends, O’Brien said.
District 3 includes Capitol Hill, the Central District, Madison Park and Montlake.
“This is, on the one hand, a race about one district in Seattle,” said O’Brien. “But this is also a bit of a litmus test. Will a relatively progressive establishment drive our policy or will a group of folks pushing for significant change in the way we do business?”
Councilmember Sally Bagshaw has endorsed Banks, president of the Urban League of Metropolitan Seattle and a former longtime Seattle government worker.
“I support her because I’ve known her as a community leader who brings people to the table and solves problems with an open door to everyone,” Bagshaw said.
”I believe council members should sit down and talk with other council members, solve problems together and not make an us-versus-them argument and definitely not trash their colleagues,” Bagshaw added, slamming Sawant without naming her.
O’Brien said he supports Sawant because of her work for a higher minimum wage and her advocacy for the environment, which has included opposing oil and coal trains and Shell Oil using the Port of Seattle as a base for exploratory drilling in the Arctic Ocean.
“There’s a theme getting pushed about whether (Sawant) is an effective, appropriate leader for the council,” he said. “Having worked with her on a regular basis, I know she’s a very effective leader whose fresh perspective makes the council stronger.”
Sawant’s campaign has raised nearly $400,000 while Banks’ campaign has banked more than $340,000, making their showdown easily the richest race in the city.
The next most moneyed contest is between Position 8 candidates Jon Grant, with more than $68,000, and Council President Tim Burgess, who’s raised about $370,000.
Sawant has 3,049 donors, including 658 (22 percent) in District 3 and 972 (32 percent) outside Seattle. Her average contribution is about $129, and many of her donors are union members and tech workers.
Banks has 1,201 contributors, including 492 (41 percent) in District 3 and 163 (14 percent) outside the city. Her average contribution is $284 and many of her supporters are people associated with the real-estate, restaurant and finance industries.
Independent spending in the District 3 race has been modest thus far compared with activity in the Position 8 contest and some other races. Progressive PAC Seattle, an independent-expenditure committee funded by union locals, has spent less than $16,000 for Sawant. SEIU Local 925 PAC has spent less than $4,000 for her.
But Neighbors for Banks, an independent-expenditure committee registered just five days ago, already has raised more than $10,000, mostly from business people.
Sawant’s campaign has noted that Neighbors for Banks was registered by Bob Ratliffe, an investment banker, former member of the Republican National Committee and Seattle University trustee at odds with adjunct professors attempting to unionize.
Banks has denounced the committee, which, like other independent-spending committees, is prohibited from coordinating with the candidate it supports.
“I call on Kshama Sawant to join me in repudiating all Independent Expenditure committees, including those assisting her re-election,” she said in a statement.
Licata said he endorsed Sawant last week to balance out the race after realizing six colleagues were backing Banks. Sawant has pushed the council to the left, he said.
In recent weeks, Sawant has pushed for stronger tenant protections. Banks has talked about loans for longtime small businesses and training former gang members to work as “violence interrupters” in the streets.
Bagshaw said: “People who live in (more affluent neighborhoods such as) Washington Park and Madison Park and Broadmoor and Montlake should have a representative who will talk with them … I believe one candidate will do that.”