Metropolitan King County Councilmember Kathy Lambert apologized Friday for a political mailer roundly condemned as racist, after supporters of her campaign and longtime donors condemned her actions and withdrew their endorsements.
It was a seesaw development, as Lambert, as recently as Friday morning, continued to defend the mailer, before changing course later in the day.
Lambert, who’s facing a tough reelection after two decades of running mostly unopposed, sent the mailer, which portrays her opponent as a marionette and her colleague on the Council, Girmay Zahilay, as a puppet master.
In reaction, the Washington Association of Realtors and its local affiliate Friday morning rescinded their endorsement of Lambert and asked her to return the $1,000 they had given her campaign.
The Seattle Mariners, who had donated $500 to Lambert’s campaign before the primary, condemned the mailer and said they would now donate $1,000 to Lambert’s opponent, Sarah Perry.
Larry Gossett, the local civil rights legend who served with Lambert on the County Council for 18 years, rescinded his endorsement, calling her mailer “just racist” and “really wrong.”
Five elected officials in Lambert’s district, all of whom had been neutral in her race, endorsed her opponent Friday.
And The Seattle Times editorial board (which operates separately and independently from the newsroom) rescinded its endorsement of Lambert.
On Friday morning, Lambert defended the mailer, writing on Facebook that the mailer showed her opponent “will be a rubber stamp for bringing radical Seattle policies to the Eastside.”
But, hours later, she deleted the post. It was soon replaced with another, offering an apology.
“I need to apologize for the harm that the flyer has caused to Councilmember Zahilay, my colleagues, the public I have long worked for and appreciate and to my family,” Lambert wrote. “My dedication and heart are not to hurt, but to serve. This message is certainly not what was intended.”
She said she had fired her political consultant.
The mailer, created for Lambert’s campaign by 1892 LLC, a Republican political consulting firm, shows Zahilay holding the puppet strings, joined by Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant, Vice President Kamala Harris and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.
Zahilay’s face is edited onto a pinstriped suit and a red bow tie.
Big red letters label Perry, a former executive at Seattle University and other local nonprofits, a “socialist puppet” backed by “Seattle socialist leader Girmay Zahilay.”
Zahilay, earlier this week, denounced the ad as racist and inaccurate, noting that he’s not a socialist and he’s not the only County Council member to endorse Perry. But he is the only Black member of the County Council.
Six of the nine members of the County Council, Zahilay included, called the mailer “a racist piece of political mail” that “has no place in any public or private discourse here in King County.”
“That piece of mail was so ridiculous,” said Councilmember Rod Dembowski, one of the six who denounced the mailer and have endorsed Perry. “It wasn’t a mistake. I was shared a poll a few weeks ago that tested attacks on that messaging and then she sent it out and it’s not acceptable.”
Councilmembers Reagan Dunn and Pete von Reichbauer, the only two who had not earlier joined in condemning the mailer, did so on Friday. They said they had asked Lambert to apologize.
“We believe that elected leaders must do everything in their power to fight racism — that includes political speech,” said Dunn and von Reichbauer, the two other council members who have run as Republicans. “It was right of her to issue an apology and it is an important step forward.”
The Washington Association of Realtors has donated to Lambert’s campaign every time she’s run for office since at least 2009. Its PAC gave Lambert’s campaign $1,000 earlier this year. And its local affiliate, Seattle King County Realtors, endorsed Lambert’s campaign.
On Friday, the trade group reversed course. It called the mailer’s imagery “offensive and inappropriate.”
“Washington REALTORS hold our endorsed candidates for elected office to a high standard of respect for all people in the community and have zero tolerance for any expression of racism or discrimination,” Nathan Gorton, the group’s government affairs director wrote, saying Lambert’s campaign “fell far short of this standard.”
“Washington REALTORS condemn the Lambert campaign’s mail piece, support the Seattle King County REALTORS decision to rescind their endorsement of Lambert, and call on the Lambert campaign to return the contribution our PAC made to her campaign,” Gorton wrote.
Gossett, who served on the County Council for a quarter century before Zahilay defeated him in 2019, had initially endorsed both Perry and Lambert.
The County Council is technically nonpartisan, but Gossett is a Democrat and Lambert has run for office as a Republican. But, he said, they got along, he could always talk to her and he “worked pretty well with her.”
But after he saw the mailer, he called Lambert and asked her to take his name off her list of endorsers.
“It’s just racist. A Black man with a bow tie leading a white woman with four strings, saying that she’ll be a good socialist? It’s so wrong,” Gossett said.
Gossett, who founded the University of Washington’s Black Student Union and was a member of the Black Panther Party, said he himself was closer to a socialist or communist than Zahilay, who mostly worked in corporate law before being elected.
He specifically cited the outfit that Lambert’s campaign edited onto Zahilay.
“Why would you put a pinstripe suit and a red bow tie on Girmay?” he asked. “They’ve got him looking like a Black Muslim to create fear in white people.”
Lambert’s mailer led Rob McFarland, the mayor of North Bend, along with city council members in Issaquah, Snoqualmie and Carnation, to endorse Perry. All had been neutral in the race before Friday.
“We believe hyper partisan attacks have no place in our elections and most certainly not in governing,” the five elected officials wrote. “The incumbent has lost sight of this fundamental responsibility and it’s time for her to step aside.”
This appears to be the first time since 2011 that — barring extenuating circumstances, like a candidate dropping out — the board has unendorsed a candidate and endorsed their opponent.