As Henry Bridger arrived on Capitol Hill on Saturday to gather signatures for a ballot initiative to recall Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant, he trumpeted an admission by the politician that he predicts will help persuade voters to oust her.
In a Friday settlement agreement with the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission, Sawant admitted to improperly using city money, employees and other resources to support a proposed ballot measure. She also agreed to pay the city $3,516, about twice the amount of city funds she spent to advance the measure to create a payroll tax on big businesses like Amazon.
Sawant’s admission that she violated city ethics and elections codes confirms one of three charges now being made by the recall effort.
“She has denied it, denied it, and now she comes forward to admit that she actually did break the law. And that’s huge,” said Bridger, a Capitol Hill resident serving as chair and campaign manager of Recall Sawant. He said he planned to tell people about it as he asked for their signatures.
Bridger also said recall supporters are demanding Sawant resign. She would otherwise be up for reelection in 2023.
Sawant and an aide did not return messages Saturday seeking comment.
The agreement — which must be approved by commissioners, who are scheduled to vote on it at a special meeting Monday — notes Sawant has said she believed she was not prohibited from supporting ballot measures not yet filed.
But the commission’s director has consistently held that city officials are barred from promoting ballot measures, “actual or proposed,” according to the agreement. And the state Supreme Court, which last month ruled three of four original charges were factual and serious enough for the recall effort to go forward, backed that interpretation.
John McKay, a former U.S. attorney for Western Washington who is representing those seeking to remove Sawant, said Saturday it was “remarkable” and “unprecedented” that a council member conceded an allegation found by the Supreme Court to be sufficient for a recall.
He acknowledged, however, that voters will have the ultimate say if the recall campaign gets the 10,000 signatures it needs from Sawant’s District 3 to put her removal on the ballot. The campaign, which began gathering signatures about a week ago, has until mid-October to meet that threshold.
Only voters from District 3, encompassing Capitol Hill, the Central District, Montlake and Madison Park, can weigh in.
“Let’s hope the voters get the message,” McKay said.
In the past, Sawant, who belongs to the Socialist Alternative party, and supporters have aggressively denounced the recall campaign as a tool of right-wing and big business interests.
A “Kshama Solidarity Campaign” website says this: “Kshama did not break the law or use City resources to promote a ballot initiative. What big business is really angry about is that the Amazon Tax passed! …
“The charges attack Kshama for participating in a community meeting that discussed a possible ballot initiative — this is like a ‘thought crime,’ being accused simply for discussing a grassroots initiative before one even exists.”
The agreement says Sawant did more than attend a community meeting. She, or employees at her direction, created posters for the tax measure imprinted with a city seal; posted hyperlinks on her council website to sites promoting the proposed initiative, some of which listed Sawant as a member of its coordinating committee; and spent at least $1,759 in city funds on ads, posters, phone banking and mass texting services.
The recall campaign also accuses Sawant of letting Black Lives Matter protesters into City Hall last June despite the building being closed, and leading a march outside Mayor Jenny Durkan’s house while knowing her address was protected by a confidentiality program because of her past work as a federal prosecutor.
The solidarity website defends the opening of City Hall as giving “a major shot of confidence to the Black Lives Matter movement” and says Sawant spoke at the protest outside Durkan’s house but did not lead it.
The state Supreme Court dismissed as inadequate a fourth charge that Sawant delegated employment decisions to the Socialist Alternative party.
If the Ethics and Elections Commission approves the agreement, Sawant must pay the city within 30 days. The commission could impose a fine of up to $5,000 if she does not.