Recall vote tightens for Seattle socialist in latest count

SEATTLE (AP) — The vote in a recall effort against a socialist Seattle City Councilmember tightened considerably Wednesday as more mail ballots were counted, meaning it would be at least another day until it was clear whether the controversial lawmaker would be ousted.

Kshama Sawant Sawant, 48, an economics professor, is the longest-tenured council member. The latest results showed just over 50% of voters favoring Sawant’s recall — closer than the 53% figure after the initial tally Tuesday night.

Another ballot count will be released Thursday. It’s not uncommon for municipal races to swing — in recent elections more liberal candidates in Seattle tend to make up ground with later-arriving ballots.

“Win or lose, we should not forget the ruling class keeps going after us because we have shown how to win for the working class,” Sawant said Tuesday night after initial results were posted. “Not once, not twice, but repeatedly with unprecedented victories.”

If Sawant survives the recall it would be a boost to Seattle’s far left, which saw setbacks in last month’s general election when business-friendly candidates won the mayor’s office and a council seat.

If Sawant is recalled the other eight City Councilmembers would appoint a replacement until a special election next November.

Sawant was elected to the City Council in 2013, and her threat to run a voter initiative drive for an immediate $15 minimum wage has been credited with pressuring business leaders and then-Mayor Ed Murray to reach a deal raising the wage to $15 over a few years.

She has pushed for cutting police funding and expanding taxes on high earners such as Amazon to pay for affordable housing, schools and community services.

But critics have said she offers more rhetoric than substance and that her brash antics are incompatible with good governance. A federal appeals court recently ruled that two Seattle police officers could sue Sawant for defamation after she said a fatal shooting they were involved in was “a blatant murder.”

The recall question on the ballot cited a minor campaign finance violation that Sawant acknowledged and for which she paid a fine. It also noted her alleged leadership of a protest march to the home of Mayor Jenny Durkan, even though Durkan’s address was protected by a state confidentiality law due to her prior work as a federal prosecutor. The recall question also cites her decision to let a crowd of protesters into City Hall while it was closed due to the pandemic.

Sawant denies having led the march to Durkan’s house, though she did participate in it. She has defended her decision to let Black Lives Matter demonstrators inside City Hall following George Floyd’s murder by Minneapolis police.

To Sawant’s supporters, the charges were a pretext for an effort by big business, developers and commercial real-estate interests to try to oust a legislator who had opposed them.