District 3: Sawant is Key to the City Council’s Future


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Let’s suppose Sandeep Kaushik’s analysis is pretty close to predictive. It’s not cause for optimism among those who’d like to see the city council move even a little bit toward the center. Nothing changes if Kshama Sawant is re-elected. Her deliberate high profile makes her the public face of the council. Reaction she sparks drives negative attitudes toward the whole group.

Yes, looking at November results that could give us Alex Pedersen in District 4, Heidi Wills in District 6 (though I’d much prefer youthful, earnest Dan Strauss, a neighbor when he was growing up), most likely Jim Pugel edging out Andrew Lewis in District 7, and re-election of Debora Juarez in District 5, you’ve got a group of pretty thoughtful – by today’s standards – “moderates.” That’s four votes.

And following Kaushik’s analysis, the other victors could well be Lisa Herbold in District 1; Tammy Morales, who’s aligned with the Democratic Socialists of America, and Kshama Sawant, self-styled leader of the Socialist Alternative “movement” to overthrow capitalism. Sawant’s role leading a “workers’ movement” is her touchstone in answer to nearly every question at candidate appearances. Add citywide council member Teresa Mosqueda, who’s strongly union, and this creates a group to the “left” that will continue to aggressively look to business taxes for revenue. That’s four votes.

And in that division, Lorena Gonzalez, the other citywide council member not up for re-election this year, could end up a crucial swing vote for either group, depending on the issue.

Nevertheless, that won’t be the most important dynamic going forward. That’s still Sawant if she’s re-elected. She’ll continue to dominate the council, pushing her ideological agenda, intimidating and dragging along other members, filling the chamber with her partisans every time she wants to grandstand on an issue. (Hey, those are citizens, waving signs, and sometimes shouting. What council member on the dais wants to speak against them?)

Sawant’s personality and loudly articulated positions will continue to symbolize the council for much of the public. That’s why, if Sawant is defeated, no matter what happens in the other six races, public attitudes toward the council will greatly improve and that might make it easier for the council to actually get things done.

Dick Lilly
Dick Lilly
Dick Lilly is a former Seattle Times reporter who covered local government from the neighborhoods to City Hall and Seattle Public Schools. He later served as a public information officer and planner for Seattle Public Utilities, with a stint in the mayor’s office as press secretary for Mayor Paul Schell. He has written on politics for Crosscut.com and the Seattle Times as well as Post Alley.


  1. Hi Dick,
    I agree with you on Sawant, but if I have to decide between Sawant and Murakami, I will vote for Sawant. The better choice is Zachary DeWolf, a strong progressive with very relevant experience on homelessness and committed to a collaborative relationship with his colleagues.

  2. Dick, I agree with you on this. Sawant does largely set the tone and shape the culture of the current Council, not least by creating a dynamic where other progressive activists on the Council feel like they need to compete or keep pace with her in directing the Council’s activist left governance. There’s nothing an activist hates more than being denounced as a sellout, and Sawant incessantly — and very effectively — accuses her colleagues of selling out.

  3. Sawant is also key to SPD’s future, and its success in hiring. The eight other Council members regularly take actions to show their support for the department, including approving the SPOG contract, approving hiring bonuses, and increasing the department’s budget. And yet Sawant’s comments and accusations directed toward SPD are widely interpreted as “the City Council doesn’t support the police department” — a phrase frequently repeated during the exit interviews of SPD officers. The department is net-negative for hiring this year; more officers have left than have joined.


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