Sawant passes the first re-election hurdle

August 13, 2015

Kathryn McGhee reports from Seattle on another win for socialist Kshama Sawant.

SOCIALIST SEATTLE CITY council member Kshama Sawant won just over 50 percent of the vote among five candidates in the early August primary election for the seat from District 3.

She came in 15 percentage points ahead of her strongest opponent, Pamela Banks, another woman of color and president of the Urban League Seattle, who is seen as the choice of leading Democrats to stop Sawant, a member of Socialist Alternative, from winning a second term on the council.

The main slogan of Sawant's campaign is "make Seattle affordable for all." In a rapidly gentrifying city, where housing costs are rising for everyone, that slogan has become a rallying call. A recent town hall event on housing drew more than 1,000 people to a discussion about the need for rent control, with Sawant as one of the speakers. That such a debate even happened and drew out that many Seattleites shows the opening that Sawant's previous campaign and her current position has created.

Sawant has been challenged not only by Banks, but a continuing need to convince people of the need for socialist candidates. She is frequently referred to as "divisive"--but her response, rightfully, is that "what is really divisive is inequality."

Kshama Sawant
Kshama Sawant

Sawant has championed opposition to rising housing costs; a Seattle Housing Authority plan, called "Stepping Forward," to raise rent in public housing as much as 400 percent; the greedy polices of Internet behemoth Comcast; as well as queer- and trans-bashing in Seattle's Capitol Hill.

The Sawant campaign recently teamed up with other City Council candidates to propose an alternative housing plan to the one supported by Mayor Ed Murray.

Murray's plan centers on a housing policy that would require developers to create some token affordable housing units or pay a fee. The alternate plan proposes residential developers pay linkage fees on new development to help defer the demand for affordable housing. "We are not just talking about extremely low-income people," Sawant said, "but also people who used to think of themselves as middle class." The alternate plan also recommends new protections for tenants and a repeal on the state's ban on rent regulation.

SAWANT'S ELECTION success and initiatives while a City Council member should excite the left, but her re-election can't be taken for granted. This campaign has already been significantly more expensive than previous City Council campaigns, and it is very likely that business interests will be ready to spend even more PAC dollars to get rid of the one socialist on the City Council.

Sawant's previous victory--as well as last year's campaign by Socialist Alternative candidate Jess Spear for the Washington legislature, running against a Democratic Party powerbroker--have made both Socialist Alternative and socialism in general a force in Seattle politics. Sawant's re-election campaign deserves and needs our support--alongside the effort to mobilize activism to sin a Seattle where working class people can survive.

Earlier this summer, the International Socialist Organization endorsed Sawant's campaign with the following statement:

The International Socialist Organization is excited to endorse Kshama Sawant for a second term on Seattle's City Council. In her last term, Kshama championed raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour; fought the Seattle Housing Authority on "Stepping Forward,", a plan to raise public housing rent up to 400 percent; built a coalition of left organizations to fight for a "People's Budget"; and won the replacement of Columbus Day in Seattle with Indigenous People's Day.

In this current political environment of encroaching environmental disaster and a rising new civil rights movement in Black Lives Matter, the International Socialist Organization knows we need to fight for a socialist future. We look forward to working with Kshama against anti-LGBTQ violence in the Capitol Hill Neighborhood, fighting against gentrification and towards a Seattle that's truly for the working class.

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