Even though we've changed mayors—a pretty dramatic thing to do given Mayor Mike McGinn's loud agenda and big personality (not to mention the newsiness of electing Seattle's first gay mayor)—socialist sensation Kshama Sawant, who upset longtime City Council incumbent Richard Conlin, has turned out to be the bigger story than new Mayor-elect Ed Murray.

And Sawant is poised to upstage Murray again on what's likely to be one of Murray's first big policy pushes—increasing the minimum wage.

Sawant's efforts could end up turning a policy issue Murray wanted to use to win some lefty cred into a drama that actually winds up casting Murray as a conservative.

Thanks to the recent fast food workers' "strike poverty" movement to increase the minimum wage and the successful SeaTac vote to increase airport contract workers' wages to $15 an hour, raising the minimum wage, Sawant's signature issue during her campaign, is now front-and-center in Seattle.

In fact, during they mayor's race, both Murray and McGinn (starting with Murray) endorsed the idea; it won Murray the much-needed backing of the activist Service Employees' International Union 775 (the union that pushed the SeaTac effort.)

However, Murray embraced the idea by merely saying he'd take an incrementalist and collaborative approach, bringing all the players, including business groups, such as the Greater Seattle Chamber of Commerce, to the table. The diplomatic approach echoes Murray's successful work in the state legislature where, for example, he passed a gas tax, a gay rights bills, and ultimately a gay marriage bill.

Sawant, who has a dinner meeting scheduled with Murray, isn't likely to abide by Murray's compromise game plan and will more likely lead a signature gathering campaign to put an unequivocal $15 hour mandate on the ballot. In September, she told the Capitol Hill Times, "We demand a $15 an hour minimum wage," and the Seattle Times has reported that she "strongly supports requiring a $15 minimum wage for all workers in Seattle." Murray has said that he would only target large businesses.  

Sawant's effort could inadvertently give Murray some leverage with the business community—"If you don't agree to my package," Murray could tell the Chamber, "you'll be stuck with Sawant's version."

But that tactic could prove meaningless in the end: Disassociating herself from any negotiations with business, Sawant has a solid chance of leading a populist initiative effort to simply bypass the legislative process and put $15 minimum wage law on the books.

Sawant's efforts could end up turning a policy debate Murray wanted to use to win some lefty cred into a drama that actually winds up casting Murray as a conservative.

We have messages in to Murray's camp and Sawant's camp.

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