Afternoon Jolt

She Won, but the Sawant Show May Be in for a Tough Second Season

Sawant won reelection, but not the election.

By Josh Feit November 5, 2015

Jolt axth2t

Celebrity council member Kshama Sawant won reelection, but she lost the election. Something like the second season of True Detective, people will still be watching, but they will no longer be paying rapt attention.

Consider: Jon Grant's Sawant-style, antideveloper, class war messaging tanked citywide; he's currently in the low 40s. (Sawant held several joint press conferences with Grant, trying to position him as her future council ally.) 

Similarly, the anti-Prop. 1 message to "Keep Seattle Affordable" accompanied by populist hand wringing about so-called "levy fatigue" (though it was actually coming from conservative voices) played to the same anti–liberal establishment sentiment that Sawant stoked with her rhetoric against regressive taxes.  But nope. The standard liberal property tax passed. (Sawant formally said she supported the levy, but her quixotic call for a millionaire’s tax to fund mass transit was actually a default criticism of the property tax initiative.)

And in practical terms, the way the election played out for Sawant was this: As the current vote counts stand, she now only has one reliable vote, Mike O'Brien. It's this potential makeup of the new council that truly threatens the Sawant show.

She'll now be sitting on the dais with a crew of empowered colleagues (not cuckolded nervous wrecks)—most notably among them, her main foe, council president Tim Burgess, who just crushed it citywide, currently at 57 percent. Factor in to that the other citywide victor, Lorena González, who beat Sawant's other press conference tag-along, Bill Bradburd, 76 to 23 at last count.  Voicing populist anger, Bradburd was openly against the transportation levy and was a big proponent of Sawant's plan to reintroduce the blanket linkage fee on developers sans any upzone. Not González, who, when I asked her about the potential of a lefty push from Sawant, Grant, and Bradburd to challenge the mayor's affordable housing grand bargain between developers and housing advocates, told me: “I am more interested in upholding this bargain and the deal that was struck. There’s a lot of different stake holders. A lot of folks that I trust in the social justice groups have all come out in support of this grand bargain, and I’m going to stand with those folks.”

González is a bit of a bad ass. And in a white city that's become obsessed with racial and social justice, this Latina attorney with farm labor family background will not need to keep her head down while Sawant lectures the council on race and class. Daughters of immigrant farm workers who start working when they’re eight years old and go on to put themselves through college and law school so they can sue the SPD, don’t have time for white fan boys snapping their fingers during a Sawant speech as if they're at an Amiri Baraka poetry reading.

I'm being a bit flip. And PubliCola endorsed Sawant for a reason—her steadfast vigilance of working class interests is awesome and necessary in Amazonia. But there are several new sheriffs in town. And the rest of them were elected from districts of their own and so, don't need Sawant's support or approval. There's Sally Bagshaw from downtown who cleared 80 percent on election night. There's (most likely) urbanist Rob Johnson, who ousted longtime incumbent Jean Godden in the primary and then ousted another regular Sawant press conference attendee, Michael Maddux, in the general. Johsnon's urbanist agenda tends to overlap with developer interests in ways that Sawant finds anathema. That should be no concern to Johnson who, if he eventually wins, will come to the council with the strong support of the social justice coalition his organization built to support transit—not to mention support from his district with numbers that are currently higher than Sawant's.

And you know who else there is? Mayor Ed Murray. The guy is on a roll. Judging from Prop. 1's big success, voters dig (or at least trust) the mayor. Murray stumped hard for the levy, doing a dramatic last-minute elementary school press conference and even contributing $500 of his own to the cause. I haven't heard about any of those 70 percent Murray approval rating polls in a while, but Tuesday night was something of a stand in on Murray's formidable favorability ratings.

 Sawant's not going to be able to push the council around anymore with mass meetings and righteous speeches where she shames her colleagues as  "corporate lackeys." This week provided a reality check on those black and white optics.

If Sawant is anything, she's a exceptional organizer and political tactician. She'll figure out how to stay relevant and move her agenda. But with a newly emboldened set of colleagues around her, she'll need to figure out a new act.

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