Socialist Kshama Sawant easily won election to Seattle City Council. She defeated her challenger Pamela Banks, a CEO supported by business interests and president of the Seattle Urban League.
Back in August, Sawant had easily come out on top of a primary election consisting of five candidates. Banks came second. Business interests had united behind her as their best chance to defeat Sawant. Sawant played a key role in passing Seattle's $15 per hour minimum wage bill, which will be phased in over a number of years. She is now vowing to tackle the issue of increasingly high housing costs in Seattle.First results on November 3 showed Sawant ahead 53 percent to 47 percent for Banks. Final results will not be in until November 25. But a local political handicapper David Godlstein said he expected Sawant to gain 52 to 53 percent and could even grow to the high fifties when all the votes are counted.When Sawant was first elected in 2013 the establishment did not take her or the Socialist Alternative seriously. They expected she and her supporters would achieve little or nothing and she would face defeat in the next election. Besides passing the minimum wage legislation, Sawant and her supporters managed lift a ban on local rent control, a move to try and defend against skyrocketing costs of housing in Seattle.Pamela Banks was a novice, but as a woman and a member of the black minority, the establishment thought she had the best chance of ousting Sawant. She was able to collect $385,000 in campaign funds, a huge amount for a novice. She also got newspaper endorsement from the Seattle Times and other media. Six of nine sitting city council members also endorsed her.Sawant campaigners worried about complacency since with the primary win many took it for granted she would win the runoff. Perhaps third-party supporters of Banks also thought she would win since they spent only $43,000 campaigning against her. Business interests appear to have concentrated on other races hoping to prevent Sawant from gaining any allies on council.Sawant was critical of some labor unions. They had helped out a great deal in the primary but cut back support in the runoff. She worried that other progressives running were not getting the support from unions they should while the business community was concentrating on unseating them. Sawan said:Sawant won through mobilizing her campaign workers. She had over 600 volunteers who knocked on more than 90,000 doors and made more than 170,000 phone calls. Of course, successful political campaigns need money as well. Sawant was able to raise $450,000 but without any corporate donations. While Banks' funds went mostly on consultants and advertising Sawant spent on paying help and producing literature.Seattle voters also voted in measures called "Honest Elections Seattle" that will provide public funding for Seattle's 400,000 plus registered voters giving each voter a $100 Democracy Voucher. The bill also prohibits companies doing more than $250,000 business annually with the city from donating to local campaigns. It also bans donations from companies spending more that $5,000 a year from donating to local campaigns.The Democracy Voucher is being financed by an $8 dollar property tax on homes worth $400,000 or more.Kshama Sawant comes from India where she was a software engineer. Her husband — who works for Microsoft — and she moved to the U.S. some time ago. She earned a PhD in economics from the University of North Carolina. Sawant was concerned with the poverty she saw in India but also in the U.S. When she moved to Seattle in 2006 she joined the Trotskyist Socialist Alternative Party. In 2010 she became a U.S. citizen. Her election to Seattle in 2013 was a historic event:Unlike Bernie Sanders, who also calls himself a socialist, and is seeking the presidential nomination for the Democratic Party, Sawant has no use for those who believe the left should try to reform the Democratic Party. She describes this attempted reform, as pouring energy into a black hole:
“Their task was not only to try to defeat me but all the other progressive candidates as well. I think as a matter of strategy they focused their money on the Burgess-Grant race, who was very important for them to defeat. “For decades the labor movement has been playing it safe, let’s not rock the boat, endorse the Democrats. The mistake we can make at this point is not to understand that working people don’t want to play it safe.”Jon Grant was former director of the Tenant's Union of Washington State.
Sawant's victory made her the first socialist to win a city-wide election in Seattle since the radical progressive Anna Louise Strong was elected to the School Board in 1916 and the first socialist on the City Council since A. W. Piper, elected in 1877.
She calls on leftists to campaign independently of the Democrats: The Democratic elite dominate Seattle government, and the Democratic elite, as they did with Ralph Nader, have declared war against Sawant. As long as she remains in office she will expose the leaders in the Democratic Party for who they are—corporate puppets.