- Sawant counters saying “our opponents don’t just want a do-over of the election. They would like a do-over of the historic Amazon tax, of our landmark renters’ rights victories, of the $15 minimum wage.”
A King County Superior Court judge ruled on Sept. 16 that the recall petition, seeking to remove Seattle City Council Member Kshama Sawant from office, can go forward, finding that her recent actions did cross the required threshold needed to initiate the process.
Judge Jim Rogers found four of the six charges leveled against Sawant to be both specific enough and sufficient to allow the process to proceed. Outlined in a 16-page decision, this now means that Sawant, who has been a vocal supporter of defunding the city’s police, will have to fend off the effort to remove her from office even while she continues her drive to bring reform to City Hall. “The petitioner has shown actual knowledge of facts indicating that the Councilmember intended to commit an unlawful act,” Rogers wrote in his order.
It’s the second politically charged recall effort against a Seattle elected official in the wake of this summer’s mass protests against police brutality and systemic racism.
The recall complaint against Sawant was filed by Ernie Lou, who lives in Capitol Hill and told KOMO News last month that he believed Sawant has lost touch with her district and its constituents. “This is the grassroots citizens of District 3 of Seattle that say we don’t support what you’re doing, Councilwoman Sawant,” he said. “They were elected and voted in, but I really feel like the current makeup of the City Council does not represent the true values of the city of Seattle.”
Lou now has 180 days to get the required number of signatures in order to have the measure added to the ballot. That means he will have to obtain 25 percent of the amount of people who voted in the prior District 3 election, which amounts to about 10,800 signatures needed to put the recall before voters. Lou told KOMO News that he hopes to secure enough signatures to put the measure before voters in February.
The complaint alleges violations in six circumstances, including when Sawant let demonstrators into City Hall during a nighttime protest in June and spoke at a protest in front of Mayor Jenny Durkan’s house. They also alleged that she encouraged protesters to occupy Seattle Police’s East Precinct, “helped create the Capitol Hill Occupation Protest (CHOP) Zone,” and used city resources to promote a ballot initiative and delegated employment decisions in her office to her political party.
A significant portion of the argument focused on the night of June 9, when Sawant used her key card to unlock City Hall and let hundreds of protesters in for a nighttime rally in the wake of the killing of George Floyd — even as most city buildings were closed because of the coronavirus pandemic.
“It was not an unintentional action, she did not drop her pass key on the sidewalk and someone just picked it up,” McKay said. “She brought in hundreds of protesters. It was in violation of an executive order.”
Rogers dismissed the charges related to the East Precinct and the CHOP, but allowed the others to move forward. Rogers’ role is to assume the charges against Sawant are true and to determine whether they are specific and serious enough to merit a recall.
But Dmitri Iglitzin, Sawant’s attorney, said Sawant violated no rule of law in opening up City Hall. “They have not shown you that there is a City Council ordinance that prevents Councilmember Sawant from bringing people into City Hall for any reason she deems appropriate, in her discretion,” Iglitzin said.
However, Rogers wrote in his arguments, “It is very difficult to ignore the allegation (and the underlying facts) that City Hall was locked to the public precisely because of the pandemic and because of the public health Proclamations of the Governor.” Iglitzin pointed out that Sawant has been elected three times, most recently less than a year ago, and said the recall petitioners were trying to redo those elections because they disagree with her politics.
“We have elections in this state and in this city, and those elections are where the decision as to who is holding this office is supposed to be determined,” he said. “This is on its face, by any fair reading, a political screed against Councilmember Sawant.”
Under state law, an elected official can be recalled after a very involved process that begins with a recall filing submitted to the county’s elections office. Once county workers have verified the filer’s complaint of charges have followed the proper technical requirements required by law, the request is forwarded to the county prosecutor’s office before a judge decides if the allegations rise to the level of a recall.
According to the Washington state Constitution, an elected official can be recalled if that politician, “has committed some act or acts of malfeasance or misfeasance while in office, or who has violated his oath of office.”
Over 300 supporters joined online rallies to defend Sawant. “While working people should be angry at this outcome, we should not be surprised,” said said Sawant. “The laws, courts and police under capitalism do not serve working people, people of color, those already marginalized under capitalism. They are made to hold up the status quo of deep inequality, of violence, of racism, sexism, of ruthless exploitation of the whole working class and the environment.”
Speaking in support of her Rev. Angela Ying, Bethany United Church of Christ said, “What is at stake is the power of people and working people everywhere standing up, speaking up, finding common ground, defending our movement to dismantle systemic racism, economic injustice, mass incarcerations, and police violence on out cities and communities. Councilmember Sawant who stands with and truly represents the most vulnerable should be applauded, not harassed.”
Added Sawant, “Our opponents don’t just want a do-over of the election. They would like a do-over of the historic Amazon tax, of our landmark renters’ rights victories, of the $15 minimum wage — of every victory working people have won in Seattle over the last six years.”
The Seattle City Council voted 7-1 on Sept. 15, at Sawant’s request, to fund Sawant’s legal defense in her recall battle.
Anu Ghosh immigrated to the U.S. from India in 1999. Back in India she was a journalist for the Times of India in Pune for 8 years and a graduate from the Symbiosis Institute of Journalism and Communication. In the U.S., she obtained her Masters and PhD. in Communications from The Ohio State University. Go Buckeyes! She has been involved in education for the last 15 years, as a professor at Oglethorpe University and then Georgia State University. She currently teaches Special Education at Oak Grove Elementary. She is also a mom to two precocious girls ages 11 and 6.