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Seattle Socialist Councilmember Kshama Sawant Asks State Supreme Court to Dismiss Recall Effort

Seattle Socialist Councilmember Kshama Sawant Asks State Supreme Court to Dismiss Recall Effort

Alpana Varma
  • Sawant is arguably one of the most ideological public servants in the country who rattles the cages of even liberal Democrats.

Controversial Seattle City Council Member Kshama Sawant’s appeal to dismiss the recall effort against her will head to the Washington State Supreme Court in January 2021, where it is expected to be decided without oral arguments, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer reported on Friday.

Seattle resident Ernest Lou made his case again for the recall effort, which is based on four specific charges relating to how the socialist Councilwoman Sawant allegedly abused her office, Fox News reported on Thursday. According to the report Lou alleges that Sawant led protesters into City Hall during a nighttime protest and spoke at another demonstration in front of the Democratic Mayor Jenny Durkan’s house.

Durkan, who had earlier faced a recall is quoted by Seattle PI as saying, “Policy disagreements do not justify a Councilmember who potentially uses their position in violation of law or who recklessly undermines the safety of others, all for political theater.” Earlier in October, the effort to recall the mayor was unanimously dismissed by the Washington Supreme Court.

Sawant’s legal team argued that the charges were “factually and legally sufficient.” According to the Seattle PI, attorney Dmitri Iglitzin accused Lou of engaging in a politicized attack. “You can’t convert political disagreement into a recall,” he is quoted as saying, and that the recall effort was based on “amorphous political criticisms.”
In September, Seattle’s city council voted to pay legal fees for Sawant, whose private lawyers reportedly cost $75,000. This has met with a lot of criticism from her detractors.

Sawant won a partial victory in September when King County Judge Jim Rodgers rejected some of the charges against her. However, Rogers kept four charges, saying that “the petitioner has shown actual knowledge of facts, indicating that the council member intended to commit unlawful act.” The four charges certified against Sawant are:

  1. That Councilmember Sawant “Relinquished Authority of her Office and Disregarded City of Seattle Employment and Hiring Rules.”
  2. That Councilmember Sawant misused City resources in promoting a ballot initiative.
  3. That Councilmember Sawant misused her official position by admitting hundreds of individuals at night into City Hall.
  4. That Councilmember Sawant led a protest march to Mayor Jenny Durkan’s private residence in violation of the State’s confidential program.

The charges filed by Lou and certified by lower courts alleged Sawant
“used her position in violation of the law or has recklessly undermined the safety of others.” The other charges include using city resources to promote a Tax Amazon ballot initiative and delegating hiring decisions to her political group, Socialist Alternative.

In the Appellants Brief filed last week by Sawant’s legal team renewed arguments that the charges were “factually and legally insufficient” and that the petitioner could not meet the burden of proof required.

The argument emphasized that “voters can decide for themselves” on truth of the charges and whether they warrant a removal from office. “Councilwoman Sawant repeatedly denies that there is evidence of her intent to act unlawfully, when there is substantial evidence from which to infer her intent’ the petitioners wrote. Voters have the right to draw that inference and determine the facts.”

As member of Socialist Alternative, which claims to be more strident in its socialist rhetoric than Democratic Socialists of America that backed Alexandria Ocasio Cortez in New York, Sawant courts controversy with her stance on major policy issues. 

Sawant’s team is expected to issue a reply brief on December 10. As member of Socialist Alternative, which claims to be more strident in its socialist rhetoric than Democratic Socialists of America that backed Alexandria Ocasio Cortez in New York, Sawant courts controversy with her stance on major policy issues. 

A passionate champion of housing as a basic right, she has floated the campaign for an Amazon tax to pay for meeting needs of the homeless, as also to pay for the Green New Deal. On her Twitter account Savant recently attacked the move to increase car tab fees, saying “Seattle City council Democrats chose to double deeply regressive car tab fees rather than a tiny increase in Amazon Tax on pandemic profiteers. We see again and again. Democrats being out of touch with working class creates fodder for the right. Working people need a new party.”

In another Tweet she says, “This is the difference between Democrats and Socialists. Establishment politicians promise, but when faced with actual decisions, side with big business.”

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In the November 11 issue of Jacobin magazine, Sawant wrote that Seattle Mayor Durkan is part of the corporate elite, referring to her ad ‘Amazon’s mayor.’ In July she used fiery language to call for the overthrow of the “rotten’ system of capitalism.” On Twitter she threatened, “We are coming to dismantle this deeply oppressive, racist, sexist, violent, utterly bankrupt system of capitalism — this police state.”

Sawant has also come in for increasing criticism for seeking to defund the police at a time when Seattle is facing unprecedented surge in violent crime. She is also seeking to reduce funding for police training when some feel that needs to be increased.

Prof. Aseem Prakah of the University of Seattle says, “It is odd that Sawant is seeking to appeal the recall. She is popular enough and should be confident of winning the vote.”He adds that Seattle is a left wing city where President-elect Joe Biden received 70 per cent of the votes. However, there is some degree of polarization due to the protests and rioting that went on for months earlier in the year. Sawant’s election to city council was won by a narrow margin, he says, and therefore, probably is insecure about receiving enough votes in the recall. She is loved by some or hated by others. There seems to be no middle ground on her, he added.

If the appeal is denied by the court, petitioners would need to collect 10,000 signatures from residents of Sawant’s District 3, which represents Capitol Hill and the Central District. If enough signatures are granted, the decision would then go to the ballot for voters to decide. But in order to make the April ballot, all signatures would need to be submitted by late February, giving the petitioners a tight window. 


Alpana Varma worked as a Research Assistant at the Delhi University and then as a journalist for over 10 years for several leading Indian national dailies. After leaving India for Europe, she has been working as a teacher, translator and freelance writer and editor. She lived in Mexico briefly where she worked in intercultural communications. Currently she is based in Miami. 

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