Longtime Seattle City Councilmember Richard Conlin conceded his seat to challenger Kshama Sawant late Friday after Sawant’s lead widened to 1,640 votes, or 50.3 percent of the vote.
His voice shaky at times, Conlin said he couldn’t speculate yet on why his reelection bid failed. But he said that he’s taken on several controversial issues.
“A few days ago I got three e-mails in the space of about an hour,” he said. “One of them said, ‘I’m voting against you because you voted against the arena.’ The second one said, ‘I’m voting against you because you supported apodments.’ And the third one said, ‘I’m voting against you because you voted to ban plastic bags.’ You know, it’s hard to know how you could come up with the right kind of message that would work for all of those voters.”
Conlin, who spoke at City Hall surrounded by councilmembers Tim Burgess and Sally Bagshaw and members of council staff, has served on the council for 16 years. He said he plans to remain in public service.
Sawant becomes the first Socialist elected to the city council. Her grassroots campaign focused on a $15 minimum wage, rent control in a city with rising rents, and a millionaires' tax to fund transportation. Sawant has a Ph.D. in economics, and has taught economics at Seattle Central Community College. She's been active in the Occupy Seattle movement.
Sawant ran as a Socialist alternative. She previously ran unsuccessfully for House Speaker Frank Chopp's seat in 2012. She won 29 percent of the vote in that race, which put her on the map. She had been steadily gaining on Conlin since election night when she trailed by more than 7 percent of the vote.
Both Conlin and Sawant mounted post-election campaigns to get voters to double check that their votes had been counted.
First Socialist Councilmember
Seattle city archivist Scott Cline said that he hasn’t seen any councilmember “self-identified as a socialist or belonged to a socialist party.”
Council elections became nonpartisan in 1910. Before then, a number of socialist candidates ran, but none appear to have made it out of the primary elections, Cline said.
“It is certainly possible that after 1910 there might have been a serious socialist challenge,” Cline said in an email to KUOW earlier this month. “However, no name from general elections stands out as a strong socialist candidate; certainly not on par with Kshama Sawant.”
Looking through voters’ pamphlets, Cline did come across another socialist candidate for City Council who did well -- Yolanda Alaniz, who came in second among four candidates in 1991.
At City Hall on Friday night, Conlin said it’s not alarming to have a Socialist on the Seattle City Council because “when we think of socialism, we think of Sweden, and that's a pretty good model."
KUOW's Amy Radil, Carol Smith and Isolde Raftery contributed to this report.