Bronson Dowd was looking for love on Grindr, and instead he found an attack ad
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Bronson Dowd was looking for love on Grindr, and instead he found an attack ad
Credit: KUOW Photos / Bronson Dowd

Seattle man goes on Grindr. Instead of love, he gets an attack ad against Sawant

Last week, Bronson Dowd fired up Grindr, a dating app aimed mostly at lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people.

There at the bottom of the screen was an attack ad targeting Seattle City Council member Kshama Sawant.

“It was absurd, super absurd,” Dowd said.

Dowd, a UW librarian, also thought it was strange because he doesn’t live in Sawant’s District 3, which includes Capitol Hill. And he wasn’t even in Sawant’s district when he saw the ad.

“They found a picture where she looks like she's scowling,” Dowd said.

The attack ad Bronson Dowd discovered on Grindr
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The attack ad Bronson Dowd discovered on Grindr
Credit: KUOW / Bronson Dowd

It's the same image a PAC called People For Seattle has been using in TV ads, with the voiceover, “Seattle needs a more effective City Council, not more ideological grandstanding.”

But the TV ad is targeting District 4 in Northeast Seattle, and Sawant isn't even running there. Similar attacks with Sawant's face are appearing in ads in districts all over the city.

People For Seattle admits the ads are theirs. They didn't specifically buy ads directly from Grindr, but they were part of a broad “digital strategy.”

So why are they using images of Sawant in districts where she’s not even running?

“Kshama Sawant has made herself the citywide symbol of the direction and dysfunction of this Council; therefore, more than any other councilmember, she represents the change that is urgently needed," People For Seattle said in a statement.

Campaign rhetoric aside, Sawant is a polarizing figure in city politics. And that's not something she shies away from.

As a revolutionary Marxist member of the Trotskyist group, Socialist Alternative, for Sawant, polarization is political strategy.

“You have to take a side because it is not a neutral situation. This is class warfare,” she said in a 2016 talk.

For Sawant, the fight for a higher minimum wage or, more recently, for rent control are important, but they are also only steps on the road to ending capitalism.

She doesn't want compromise, she wants to provoke what she calls the “capitalist class" to fight back, because only then will working people see capitalism for what it is — "vicious."

People for Seattle attack ad featuring Ksama Sawant that's targeting City Council District 4 (she represents District 3)
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People for Seattle attack ad featuring Ksama Sawant that's targeting City Council District 4 (she represents District 3)
Credit: KUOW Photo/David Hyde



"Building the movement itself will be a phenomenal educational process for all of us together to understand that big business, the capitalists, the real estate bosses; they are not on your side," she said on the question of rent control. "And they are going to fight viciously against even these reforms."

This year the capitalist class is fighting back.

Nearly half a million dollars has been spent by outside groups to support her District 3 opponent, community and small business leader Egan Orion, who runs Pridefest.

Overall, the race is the most expensive in the city, with $1.25 million spent so far, according to figures from the state Public Disclosure Commission.

One issue in the race: The employee tax on big business known as the head tax, which ultimately failed last year.

Orion is against it.

“One thing we learned from the head tax debate is that residents didn't trust City Council,” Orion said.

In contrast, Sawant's all for such a tax, only she prefers to call it the “Amazon tax.”

This "People for Seattle" TV ad with a picture of Kshama Sawant is running in District 4 (and Kshama Sawant is running in District 3). The ad attacks Shaun Scott in his race against Alex Pederson.
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This "People for Seattle" TV ad with a picture of Kshama Sawant is running in District 4 (and Kshama Sawant is running in District 3). The ad attacks Shaun Scott in his race against Alex Pederson.
Credit: KUOW Photos / David Hyde



And Amazon is responding. It's put nearly $1.5 million into the Chamber of Commerce PAC.

That PAC, called CASE, and others are hoping to unseat Sawant and help more business-friendly candidates across all City Council races.

The Amazon money is not an insignificant fraction of the total election dollars raised this year (more than 10 percent), and it has drawn national attention.

Over the weekend, presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren accused Amazon on Twitter of trying to tilt Seattle elections in its favor. And this week Bernie Sanders weighed in on Twitter against Amazon. (Notably, neither candidate has made an endorsement in Seattle's campaigns).

In a statement, Sawant's campaign said the citywide attack ads with her image reflect the fact that she's “the most consistent advocate for working people in city hall,” who has had a “track record of winning historic progressive victories.”

The statement continued, “Amazon and its top executives want to keep Seattle a corporate tax haven, while working and middle class people already make all the sacrifices to fund vital services."

For its part, Amazon says it is spending on this election "because we want Seattle to have a city government that works" to solve problems like homeless and bad traffic.

Orion issued a press release distancing himself from the " influx of PAC money in City politics this year," and blasting Sawant's campaign for getting wads of cash from out of state donors (nearly half).

As for Bronson Dowd, the UW librarian? He said he just hopes he never sees any political ads on Grindr again.