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caption: Councilmember Kshama Sawant addresses supporters after early election results showed her trailing behind her District 3 opponent Egan Orion on Tuesday, November 5, 2019, during an election night party at Langston Hughes Performing Arts Institute in Seattle.
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Councilmember Kshama Sawant addresses supporters after early election results showed her trailing behind her District 3 opponent Egan Orion on Tuesday, November 5, 2019, during an election night party at Langston Hughes Performing Arts Institute in Seattle.
Credit: KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

Seattle Mayor Durkan calls for City Council to investigate Sawant

This story has been updated.

Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan wants the City Council to investigate Councilmember Kshama Sawant over her use of city resources and her participation in protests against police brutality, which led to brief occupation of City Hall and a march on the mayor's home.

Sawant has pushed back, slamming Durkan's leadership.

Durkan sent a letter to Council President M. Lorena Gonzalez and the council Tuesday morning and laid out a series of allegations, including:

  • Sawant gave the governing body of her Socialist Alternative party say over hiring and firing for her office.
  • Sawant put members of the public at risk of Covid-19 infection by letting a crowd of protesters into City Hall the night of June 9.
  • Sawant used her official position in leading a march to the mayor’s home, though Durkan said the address is protected under a state confidentiality program related to her former role as a federal prosecutor.

Durkan doesn’t call for a specific action against Sawant in the letter, but notes that the city charter gives the council authority to “punish or expel a member for disorderly or otherwise contemptuous behavior.”

Sawant and Durkan have butted heads on many occasions. Most recently, Sawant has joined calls for Durkan to resign over her handling of protests against police violence towards Black people.

Durkan’s letter acknowledges that she may disagree with council members over policy issues, but states: "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 theatre."

The letter also said the council may choose to ignore or dismiss Sawant's actions, but Durkan believes that undermines public confidence.

The Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission dismissed complaints against Sawant related to Socialist Alternative and staffing last spring, according to commission executive director Wayne Barnett.

Barnett said charges are pending in his office related to another concern raised in Durkan’s letter that Sawant used her official office and equipment to promote and raise money for a Tax Amazon ballot initiative.

Sawant responded to Durkan’s letter Tuesday, characterizing it as a ploy to distract from leadership failures on Durkan’s part.

“Mayor Jenny Durkan’s establishment has utterly failed working people and communities of color in this city. She bears responsibility for a torrent of violence by Seattle police, including the use of brutal weapons like tear gas and rubber bullets against the Black Lives Matter protest movement,” a statement from Sawant said.

Sawant said she’s proud to have marched, rallied, and organized with thousands of community members and activists in recent weeks.

"Our movement is demanding racial and economic justice, long withheld by a pro-corporate political establishment, whose leader currently is Mayor Durkan."

Sawant also said she doesn’t see the letter as a personal attack on her, but rather as an attack on a broader movement.

“While her words are directed at me and my elected office, I don’t take it personally. In reality, this is an attack on working people’s movements, and everything we are fighting for,” the statement said.

Council president M. Lorena Gonzalez did not respond to a request for comment on Tuesday.

The back and forth between Durkan and Sawant comes on the eve of a potential vote in the council’s budget committee on a payroll tax on big businesses in the city. This is a topic where the two have starkly different views.

Sawant staunchly supports the idea of taxing large businesses to pay for housing, homelessness services, environmental work, and more.

Durkan strongly opposed such an ordinance proposed by Sawant and fellow council member Tammy Morales earlier this year. She hasn’t registered a firm stance on the similar, but smaller, tax that may be voted on by the council Wednesday.

If the council doesn’t pass a payroll tax, Sawant and her allies are working to put an initiative on the ballot in November.

You can read Durkan’s letter below or here in PDF.

You can read Sawant's full statement below.

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Response By Councilmember Sawant