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Seattle's District 3 Candidates Aren't Pulling Any Punches

Seattle City Council District 3 candidates Kshama Sawant and Pamela Banks.
KUOW Photo/Isolde Raftery
Seattle City Council District 3 candidates Kshama Sawant and Pamela Banks.

Pamela Banks, a candidate for Seattle’s District 3 council seat, calls her opponent "Budget Rally."

Her opponent, Kshama Sawant, is always at rallies, Banks said. She said she, by contrast, partners with people to get the job done.

The two had emerged from a tense debate hosted by KUOW’s Bill Radke. Sawant had made a case for social movements, saying they force people in power to pay attention to the working class.

“We've completely transformed Seattle's political landscape," Sawant said. "We passed the historic $15 minimum wage. We've pushed the conversation on the affordable housing crisis to such a degree that even conservative council members have been forced to vote yes.”

'Not From Here'

Sawant told Radke about an earlier interview that Banks gave. “She said that because I am an immigrant, I’m not qualified,” she said.

Banks jumped in. "That’s not what was said, Kshama," she said. 

"Can I speak?" Sawant said.

"No, because you have taken those words out of context," Banks said. "We were talking about Black Lives Matter, and I said that I have been working on Black Lives Matter all my life. I raised a black son in the Central District at the height of the gang and the crack epidemic.

"And what I said was, ‘Kshama was not from here’ – meaning Seattle."

"That is classic right-wing language," Sawant said.

"No, it’s not," Banks said. She was clearly annoyed. "Kshama, you have to understand that you don’t have the history and knowledge of the African-American experience. You cannot speak for us."

The interview in question was with Erica C. Barnett of "C is for Crank." Here's what Barnett wrote:

[Sawant] is a person of color, but her campaign staff and her city staff don’t reflect much diversity. For me, it’s more about being able to connect with all the people of the district and not alienate people where they live around issues of race. Gun violence is up 32 percent in our neighborhood for African American males. There is a crisis of gun violence if you’re black. With Black Lives Matter, she’s only talked about the police needing to be investigated for how they’re treating the protesters. If you’re not from here and you don’t understand the history of this country…

[asset-images[{"caption": "", "fid": "121757", "style": "placed_wide", "uri": "public://201510/Card-Banks_0.jpg", "attribution": ""}]]They had been speaking loudly at this point, interrupting each other and sometimes shouting. But Sawant grew quiet after Banks said this.

“It is a very tried and tested, divide-and-conquer method that the establishment, you know, big business, uses to divide immigrants from African-American community,” Sawant said.

“People from the immigrant community and from the African-American community are upset about comments like this," Sawant continued, "because they know that in order for them to fight for their own standards of living and to fight against racism, immigrants and people of color who were born here need to come together.”

Sawant noted that the Central District used to be 80 percent black; that’s dwindled to 20 percent.

[asset-images[{"caption": "", "fid": "121758", "style": "placed_wide", "uri": "public://201510/Card-Sawant.jpg", "attribution": ""}]]Banks said programs could change that. She noted a homeownership program in the 1980s and '90s after the I-90 project displaced African-Americans. And she said that real estate types should stop preying on homeowners.

“Especially elderly African-Americans – they are constantly bombarded by real estate people or notices in the mail, ‘We want to purchase your property,’” Banks said. “That is like predatory lending, in my opinion. That should be illegal.”  

Follow The Money

Sawant wanted to focus on the money in her opponent’s coffers. Sawant has raised $425,549 to date – about $54,000 more than Banks.

Still, she fixated on who has given Banks money. She mentioned a $700 donation from Alaska Airlines CEO Brad Tilden. That’s the most an individual can give.

"This is an election year, so you will hear every candidate professing their allegiance to the needs of the working class,” Sawant said. “A lot of that talk will translate to very little with candidates who are taking money in the shovelfuls from corporate entities."

Banks shot back that 45 percent of her donations have come within her district. District 3 includes the historically black Central District and Capitol Hill. Sawant, she said, is getting money from out of state.

Sawant stood firm. “Corporate money supports corporate ideas,” she said.

"For her to sit up there and say because I'm getting out money from this place or that place, that I'm not going to continue to do this work for the citizens of Seattle – that's erroneous,” Banks said.

“People in the district aren’t talking about where the money is coming from,” she continued. “They are talking about public safety. They are talking about transportation. They are talking about having an open government and a city council person that’s accessible to them.”

Banks said she had secured the Equal Rights Washington endorsement because Sawant hadn’t made time to meet with them. Sawant also hadn’t met with the Urban League when Banks asked to set up a meeting, she said.  

Listen to the full debate: