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Activist Democrats Support Socialist Candidate Kshama Sawant

KUOW Photo/Deborah Wang
City Council candidate Kshama Sawant, a member of the Socialist Alternative Party, with Democratic Party supporters Daniel Norton and Jeanne Legault

A self-declared Socialist candidate for Seattle City Council is making waves among the city’s Democratic Party establishment.

A small group of Democratic Party activists today announced their endorsement of Kshama Sawant, an economics lecturer at Seattle Central Community College and a member of the Socialist Alternative Party.

Sawant is running for City Council against incumbent City Councilmember Richard Conlin, who is a long-time Democratic Party member.

The press conference in the lobby of Seattle City Hall was a little like a coming-out party.

“It’s probably a group that’s been meeting in secret for a long time,” joked Richard Burton, a member of the 36th District Democrats. “I was invited to participate, and I am glad to be able to be here today."

Even though all of the city’s major Democratic Party organizations have endorsed incumbent Richard Conlin, this group of Democrats has been quietly supporting Socialist Sawant.

“As a Democrat, as an activist, as a person who cares about community, I feel very strongly that we need her voice on the City Council to advocate for the positions that many of us have fought for,” said Daniel Norton, the former chair of the King County Democrats.

Sawant has been lobbying for a $15-an-hour minimum wage in the city. Since election season began, others, including the two candidates for mayor, have embraced her position. Sawant also supports rent control and a “millionaires' tax” to fund basic city services.

Sawant’s campaign has caused some divisions within local Democratic Party organizations.

Jeanne Legault is the vice chair of the 37th District Democrats and a long-time Democratic Party activist. Her district has endorsed Councilmember Conlin, so his name shows up prominently on the literature that party activists are hanging on people’s doorknobs. When Legault goes door-to-door, she hands out Sawant’s literature as well.

“I have gotten a lot of complaints filed against me,” Legault said. But since this is a non-partisan race, Democratic Party bylaws allow members to support non-Democratic candidates.

“It doesn’t matter to me, I am going to speak my truth and what I believe in.”

According to Legault, many other Democratic activists in the 37th District are distributing Sawant’s literature and displaying her yard signs.

When asked whether she expects any more blowback from the party because of her support of Sawant, Legault replied: “Yes! Especially after this!”

The tensions within the party over this city council race are unusual. Seattle is a heavily Democratic city, and it’s rare for a candidate who is not a Democrat to put up a serious challenge in a city race.

Year started with KUOW: 2005