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Sawant Trails Conlin For Council Seat But Vows To Keep Up Socialist Struggle

Andrew Tat, The Daily
Kshama Sawant pumps her fist in celebration while talking about how the election demonstrates the growing success of the socialist party in Seattle.

Seattle City Council candidate Kshama Sawant is trailing the incumbent, Richard Conlin.  But she’s not conceding; she’s holding out hope as more votes are counted. And she plans to keep her Socialist Alternative party involved in Seattle politics.

Kshama Sawant received 46 percent of the vote in initial tallies, while Richard Conlin received 54 percent. She said she hopes to gain a few points as more ballots are counted, but she sees Seattle’s support for a Socialist asa rare achievement in itself.

“So far, over 46 percent of voters have voted for an open Socialist,” she said, “and it’s a clear indication that people are hungry for change.”

She has a lot of future plans to satisfy that hunger. Sawant is planning a Northwest socialism conference later this month and a ballot measure campaign to support a higher minimum wage in Seattle in 2014. She said she plans to run for office again, possibly against Conlin,  and wants to field a working-class slate of candidates for Seattle City Council the next time around.

Sawant is an economics teacher at Seattle Central Community College. She championed issues like rent control and a $15 minimum wage. Conlin has served 16 years on the City Council and was endorsed by Democrats, many labor unions, and transit and environmental groups.

Conlin said Sawant’s agenda raised important issues. “I think it’s a great alert to me to say, we need to talk more about the social justice work that we’re doing, that I’m doing, and make sure people understand all of the work that’s going on, on the City Council.”

Conlin does not endorse the $15 minimum wage but said he’s willing to study the issue in general.

[asset-images[{"caption": "Richard Conlin greets a supporter on election night.", "fid": "7114", "style": "card_280", "uri": "public://201311/kshama_sawant2.JPG", "attribution": "Credit Amy Radil"}]]Sawant and Conlin were also at odds on the implications of Charter Amendment 19, which was headed for strong passage on election night. The amendment will create a new system to elect seven City Council members by geographic districts. Currently all nine are chosen by the entire city.

Sawant said the districts will make it easier for new candidates to run, since campaigning in one district is more manageable and costs less than running citywide.

“I have no doubt that with the districts initiative, many more people who can play a similar role as me — you know, women, people of color — will be stepping up,” Sawant said.

Conlin did not support the districts proposal. Neither did Sally Bagshaw, who was also reelected Tuesday. She said she’s disappointed that it passed, because it “balkanizes the city."

"What we’ve got right now is a council that really looks out for the entire city," Bagshaw said. "[Districts] mean that you’re going to have seven people geographically stationed and then the expectation is that they’re going to fight for their little geographic area, and I think that’s too bad.” 

The first election of council members by district will take place in 2015. There are currently no Seattle City Council members living in what would become the North Seattle district.

But it was not all good news for first-time candidates. Seattle’s Prop 1, which would have allowed public funding for City Council candidates, appeared headed for failure Tuesday.

Year started with KUOW: 2005