Seattle's Kshama Sawant Subject of Recall That Could Be Litmus Test for Liberal City

Kshama Sawant, the longest-tenured member of Seattle's City Council, is facing a recall election Tuesday that could show whether the city's left-wing presence is diminishing.

Sawant, a 48-year-old Indian immigrant, began her political career in 2012 under the Socialist Alternative party. She has openly pushed for measures such as rent control and cutting police funding.

Seattle's move to make the minimum wage $15 was attributed by many to pressure she put on business leaders and the city's former mayor.

The recall ballot question refers to several accusations against Sawant. The first is a small campaign finance violation that Sawant already paid a fine for.

The next is that Sawant led protestors to Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan's home despite her address being protected under state law. Sawant denied that she led the protest, though she was part of it.

Lastly, the ballot question mentions Sawant letting Black Lives Matter protestors into City Hall while it was supposed to be closed due to COVID-19 restrictions. She said this was true and defended her decision, saying they were only there for an hour, and it was important for them to be seen following George Floyd's death.

Kshama Sawant, Seattle
The results of a recall vote for Seattle city councilmember Kshama Sawant could further shift power in the Northwest's largest city and deal another setback to leftist activists who saw business-friendly candidates win a council seat and the mayor's office in the November 2021 general election. Above, Sawant speaks during a protest against family separation at the border and other immigration-related issues on August 1, 2019, outside ICE headquarters in Seattle. Ted S. Warren, File/AP Photo

The recall is seen as a further test of whether the left-wing is in retreat in one of the most liberal U.S. cities. Business-friendly candidates won a council seat and the mayor's office in November.

She has had an outsized influence on the tone and direction of Seattle politics since she launched her political career in 2012 when she ran unsuccessfully for state representative. Sawant was elected to the City Council the following year.

Henry Bridger II is leading the effort to recall Sawant.

"She literally blasts people who don't agree with her," Bridger said. "If you're not in lockstep with her ideology, you become the enemy. You're called a right-wing Republican. You're called a racist. You're bullied and pushed around."

At stake is how the city approaches homelessness, police reform, taxation and other pressing issues.

Sawant has been pushing for rent control, cutting police funding and expanding taxes on high earners such as Amazon to pay for affordable housing, schools and community services.

But Seattle and other cities are banned by state law from adopting rent control. And last month, a federal appeals court ruled that two Seattle police officers could sue Sawant for defamation after she claimed a fatal shooting they were involved in was "a blatant murder."

Bridger insisted that his motivation for bringing the recall campaign was to hold Sawant accountable and that it has nothing to do with her politics.

But to Sawant's supporters, the charges are a pretext for an effort by big business, developers and commercial real-estate interests to accomplish what they failed to do in 2019—when a late, million-dollar push by Amazon to defeat her and other progressive candidates backfired. Sawant was re-elected by about 4 percentage points.

Bryan Koulouris, spokesman for the Kshama Solidarity Campaign, called the attempt to recall Sawant part of a national backlash against the Black Lives Matter movement.

"From the nature of the charges and from when this election is happening, it begins to scratch the surface of why this is a right-wing recall," Koulouris said.

The two groups supporting the recall—Recall Sawant and A Better Seattle—have raised close to $1 million combined, as has Kshama Solidarity.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Henry Bridger II, Seattle, Kshama Sawant
Henry Bridger II, a former supporter of Seattle city councilmember Kshama Sawant, is leading an effort to recall her, with the vote taking place on December 7. Above, Bridger poses for a photo December 2 in Seattle. Ted S. Warren/AP Photo