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Amidst union anger, rumors swirl Kshama Sawant will retire

Kshama Sawant. (KIRO Radio/Matt Pitman)

After damaged sustained by her fight with some union members over Seattle’s failed head tax, rumors are swirling that Socialist city councilmember Kshama Sawant will not seek re-election.

Seattle head tax 101

Several local politicos have heard Sawant will not seek re-election, the Jason Rantz Show on KTTH learned. Some believe she’s looking for other like-minded activists to take her place while she takes more of a national role promoting Socialist policies. Others aren’t convinced, wondering if she’d be OK with these rumors, as it plays into her media-savvy to keep her name in the news.

Multiple requests for comment were made through Dana Robinson Slote, Seattle City Council’s communication’s director, but have yielded no comment from Sawant’s office.

Union anger and anxiety

There’s no reason to believe, if the rumors are true, that it’s due to a troubling lack of support from her district. But her efforts to promote the head tax, despite intense opposition from the community, hurt her relationship with many union members (directly and indirectly impacted by the head tax) who thought the tax was misguided and would negatively impact construction jobs. Indeed, Sawant was shouted down by union workers at one of her head tax rallies.

Pete Lamb, senior business agent for Teamsters Local 174, says anger and angst between the unions and Sawant exists. And he, too, has heard rumors that Sawant may not run for re-election — though they’re just rumors.

“There are always rumors in regards to politics and who’s going to run and who’s not,” Lamb said.

Still, Sawant has relationships to mend.

“There were definitely concerns in regards to Sawant…,” Lamb said of her position on the head tax. “We were against the head tax from the very beginning. We do definitely believe that her position on [the head tax] … we didn’t agree. We definitely feel that we should have focused on a regional solution. It’s easy to demonize and go after; it’s a lot more difficult to find solutions and so we were definitely not in alignment on that issue.”

Much of the concern stemmed from an Amazon building project that was temporarily placed on hold when the council decided to move forward on the head tax legislation. The project would eventually continue, but the head tax was ultimately repealed.

“What I would say in general about the city council … they need to take a little more broad look about how the communication takes place in regards to labor organizations,” Lamb explained. “Whether it’s the building trades or the Teamsters, we were caught off guard by what was being pushed forward and we had hundreds, if not thousands of workers that were … negatively impacted with the shutdown of the building for Amazon. I do think that they definitely need to take a look in regards to solutions-based policies and maybe having more seats at the table.”

It’s not just some union members who felt left out of the process. Regular citizens, thousands who generally give deference to a council willing and eager to embrace tax increases, decided to fight back.

The Rise of Seattleites

While some on the council, including Sawant and Lisa Herbold, dismissed the opposition to the head tax as Seattleites who fell for the propaganda of greedy businesses, polls never suggested the head tax had support.

The Seattle City Council spent $7,575 on a head tax survey geared towards business owners to gauge support for the proposed legislation. Though some city officials thought the survey was fake, the results were very much real and conclusive: very few supported the tax.

When respondents were asked if they’d support a $500 tax on businesses with gross receipts above $20 million, 80 percent of the near 500 business respondents held a negative view. When asked if they’d support a $300 head tax on businesses making over $5 million gross, 86.9 percent opposed. In fact, they tested a total of six different head tax ideas, changing either the tax per employee or the gross the business makes, and each time it was overwhelmingly opposed.

The polls didn’t change when non-business owners were asked. Strategies 360 found staggering opposition to the head tax and a pricey poll commissioned by head tax supporters showed results that were just as dismal.

Is Sawant part of Seattle’s future?

The anger the head tax generated lead to the creation of a number of grassroots organizations, like No Seattle Head Tax, which would later become 21st Century Seattle. Their leader? Saul Spady, grandson to Dick Spady of the much-beloved Dick’s Drive-In.

With the momentum on their side, Spady sees the council ready for a shakeup, whether or not it is helped by Sawant leaving the council.

“A Sawant retirement would be an incredible opportunity to bring back local representation to the district,” Spady explained. “As many residents are aware it’s almost impossible to get a meeting or response from her or her office on key community issues.”

Sawant’s peculiar silence

Normally willing to offer comment to us, the media-savvy Sawant has been noticeably silent of late.

Is that to further fuel the speculation or is it because she’s legitimately readying an exit and wants to make sure there’s a slate of candidates who can carry her torch? Some believe Nikkita Oliver is preparing a campaign for council; others suggest Cary Moon will make a run, as well. And, if it ever comes out, Sawant is to release a book that’s already years overdue (and ironically for pre-sale at Amazon).

Whatever her decision, Sawant has become one of the most vocal leaders on legislation that was wildly unpopular and hated, sharing the dubious spotlight with Teresa Mosqueda. That is damage that will need to be addressed if she hopes to use her relationship with unions to help her ground game if she seeks re-election and hopes to bring like-minded candidates to the council along with her.

Listen to the Jason Rantz Show on KTTH AM 770 weekday mornings from 6-9 a.m. or subscribe to the podcast.

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