Hundreds of people packed the lobby of Seattle City Hall while others filled staircases and listened on speakers outside as the city’s first openly gay mayor and first Socialist councilmember took the oath of office in what was a historic inauguration.
Mayor Ed Murray and Councilmember Kshama Sawant stole the spotlight Monday, despite an evening that also saw incumbent councilmembers Mike O’Brien, Nick Licata and Sally Bagshaw take the oath of office. City Attorney Peter Holmes was also sworn in for another term.
The city moved the ceremony, which is typically done in council chambers, to the lobby and prepared the plaza for overflow in anticipation of a record crowd after sending out 2,000 invitations to the event.
“Clearly, because of the interest, we wanted to make room and access for all people who wanted to participate and attend,” said City Clerk Monica Martinez Simmons.
Simmons said the city fielded requests from national and international media outlets, including MSNBC, CNN, and The Times of India. Allen Schauffler, a correspondent for Al Jazeera America, was dispatched to cover Sawant’s inaugural speech.
“It’s really interesting to have somebody this far on one side of the political spectrum, even in a city as liberal as Seattle, winning a seat on the city council,” he said. “I would hope that there’d be similar interest, and that we would devote similar time, if somebody as far right on the political spectrum as she is left was elected to the city council.”
Sawant had the most vocal supporters Monday, many of whom brought signs touting a $15 per hour minimum wage – something Sawant has vowed to bring to Seattle.
“I will do my utmost to represent the disenfranchised and the excluded, the poor and the oppressed by fighting for a $15 an hour minimum wage, affordable housing, and taxing the super-rich for a massive expansion of public transit and education,” she said, adding that she “wears the badge of Socialist with honor.”
Sawant also promised that there would be “no backroom deals with corporations or their political servants.”
“There will be no rotten sellout of the people I represent,” she said.
While Murray echoed Sawant’s demands for a higher minimum wage, he also touched on issues such as public safety, pledging to make the city’s police department “a model of urban policing for the rest of this nation.”
“I’m committed to making sure that our police department achieves the federal court mandate and moves on. However, that alone will not be enough,” he said. “The agreement with the Justice Department must be embraced and woven into the fabric of our police force.”
The new mayor also promised to tackle the city’s transportation issues.
“I believe that we can truly build an integrated transportation system with a world class transit system at its core,” Murray said. “I believe we can maintain and expand a vibrant park system, sidewalks, bike lanes, repair our crumbling streets, and efficiently rebuild our central waterfront.”
Special guests at Monday’s event included Joe Higgins, a Socialist member of the Irish Parliament, and Gary Locke, the U.S. Ambassador to China.