Sawant and Durkan homeless feud winds to close after council vote
A feud over homelessness between Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan and Councilmember Kshama Sawant came to a head Monday, after a vote from the city council rejected a resolution to delay the nomination of Human Services Director Jason Johnson.
Mayor Durkan recently nominated interim Human Services Director Jason Johnson to assume the role permanently. Sawant then drafted and subsequently passed a committee resolution to delay the nomination process and convene a full search committee, objecting to the way Durkan chose Johnson, claiming it was too secretive and didn’t include community buy-in.
That resolution went before the full council on Monday, and was summarily voted down by a 5-3 vote.
Public comments leading into the vote were tense to say the least, as members of Sawant’s Socialist Alternative party packed the room.
“What we’ve seen is a chaotic and undemocratic system that moves the goalposts, and that’s what we have with Jason Johnson,” one Socialist Alternative member said.
Others call Mayor Durkan a bully, and likened her to President Donald Trump.
At one point, chanting led by a Socialist Alternative member during his comments had Councilmember Debora Juarez trying to rein things in.
“This isn’t a rally — it’s public comment,” she warned, interrupting the call-and-response chant.
Also participating in public comments were numerous Human Services Department employees, who called on the council to reject Sawant’s resolution.
“I’m angry,” said HSD Assistant to CSA Division Director Michael Taylor Judd. “I’m angry that Councilmember Sawant thinks that it’s okay to keep sending email blasts out directly to myself and our colleagues to our city addresses, advocating that we turn out like it’s a rally to oppose the confirmation process. I’m angry that a small group of employees wants to speak out without making greater efforts to learn what all of our colleagues in the department feel about this.”
“It’s true that many of us wish the mayor’s office had conducted a transparent process in nominating Jason Johnson, but that does not mean we all want to see a national search process,” he concluded.
“The resolution on the table today demonstrates how we’re getting in our own way,” said another HSD employee. “It also means we’re trapped in purgatory, unable to make needed changes to do our work. We sit frozen, waiting and waiting for permanence and stability, while the council delays.”
The final vote in a lengthy feud
The timeline for this growing conflict between the mayor’s office and Councilmember Sawant has seen its fair share of twists and turns.
After Sawant introduced her resolution in January to delay Johnson’s nomination, Durkan’s office didn’t wait long to fire back.
“Jason has gone through the most exhaustive and exhausting process by actually doing his job. It’s time for Councilmember Sawant — who has been absent as chair of her committee — to do hers,” an official statement read.
Shortly after Sawant got her resolution voted out of committee, Mayor Durkan shortened Seattle’s contract with homeless shelter operator, SHARE/WHEEL, a move Sawant claimed was retaliatory. Sawant was quoted in Crosscut last week as saying:
It really seems like it’s out of retaliation, because SHARE and WHEEL activists have spoken in solidarity with the Human Services Department employees who are demanding that the mayor hold a transparent and equitable search committee to find the new director.
In closing comments before the full vote on the resolution, Sawant noted that she met with Durkan behind closed doors Monday morning, where it sounded like little love was lost between the two.
“I asked her, if she would concur with this resolution. In response, she asked me, ‘would you withdraw this resolution?'” Sawant said.
Now that the resolution has been voted down, Johnson’s nomination will go before city council for a simple yes or no vote. That said, Sawant promised to continue opposing the process.
“It’s never the end of the road — we can still keep fighting,” she vowed.
Mayor Jenny Durkan has yet to issue a statement following Monday’s vote.