Rantz: CM Kshama Sawant withheld supposed threat concerns to get more press

Mar 31, 2021, 8:28 PM | Updated: Apr 1, 2021, 6:22 am

Socialist Seattle city councilmember Kshama Sawant’s office withheld a claim about death threats, an issue she said the city didn’t take seriously, in order to get more news coverage.

Sawant complained at the time that a series of email threats she received were being ignored by police and city officials. She demanded a more urgent law enforcement response, effectively asking for (and receiving) special treatment.

But in a series of text messages obtained by the Jason Rantz Show on KTTH, Sawant’s staff withheld the release of a letter and press release to city leaders for nine days. They feared they wouldn’t get enough press coverage.

Their actions undercut Sawant’s claim that the she feared the email threats as much as she claimed. It implies she was more interested in gaining sympathy or attacking police and the city. At the time, Sawant was awaiting a court ruling on whether or not she’ll face recall.

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Texts show Sawant waited on urgent threat

In late December 2020, Sawant received a series of threatening and frightening emails.

Rather than call 911 as she’s supposed to, Sawant drafted a letter to city officials. It included the chief of police and mayor, alerting them to the threats. That letter was turned into a press release demanding an investigation — one that would have immediately occurred had she called 911 to report the threats.

Tying the threats to the January 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol, Sawant said that she was “extremely concerned” and that “these emails must be taken very seriously given the current political context with an emboldened right wing nationally…”

The SPD took the threats seriously with a thorough investigation that started the day after they learned about them. Police say the first time they even heard about the threats was from the press release. A detective interviewed Sawant and the investigation ultimately lead to a quick arrest and serious charges against a suspect.

But texts reveal Sawant didn’t appear to address the threats as urgently as she claimed.

Holding off on press release for better coverage

On January 25 of this year, just six days after her first press release demanding an investigation, Sawant was ready to send another one claiming the city wasn’t taking the threats seriously. But it wasn’t sent.

“Kshama asked that I let you know we are preparing to send a follow up letter re the threats that we’ll also want to send as a press release this morning,” Sawant staffer Adam Ziemkowski wrote to Dana Robinson-Slote, the Council’s communications director and Stephanie Guzman, the deputy director of communications.

Guzman responds: “Hi Adam, you guys got some great coverage from the first press release and my suggestion is if you want to build it, to potentially hold this release until tomorrow. A lot of outlets will be covering the grocery hazard pay bill today, and another councilmembers is holding a press conference today. So already city hall reporters will be pulled in a lot of different directions.”

She then said that if they’re “intent on moving forward today I’ll be at the ready to send out.”

Adam responded saying, “Those seem like valid concerns. I passed along the message and will let you know asap. Thank you!”

Guzman wasn’t done. She chimed in with one final potential conflict at generating the most publicity.

“Also Colleen [Echohawk] announced her mayor run today so many outlets will be playing catch up writing those stories,” she warned.

Sawant told staff to hold the press release

Ziemkowski texted the group that he was just alerted that “Kshama is wanting to wait as you suggest.” He wondered if they should release it the following morning or afternoon.

“Morning, is my vote,” Robinson-Slote replied.

But they didn’t send out that press release, nor send the letter to city officials, the next morning. They didn’t even send it out that week.

Despite presenting the issue as both serious and in need of immediate attention, Sawant’s team held off on the press release for nine days. On February 3, Sawant’s office released the press release and attached letter. In it, she complained of the city’s purported “lack of urgency.” Why did she wait so long if not for better press?

Sawant and her communications director go silent

If there is a good explanation for withholding the letter-turned-press-release — and there may be — neither Sawant nor Robinson-Slote will provide it.

I reached out to Robinson-Slote for comment from Sawant’s office, then again from the communication’s director herself. She initially replied asking if she could see the messages I’m referring to for the basis of this story. After I sent them, Robinson-Slote did not respond to three follow-up emails.

After a text message asking if her non-response was a “no comment”, Robinson-Slote finally said, “I don’t have anything more to add, no.” But she didn’t add anything to begin with. I asked if Sawant wanted to provide context in case the texts do not tell the whole story. Robinson-Slote did not respond.

I reached out to Ziemkowski who declined to provide comment. He said he was picking up his kid from daycare, then declined an opportunity to discuss the issue later that evening.

Jason Rantz on AM 770 KTTH
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Rantz: CM Kshama Sawant withheld supposed threat concerns to get more press