Was Kathy Lambert’s county council campaign already in trouble before controversial ad?

Nov 3, 2021, 2:42 PM | Updated: 3:02 pm
Kathy Lambert ad...
County Councilmember Kathy Lambert. (Facebook)

After two decades, incumbent King County Councilmember Kathy Lambert appears poised to fall short in her bid for reelection. While some might attribute that to a controversial mailer sent out by her campaign in early October, her candidacy may have already been on the ropes long before that.

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During the August primary, Democratic challenger Sarah Perry garnered 36% of the vote, trailing close behind Lambert at 40%. Although Perry technically finished in second, Democratic candidates combined for 59%, signaling trouble for Lambert’s reelection hopes early on.

“To be fair with Lambert, she was already behind in the primary,” KIRO Radio reporter Nicole Jennings pointed out. “She only got 40%, which is considered not doing too great if you’re an incumbent with as many years under her belt as she has.”

“I think she already was kind of in trouble before the whole mailer fiasco happened,” she added.

Lambert hasn’t faced a prominent challenger to her seat since she was first elected in 2001, having run unopposed three times, while receiving nearly 60% of votes in two other successful reelection bids.

The mailer in question displayed Sen. Bernie Sanders, Vice President Kamala Harris, Seattle Councilmember Kshama Sawant, and King County Councilmember Girmay Zahilay. In it, Zahilay was shown holding marionette strings above Perry, bearing the message: “Sarah Perry would be a Socialist Puppet on the Eastside pushing their agenda.”

That spurred accusations from Zahilay that the ad had played into racist tropes, describing how she had “used her only Black colleague’s face for fear mongering.”

In the weeks that followed, Lambert was removed from her council leadership positions — as well as all external boards and committees — by a unanimous 9-0 vote from county councilmembers.

King County councilmembers denounce colleague’s ‘racist’ campaign mailer

As KIRO Nights host Jack Stine described, the political fallout brought on by the ad was also multi-faceted.

“For most people, I don’t think that they would have seen it as being a racist ad,” he described. “But being that I travel in some of the darker sites of the internet to gather as much information as I can, that ad unfortunately was very reminiscent of what you might see on something like Stormfront or 4chan, or something like that — almost identical.”

“Now, I don’t think that that was Kathy Lambert’s intention,” he added. “But the imagery and the iconography and the script of it was virtually identical to what a white supremacist would have used.”

And despite indications from the August primary that Lambert faced an uphill path to reelection, Stine believes the ad still likely impacted her negatively when it was all said and done.

“Unfortunately, I think many people took that and they didn’t look at the last 27 years of a career,” he said. “They just chose to look at that 13-by-5 card and then run with that — that seems to be the era of politics that we live in now, where one slip-up in that way can cost somebody potentially their entire political career.”

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Was Kathy Lambert’s county council campaign already in trouble before controversial ad?