Understanding the Sawant Recall Petition

Annonymous donations, bulding occupations, and more.


Art By Molly Chapin

Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant currently faces charges that could potentially lead to her removal from office. A recall petition organized by Capitol Hill residents was approved in September by a King County Superior Court Judge, allowing it to proceed to court.

Judge Jim Rogers approved the petition to recall on the grounds that of the six charges raised against Sawant in the recall petition, the following four were offenses deemed legitimate enough to advance to court:

  1. Delegating city hiring decisions to private political organizations, the National Executive Committee and the Seattle Executive Committee of the Socialist Alternative Party.
  2. Using her official city-provided website, mailing list, and email to promote the Tax Amazon ballot initiative, and allocating city funds to this initiative without complying with public disclosure requirements.
  3. Using her passkey to assist protestors in occupying City Hall when it was locked down due to COVID-19.
  4. Violating confidentiality laws by leading protestors to Mayor Durkan’s home, which was kept secret because of Durkan’s past as a prosecuting attorney.

The petition also charged Sawant with encouraging the occupation of Seattle’s East Precinct building and helping to establish the CHOP, though these were rejected by courts and dropped by the petition organizers.

The recall petition has been criticized as being politically charged, given Sawant’s outspoken socialist views that differ from the rest of the Council.

“We have elections in this state and in this city, and those elections are where the decision as to who is holding this office is supposed to be determined,” said Sawant’s attorney, Dmitri Iglitzin, according to the Seattle Times. “This is, on its face, by any fair reading, a political screed against Councilmember Sawant.”

The Seattle City Council has agreed to use public dollars to cover Sawant’s legal costs, and Sawant’s supporters have organized a website that has raised over $80,000 for her defense. Likewise, the website RecallSawant2020.org has raised over $120,000 to fund the effort to recall the council member.

In an October article, Kshama Sawant’s party, Socialist Alternative, called the recall process part of “a nationwide reaction from the right-wing and political establishment against BLM protesters and progressive movements” and “an attempt to overturn the historic gains working people have won in Seattle through movements built by Kshama and Socialist Alternative”. 

The article argues that big businesses are backing the recall petition, with supporters such as Egan Orion, whose 2019 City Council campaign against Sawant was funded by Amazon, and Seattle real-estate mogul Martin Selig, who donated the maximum amount of $500 to Orion’s campaign last year.

These statements are somewhat deceiving, however. According to an article published by The Stranger in September, Martin Selig only donated $25 to the recall effort, and Egan Orion didn’t give any money at all, writing in a private email that he “had no involvement in the Recall Sawant campaign beyond providing them a list of supporters from my 2019 campaign”, which the Recall Sawant organizers used to compile a mailing list for their own campaign. The reason for this is confidentiality—Seattle laws don’t require individuals to reveal themselves if they donate $25 or less to a campaign.

On the pro-Sawant side of things, the vast majority of donations are also anonymous contributions of $25 or less, but according to The Stranger, “emails between the campaign’s chair and others paint a clearer picture of who else is contributing time and resources to the campaign.”

Kshama Sawant’s legal team has stated that they intend to contest the recall decision by taking it to the State Supreme Court. If the appeal fails and the petition is allowed to proceed, the Recall Sawant organizers will have 180 days to get 10,739 signatures, which is enough to put Sawant’s recall on the ballot for District 3 some time next year.