"She has earned reelection with what she’s accomplished so far," McGinn says, citing Sawant's work on the minimum wage and homeless encampments as well as her "independent thinking" on police reform and the downtown tunnel project. That kind of skepticism, McGinn says, "is important in a one-party town."
"When you get groupthink on the city council, which is driven by powerful economic interests in town, you get really big mistakes," McGinn says. "And it also means that you don’t prioritize the needs of regular voters. She forces the rest of the council to confront those questions in public and that’s good."
(Unfortunately for McGinn, he won't actually be able to vote for Sawant because he lives in council District 6 in northwest Seattle and she's running in District 3, covering Capitol Hill and the Central District. In his home district, McGinn supports his longtime ally, incumbent council member Mike O'Brien, who's running for reelection in the 6th. See map here.)
The nod from McGinn comes as Sawant's prime challenger, Pamela Banks, has gotten support from those in city hall whom Sawant and McGinn would both condemn as part of the business-beholden establishment. Council member Bruce Harrell has publicly supported Banks, council president Tim Burgess has donated $500 to her campaign, and Banks is seen as a favorite of Mayor Ed Murray, who beat McGinn in 2013, although Murray hasn't endorsed her yet. (She's also working with political consultant Christian Sinderman, who worked on Murray's campaign.)
Sawant has faced criticism from her challengers and her colleagues on the current council for being divisive or overly negative. Her supporters, including McGinn, see that differently.
"I don’t think we’re going to look back 20 years in the future and say, '[Wasn't] it great when all politicians got along?'" McGinn says. "We're going to want to know if they solved problems, the real problems we face around inequality, global warming, and living as multicultural society. We want someone to tackle those things, and guess what? Those are hard questions that will make people uncomfortable."
Considering the way McGinn came into city hall as an outsider himself, the contentious relationship he had with the city council during his time as mayor, and his disagreements with Murray, it's not all that surprising he'd support Sawant. But the move does highlight an ongoing division among Seattle Democrats.
Like state Sen. Pramila Jayapal, McGinn is a Democrat putting his name behind a socialist. Sawant's party affiliation is the reason the 37th District Democrats recently canceled a forum after disagreement about whether they should allow Sawant to participate. Tonight, the group will hold its endorsement meeting, and since district Democratic groups can't endorse non-Democrats, 37th District Sawant supporters will be pushing for no endorsement at all.
"I would say to people voting in those races, who best represents your values?" McGinn says. "Would you do a better service to Democratic values by not endorsing one of Democrats in the race because you like what Kshama is doing for your city? I like her better than the avowed Democrats in the race and I think that’s a good place for Democratic district organizations to go too. I say that as a Democrat."