In less than a week, District 3 voters will decide the fate of the lone socialist council member, Kshama Sawant, in a long-awaited recall election. As of Tuesday, Nov. 30, just over 20,000 of the district’s 77,000 registered voters had cast their ballot.
About twice as many D3 residents have returned ballots at this point in the cycle compared to the same point ahead of November’s general election, which speaks to the level of enthusiasm coursing through the district.
So far, voters from Broadmoor, Madison Park, and Washington Park – the once redlined lands of gated communities, million-dollar homes, and niche shops you would not expect to survive the pandemic – have shown the most eagerness in submitting their ballots, with some precincts already turning out at over 50%. Meanwhile, some precincts around Capitol Hill, where Sawant will likely find her base, show voter turnout as low as 12%.
Those neighborhoods in the northeast corner of D3 overwhelmingly voted for the conservative slate in the general election. In the most extreme case I could find, the precinct east of the Arboretum voted 98% for mayor-elect Bruce Harrell. Only nine people out of 489 in that shrubbery-lined neighborhood next to the Broadmoor Golf Course voted for the progressive candidate, Council President Lorena González.
To get a sense of the motivations driving the most motivated voters to date, on Tuesday morning I ventured out to one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in the city, which was also the most-voting cranny of Sawant’s district.
I started my stroll at Cafe Flora, a vegetarian brunch spot that more-or-less marks the district’s convservative point of no return. While weekday brunch-goers could be an enlightening demographic to tap into, I opted to wander the surrounding neighborhoods instead.
That’s when I ran into Mark Clouse, a D3 resident outfitted in a Dog Dad hat who was on a mid-morning walk with a good girl named Lily.
Clouse told me he was a lifelong Seattleite. According to real estate records, he bought his D3 home in 1993 for $90,000, but it’s now worth between $775,000 and $1,000,000, according to various estimates. He said that the council member had not sent mailers to his home, but the recall campaign had.
As it so happened, Clouse had turned in his ballot that morning. He said he voted to recall Sawant because she “absolutely does not” represent him and his neighbors. His gripe predates the recall – he voted for Egan Orion in 2019.
“She reminds me of Trump, but on the other side, with the way she spins things with rhetoric,” Clouse said.
In 2019, Trump donors funded Orion’s campaign, but Orion’s staffers claimed the campaign gave the Trump donor money to charity after the election.
As far as the recall charges go, Clouse expressed most concern about the third charge. He said he’s lived in Seattle long enough to remember a 2001 case when a federal prosecutor and gun control advocate, Thomas Wales, was shot to death in an unsolved but suspected assassination in his Queen Anne home.
I asked him if he believed that Sawant “led” the march to Durkan’s house, as there has been some “mixed information” about who led the protest.
“I think the only mixed information is the rhetoric coming out of Sawant,” he said.
As a self-described moderate, Clouse took issue with Sawant labelling the recall right-wing: “I don't think the rule of law or justice has any kind of political position. Unless you're trying to evade justice.”
The three recall charges are not guilty verdicts, and I explained what we know about the truth of the allegations them here.
If the district recalls Sawant on those charges, Clouse said he wasn’t sure who he would like to replace the council member. He said he’d “evaluate the people that show interest” in representing the district. However, he’ll have no say. The council will get to appoint her replacement, and that person will have an opportunity to run for election in November of 2022.
Further east, 22-year D3 resident Ann Wood was walking her dog, Charlie, along the strip of shops near Madison Park Beach. Here was another voter excited for an extra opportunity to give Sawant the boot.
Wood said she has never supported Sawant, but when I asked if she voted for Orion in 2019, the name didn’t ring a bell. Once I clarified that he had run against Sawant, Wood was certain she had supported him.
All four people of voting age in Wood’s house will be voting yes on the recall, she said. They even stuck Recall Sawant signs in the front lawn of their home, which, according to county records, her husband purchased in 2019 for $2 million. She guessed that about two-thirds of her neighborhood will vote Sawant off the council. The only thing stopping her from saying 100% was the one Kshama Solidarity yard sign on her block.
“I want her gone,” Wood said. “She’s not a good person, and I think we can do a lot better.”
Wood thinks the council will do a good job picking a replacement: “They don’t want to have to deal with what we’ve been dealing with," she said.
“What’s wrong with Sawant? Why don’t we like her?” I asked.
“I mean, everything. I don’t know what’s right about her, ” said Wood.
Though she didn't approve of Sawant speaking at a protest in Mayor Jenny Durkan’s neighborhood, Wood’s primary complaint involved the council member's attempts to tax Amazon. “What's wrong with Amazon? They're doing great things. The fact that she wants them out, she's trying to take jobs away from our economy,” she said.
For others in the neighborhood, Sawant's rivalry with the e-commerce giant is her saving grace.
Heidi Randall has lived in D3 for 30 years, and she took pride in only rarely using Amazon to deliver items to her condo. Randall said she was very conflicted about the recall, but ultimately she chose to retain the council member.
“I read about the protest at the Mayor’s house, and that did disturb me, but I think that her fighting for the little guy kinda wins out for me,” Randall said.
Andrew Fontana, who lives near Madison Park, also voted to retain Sawant. He said he did not agree with everything she's ever done, but he thought it was important to have someone on council who fought for workers.
For Fontana, the recall charges made the vote less straightforward.
“I think technically she did break the law, but I think it's complicated,” Fontana said. “I don't think, for me, it's enough of a reason to vote her out of office.”
Fontana said he felt firmly in the minority as a renter in what he called a “fiscally conservative neighborhood” that may not approve of socialist representation in City Hall.
Another renter, Dora Houston, who was one of the few Washington Park residents under 30 I encountered that Tuesday morning, stood firmly with Sawant’s “fighting movement.” Literally. She got in a verbal fight with a recall canvasser in her neighborhood.
Houston said she knew she lived among the recall’s target demographic, as she had received mailers almost exclusively from the recall campaign. Houston took pride in her Kshama Solidarity yard sign, lonely on a block otherwise full of Recall signs. She described her neighborhood as “the right-wing” of Seattle: “It’s home to the white liberal and the rich liberal, which is not personally what I think is very liberal.”
Houston did not care about the charges, and said the charge about Sawant mishandling funds was especially bullshit since the council member paid double the amount of the ethics violation. The protest near Durkan’s house didn’t bother her, either. In fact, she thought it was justified: “If you’re an elected leader and you’re not listening, you’re not doing your job.”
“The rich-right are just mad she is getting shit done, and are using this as an excuse to get her out,” Houston added.
Although Houston has lived in D3 for three years, she is only now registering to vote. Sawant supporters claim they have registered over 1,000 new voters in the district since the summer, and they aim to register 2,000 new voters by election day, Dec. 7. Houston – who, in typical progressive-voter fashion, still needs to print her ballot – will count herself among the new voters captured by the get-out-the-vote efforts of Sawant’s team.