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Conlin Concedes to Socialist Sawant in Seattle Council Race

Ted S. Warren
Associated Press

Veteran four-term Seattle City Council member Richard Conlin has conceded to Socialist challenger KshamaSawant.

“Unfortunately, it appears that my opponent has received a greater number of votes,” Conlin said in a written statement Friday. “I hope that she will serve the people of Seattle effectively during her time in office.”

Conlin, who has served on the city council for 16 years, was leading by more than 6,000 votes on Election Day. But Sawant steadily closed the gap, eventually surging ahead a week later. By Friday afternoon, she was leading by 1,640 votes, or 0.94 percentage point. 

A former software engineer and economist, Sawant pushed a platform that appeared to resonate with the city. She backed efforts to raise the minimum wage to $15; called for rent control in the city where rental prices keep climbing; and supports a tax on millionaires to help fund a public transit system and other services.

Sawant on Friday said the results show "people are ready for change."

“Fifty percent of Americans recently said that they think the two-party system is not working and they’re fed up with it, and they’re ready for a third-party alternative. And we’re seeing that kind of surge happening ever since the Occupy movement," said Sawant, 41, who is on leave from her job as an professor at Seattle Central Community College. 

Sawant drew attention as part of local Occupy Wall Street protests that included taking over a downtown park and a junior college campus in late 2011. She then ran for legislative office in 2012, challenging the powerful speaker of the state House, a Democrat. She was easily defeated.

During her latest campaign, Sawant condemned economic inequality, contending that some people aren't benefiting from the city's declining jobless rate, ongoing recovery from the recession, and downtown building boom.

"This is one of wealthiest cities in the wealthiest country in the world," she said. "For people to struggle for basic needs is absurd."

Socialists have run for office in Seattle before. Before Sawant, the most successful candidate was Yolanda Alaniz, who in 1991 emerged from the primary in second place but was easily defeated in the general election.

"There were certainly populist candidates," said Scott Cline, the city archivist. "I don't think any of them you could remotely call Socialist. Certainly there has never been anybody who has run as strongly as Sawant has."

Born in Mumbai, India, Sawant would be the first Indian-American on the Seattle City Council.