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Socialist Sawant not seeking Seattle City Council reelection

Seattle city councilmember Kshama Sawant speaks at City Hall in Seattle on June 12, 2018.
Ted S. Warren
The Associated Press
Seattle city councilmember Kshama Sawant speaks at City Hall in Seattle on June 12, 2018.

SEATTLE (AP) — Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant, the most senior member of the Council and the city’s only elected socialist, will not seek reelection when her term expires in December.

Sawant announced Thursday that she will instead form a new national labor movement, The Seattle Times reported.

Since she was first elected in 2013, Sawant has championed progressive policies with an emphasis on the working class, including successfully mobilizing supporters of a $15 minimum wage. Seattle was the first major city in the U.S. to adopt such a measure. Sawant also pushed for rent control, cutting police funding and expanding taxes on Amazon and other large companies to pay for affordable housing, schools and community services.

She has had an outsized influence on the tone and direction of Seattle politics since launching her political career under the Socialist Alternative party in 2012, when she ran unsuccessfully for state representative.

In her speech Thursday, the 49-year-old economics professor attributed her impact and four election wins to her ability to be a “thorn in the side of the Seattle ruling class” rather than practicing “go along to get along” politics.

Critics have said she offers more rhetoric than substance and that her brash antics are incompatible with good governance.

One of Sawant’s more moderate counterparts, Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell — who frequently opposed Sawant during their shared time on the council — praised Sawant Thursday for her vigor.

“In all our years working together, I have never doubted (Sawant’s) advocacy – and fire – for addressing inequalities and advancing climate action,” Harrell said on Twitter. “I respect her commitment to uplifting the voices of workers and renters in our city.”

During her current term, Sawant defeated an effort by opponents to recall her from the council.

Her new effort, Workers Strike Back, is set to launch in March and will seek pay raises, affordable housing, union jobs and other protections for the working class.

According to the initiative's website, Workers Strike Back is being formed by Sawant and Socialist Alternative in response to a wave of “workers fighting to unionize at Amazon, Starbucks, and workplaces everywhere; the movement to defend abortion rights in the U.S.; the Enough is Enough working-class campaign in the UK; and the ongoing struggles of workers and young people to stop climate catastrophe and fight for a different kind of society.”

Sawant is the fourth of seven incumbent Seattle council members with expiring terms to indicate they will not seek reelection. Councilmembers Lisa Herbold and Alex Pedersen have said they would bow out of the November election, and Council President Debora Juarez has made informal comments about ending her tenure.

Councilmember Andrew Lewis said this week he would seek a second term, and is so far the only incumbent to do so.

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