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Kshama Sawant

Socialist Kshama Sawant was elected to the Seattle City Council in November 2013 and was sworn into office in January 2014.

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SEATTLE — She is a well-known Seattle-area activist who has spent a lot of time trying to change things from the outside.

Now she’s on the inside.

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Kshama Sawant, left, after being sworn into office as a member of the Seattle City Council on Jan. 6, 2014.

She has a seat at the table where decisions are made and today she made it clear she will be the voice of the voiceless.

“This city has made glittering fortunes for the super wealthy and for the major corporations that dominate Seattle`s landscape. At the same time, the lives of working people, the unemployed and the poor grow more difficult by the day. This is not unique to Seattle. Shamefully, in this, the richest country in human history, fifty million of our people; one in six live in poverty,” Seattle City Council member Kshama Sawant said.

Sawant is a community activist.

She knows how to organize and to motivate. To begin to change all of this, we need organized mass movements of workers and young people, relying on their own independent strength. That is how we won unions, civil rights and LGBTQ rights,” Sawant said.

She told the crowd she is ready to do her part.

“I will do my utmost to represent the disenfranchised and the excluded, the poor and the oppressed – by fighting for a $15/hour minimum wage, affordable housing, and taxing the super-rich for a massive expansion of public transit and education and let me make one thing absolutely clear; There will be no backroom deals with corporations… There will be no backroom deals with corporations or their political servants. There will be no rotten sell-out of the people I represent,” Sawant said.

Sawant promised to fight for a 15 dollar minimum wage, affordable housing and healthcare, but told her constituents she can’t do it alone.

She encouraged them to organize and participate in a mass movement. She even called for a new political party, an organization of the working class, run by and accountable to themselves.

SEATTLE — Seattle’s first socialist City Council member in more than a century gave a biting inauguration speech Monday in which she slammed Wall Street, Congress, city government and capitalism where, she said, “the market is God and everything is sacrificed on the altar of profit” to the detriment of 99% of Americans.

Kshama Sawant, 40, who upset longtime City Council member Richard Conlin in the November general election, was cheered by supporters attending the inauguration ceremonies for mayor and City Council members at City Hall.

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Kshama Sawant, left, after being sworn into office as a member of the Seattle City Council on Jan. 6, 2014.

“This city has made glittering fortunes for the super wealthy and for the major corporations that dominate Seattle’s landscape,” Sawant said to begin her speech. “At the same time, the lives of working people, the unemployed and the poor grow more difficult by the day. The cost of housing skyrockets, and education and health care become inaccessible.

“This is not unique to Seattle. Shamefully, in this, the richest country in human history,  50 million of our people – one in six – live in poverty. Around the world, billions do not have access to clean water and basic sanitation and children die every day from malnutrition.

“This is the reality of international capitalism. This is the product of the gigantic casino of speculation created by the highway robbers on Wall Street,” she said to cheers. “In this system, the market is God and everything is sacrificed on the altar of profit. Capitalism has failed the 99 percent…

“In our country, Democratic and Republican politicians alike primarily serve the interests of big business.  A completely dysfunctional Congress does manage to agree on one thing – regular increases in their already-bloated salaries – yet at the same time allows the federal minimum wage to stagnate and fall farther and farther behind inflation. We have the obscene spectacle of the average corporate CEO getting $7,000 an hour, while the lowest-paid workers are called presumptuous in their demand for just 15.”

Sawant, 40, who was born in India in 1973 and became a U.S. citizen in 2010, said that to enact change in the United States, “we need organized mass movements of workers and young people, relying on their own independent strength. That is how we won unions, civil rights and LGBT rights.”

She said that on the City Council, “I will do my utmost to represent the disenfranchised and the excluded, the poor and the oppressed – by fighting for a $15/hour minimum wage, affordable housing, and taxing the super-rich for a massive expansion of public transit and education. But my voice will be heard by those in power only if workers themselves shout their demands from the rooftops and organize en masse.”

Sawant told the City Hall crowd that she would sit down to discuss issues with others in government and elsewhere, but “let me make one thing absolutely clear: There will be no backroom deals with corporations or their political servants. There will be no rotten sell-out of the people I represent. I wear the badge of socialist with honor.”

Sawant’s victory made her the first socialist to win a citywide election in Seattle since the radical progressive Anna Louise Strong was elected to the School Board in 1916, and the first socialist on the City Council since A.W. Piper, elected in 1877.

Sawant was born in India and grew up in Mumbai to a mother who was a retired school principal and a father who was a civil engineer and who was killed by a drunken driver when she was 13.  Sawant studied computer science and graduated with a bachelor’s degree from the University of Mumbai in 1994.  A former software engineer, she married her husband, Vivek, an engineer for Microsoft, and moved to the United States, where she decided to turn her attention to economics. She received her PhD in economics from North Carolina State in 2003.

She holds part-time teaching positions at Seattle Central Community College and Seattle University and was a visiting assistant professor at Washington and Lee University.

Sawant, who was an activist in the Occupy Wall Street movement, ran as a Socialist Alternative candidate for the Washington House of Representatives in 2012, but received only 29 percent of the vote.

During her 2013 campaign for the Seattle City Council, she received criticism from some for pushing her socialist views while her husband makes a six-figure income at Microsoft.  In response to that criticism, she issued a statement that she and her husband had been separated for nearly six years and “I am not sharing in my husband’s income. As for why we are not legally divorced, that is a deeply personal matter involving emotional and private reasons.”

Local News
01/06/14

Seattle hosts historic inauguration

SEATTLE — A large crowd assembled Monday afternoon at Seattle City Hall to witness the swearing-in of Mayor Ed Murray and  City Councilwoman Kshama Sawant.  Each was making history, Murray as the city’s first gay mayor and Sawant as the city’s first elected socialist in a century.

murray4“Our moral test as a community and as a city government will be our willingness and our ability to address – and to overcome – that which fragments us,” said Murray in front of hundreds who had assembled.

Normally, the inauguration of new mayor and City Council members is an important event, but it’s hardly ever an international event.  Even Al Jazeera TV was in town covering the swearing-in.

Most of the eyes were on Sawant, who attended her first official City Council meeting Monday afternoon.  People are fascinated to see this rare situation where a declared socialist, who wants to end capitalism, is going to fare in city government.

“This city has made glittering fortunes for the super wealthy and for the major corporations that dominate Seattle’s landscape,” Sawant said in an atypical inauguration speech. “At the same time, the lives of working people, the unemployed and the poor grow more difficult by the day. The cost of housing skyrockets, and education and health care becomes inaccessible.

“In this system, the market is God,” Sawant said in her speech, “and everything is sacrificed on the altar of profit. Capitalism has failed the 99 percent.”

Others who were sworn in Monday included incumbent City Attorney Pete Holmes and City Council members Nick Licata, Mike O’Brien and Sally Bagshaw.

Local News
12/17/13

Sawant calls for $15 minimum wage in Seattle in 2014

SEATTLE — Seattle City Councilwoman-elect Kshama Sawant made her intentions loud and clear at a news conference Tuesday morning: “2014 will be the year of $15-an-hour minimum wage in Seattle.”

sawantStriving toward one her primary campaign tenants,  Sawant, the first popularly elected socialist candidate in the council in more  than 100 years, said she would push the council — and if necessary voters — hard  to mandate a $15-an-hour minimum wage for workers in Seattle.

Sawant announced plans for a website where volunteers could sign up to  support the cause, and urged those in the community to get involved. She said  the complete plans for how to implement a new minimum wage were not worked out,  but would be “all inclusive” in an effort to help small businesses, workers and  the city.

“Now is the time to stand up,” Sawant said. “We need this as quickly as  possible.”

Other Seattle City Council members didn’t want to comment on Sawant’s plan, and neither did Mayor-elect Ed Murray, though he is planning to announce his own ideas about a $15-an-hour wage. He will talk about those ideas on Thursday, but in the past Murray has said he would like to phase the minimum wage increase in over his first four years in office.

Sawant doesn’t want to wait.

“Tens of thousands of workers have to put food on the table today, and they have to pay their rent every month,” said Sawant. “As long as they don’t have the freedom to tell their landlords that they can wait for four years, we can’t wait for four years.”

In SeaTac, where $15-an-hour was recently passed by voters, opponents of the measure contend there will be layoffs and shutdowns at businesses around that area. Some Seattle employers are worried about what would happen in Washington’s biggest city if the minimum wage increases by that much. The current minimum wage is $9.19, the highest of any U.S. state. Among city workers, those in Sonoma, Calif., enjoy the highest rate, at $15.38 an hour.

In her news conference, Sawant admitted some jobs could be lost, but said, “If we don’t fight for this, then the race to the bottom will continue.”

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SEATTLE — Newly elected Seattle City Councilwoman Kshama Sawant made her intentions loud and clear at a press conference Tuesday morning.

“2014 will be the year of $15-an-hour minimum wage in Seattle,” Sawant said.

kshamaStriving toward one her primary campaign tenants, Sawant, the first popularly elected socialist candidate in the council in more than 100 years, said she would push the council — and if necessary voters — hard to mandate a $15-an-hour minimum wage for Seattleites.

Sawant announced plans for a website where volunteers could sign up to support the cause, and urged those in the community to get involved. She said the complete plans for how to implement a new minimum wage were not worked out, but would be “all inclusive” in an effort to help small businesses, workers and the city.

“Now is the time to stand up,” Sawant said. “We need this as quickly as possible.”

In her press conference, Sawant introduced other advocates of a higher minimum wage, including those who supported Seatac’s Proposition 1 during the last election cycle. Members of the NAACP and other workers’ advocacy groups were also present, and said the movement would be one based on a strong grassroots campaign.

Sawant said the effort was a push to help the working class of Seattle.

“We need to fight for this city and this state to create living wage, green jobs,” Sawant said. “We need to generate a sustainable economy.”

Sawant said she would work with mayor-elect Ed Murray on implementing the new wage. However, she suggested there could be a disagreement on how and when to address the issue, as Murray previously said the drive to bring a new standard of living to Seattle would take time. Sawant said if the city council was not willing to address the issue, she would push for a ballot vote.

“The goal is to get the best thing for working people,” she said. “As an economist, it will bring about a substantial improvement in quality of living.”

This story will be updated as more information becomes available.

SEATTLE — In the same election that Seattle voters put Ed Murray in office, a career politician who vowed to bring a less-divisive style to City Hall, they also elected a socialist firebrand to the City Council, Kshama Sawant

“The council is actually moving into a period of its history that looks more like my 18 years in the Legislature,” Murray said.  “They are going to districts, and obviously in the Legislature you have people on all sides of the spectrum, from the far, far right to the left, to people in the middle.”

He doesn’t see Sawant as a problem.

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Kshama Sawant

“It doesn’t have to be 9-0 votes all the time,” he said.  “The nature of our system of government there should be a tension between the executive and legislative branch.”

The mayor-elect admits that his first order of business is controversial, forging a deal to raise the minimum wage.  He campaigned on $15 an hour, but said it would likely have to be phased in over several years.

How will he bring the parties together, like Sawant and the Chamber of Commerce, to forge a deal?

“Well, you know, you gotta work hard at it,” Murray said.  “You got to do a lot of shuttle diplomacy.”

The mayor-elect says he “doesn’t know” if he can avoid a citizen initiative like in SeaTac, but hopes it doesn’t come to that.

“I worry about a ballot measure polarizing all of us, and potentially not being able to win at the ballot,” Murray said.

Murray says the biggest surprise since the election is the amount of “security” he now experiences.  “It’s just an adjustment,” he said.

SEATTLE — Longtime Seattle City Councilman Richard Conlin conceded defeat Friday to socialist candidate Kshama Sawant in the race for the council seat.

His announcement came shortly after King County Elections had released the latest election results, showing Sawant with a 1,640-vote lead; Sawant was leading 88,222  votes to 86,582.

conlinConlin had a substantial lead on Election Night on Nov. 5, but his lead had been declining as more mailed-in ballots were being counted. Sawant overtook Conlin for the first time last Tuesday — one week after the election — when results showed her with a razor-thin, 41-vote edge. It moved up to a 402-vote difference on Wednesday, then 1,148 on Thursday and finally the 1,640-vote lead on Friday.

Sawant will be the first socialist candidate elected to the Seattle City Council in its history.

Conlin was elected to the Seattle City Council in November 1997. He served as council president for 2008-2009 and again for 2010-2011.

Surrounded by friends and supporters Friday, Conlin said, “I want to thank the voters of Seattle for the honor of serving as your Council member for the last 16 years. It has been a privilege to be your representative and I am proud of what we have done together.

“I’m grateful for the good work of my Council staff and hard work of the campaign. I also want to thank the tens of thousands of voters who supported my campaign for a fifth term on the council. And appreciate the many individuals and groups who supported me by endorsing and those who donated to my campaign.

“Unfortunately, it appears that my opponent has received a greater number of votes, and I am formally conceding the election to Ms. Sawant. I hope that she will serve the people of Seattle effectively during her time in office.”

Conlin and his wife, Sue Ann Allen, live in the Madrona neighborhood. Prior to his election to City Council, he served on the Madrona Community Council and was active in the Central Area Neighborhood Plan.

Sawant issued the following statement after Conlin’s concession speech:

“While I do not agree with Richard Conlin’s political positions, I respect that he served on the City Council for 16 years. He ran a strong campaign and I commend him for his willingness to participate in numerous political forums, openly debating the issues with me.

“I will reach out to the people who supported Richard Conlin, working with everyone in Seattle to fight for a minimum wage of $15/hour, affordable housing, and the needs of ordinary people.

“These exciting results show a majority of voters are fed up with the corporate politicians who have presided over the widening chasm between the super-rich and the rest of us. The turnaround of the ballot count in my campaign’s favor is a stunning mandate to move ahead with raising Seattle’s minimum wage to $15/hour.  A majority of voters cast ballots for my campaign which did not take a dime of corporate money, yet succeeded through grass-roots activism.”

Since the signatures on thousands of votes have been challenged, Sawant said, her  campaign will continue to make sure that every vote is counted until the election results are certified on Nov. 26.

“Every additional vote for our campaign shows the broad support for a $15/hour minimum wage, rent control, and a tax on the super-rich to fund mass transit and education.  We need people to donate to fund our voter protection work, and we need volunteers to help correct the challenged ballots so that every one of these votes will count,” Sawant said.

Sawant is a former software engineer, part-time economics professor and activist.   She holds part-time teaching positions at Seattle Central Community College and Seattle University and was a visiting assistant professor at Washington and Lee University. Sawant has run unsuccessfully for the state House of Representatives.

Sawant, who was born in India, graduated with a bachelor’s degree in computer science from the University of Mumbai in 1994. She received her PhD in economics from North Carolina State University in 2003.

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SEATTLE — Socialist candidate Kshama Sawant took a lead over City Councilman Richard Conlin for the first time – albeit, by a razor-thin 41 votes –  in the race for City Council Position No. 2, the latest election returns showed Tuesday.

As of the latest vote count at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday, Savant had 79,751 votes to Conlin’s 79,710.

Conlin’s lead continues to decrease with late counting.

It is unknown how many ballots are left to be counted, but late ballots often trend left, analysts say.

Sawant would be the first socialist candidate elected to the  City Council in its history.

Another vote count will be released at 4:30 p.m. Wednesday.

SEATTLE — Socialist candidate Kshama Sawant took a lead over City Councilman Richard Conlin for the first time – albeit, by a razor-thin 41 votes –  in the race for City Council Position No. 2, the latest election returns showed Tuesday.

sawantAs of the latest vote count at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday, Savant had 79,751 votes to Conlin’s 79,710.

Conlin’s lead continues to decrease with late counting.

It is unknown how many ballots are left to be counted, but late ballots often trend left, analysts say.

Sawant would be the first socialist candidate elected to the  City Council in its history.

Another vote count will be released at 4:30 p.m. Wednesday.

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