FILE - Seattle city councilmember Kshama Sawant

Seattle city councilmember Kshama Sawant

(The Center Square) – Kshama Sawant, who marched with protesters outside of Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan's home last summer, will now face a recall petition threatening her seat on the Seattle City Council. 

First elected to the council in the fall of 2015, Sawant is a registered Democratic Socialist regarded as a left-wing firebrand and an outspoken voice on the council for progressive taxation, tenant rights, and police divestment.

In June, Sawant let hundreds of protesters into city hall where crowds occupied the space for several hours holding speeches. The building, which received some minor damages, was closed to the general public due to the pandemic.

Later that month, Sawant led another protest to Durkan's private residence in response to the city's crowd control tactics under Seattle Police Chief Carmen Best who Durkan backed until Best's resignation in August. The incident did not result in any damages to Durkan's home.

A petition to recall Sawant from office was filed last year by Ernest "Ernie" Lou, a Seattle-area business consultant and former marketing manager at Microsoft and Seattle University, on the grounds the council member violated several laws.

Four of its original six charges were sustained by a King County Judge. They include the claim that Sawant illegally surrendered her office's staffing decisions to an outside political organization, the Socialist Alternative Party, of which she is a member. Sawant is also accused of misusing city funds to promote a ballot measure, violating pandemic rules at city hall, and breaking public disclosure laws by sharing Durkan's address.

Sawant has denied the accusations laid out in the petition and lost a motion last fall to have it thrown out, an effort covered in full by Seattle taxpayers. Seattle City Council members take home an annual salary of $117,000 a year — the second highest amount in the nation. Sawant has opted to donate more than half of her annual salary to her political action groups.

The 35-page decision, released on Thursday, the Washington Supreme Court unanimously ruled the petition may proceed. In the decision, the court cautioned that the decision was not about the petition's charges.

"The reviewing court’s role in a recall petition is limited," Justice Barbara Madsen wrote. "The court does not evaluate the truthfulness of the charges; rather, it verifies that the charges are factually and legally sufficient on the face of the petition before the charges reach the electorate."

Sawant has garnered a strong following online which includes the "Sawant Solidarity Campaign" which is planning a rally in support of the council member on Saturday at Seattle's Cal Anderson Park at 11 a.m.

On Thursday, she drew a statement of support from mayoral candidate Andrew Grant Houston.

"I've said since the beginning that I'm not running as a career politician or a lawyer, but here's how I see it - at the end of the day, nothing CM Sawant did warrants a Recall," Houston tweeted. "It's purely political."

Lou's recall petition comes as Seattle prepares for a long election season which will see voters choose a new mayor and the fate of two city council seats held by Tammy Morales and mayoral candidate Lorena González.

The petition now has less than 100 days to draw some 10,000 signatures before the city's summer ballot deadline.

Staff Reporter

Tim Gruver is a politics and public policy reporter. He is a University of Washington alum and the recipient of the 2017 Pioneer News Award for Reporting. His work has appeared in Politico, the Kitsap Daily News, and the Northwest Asian Weekly.