Here are two ways that the 2013 election of socialist Kshama Sawant to the Seattle City Council might have played out.
1 – She might have become a shrill complainer about most of what the council did, and the rest of the council would have put in (metaphorical) earplugs and just gone about its business, ignoring her.
2 – She might have made an occasional stand for a different perspective but largely gone along with the council majority so as not to be marginalized.
What actually happened seems to have fallen somewhere in between: Challenging the other council members and sticking up for alternative positions on a regular basis, but without being ignored. She has torn into them on occasion, but apparently has enough political skill to turn at least some of that into practical action.
As the Seattle Times noted in a front page story last week: “She accused them of taking their marching orders from corporate executives. But the next month, the council adopted a new budget peppered with Sawant-sponsored amendments — including an immediate wage hike for city employees, money to support tent encampments and a commitment to study a possible excise tax on millionaires — and the opposite seemed just as accurate: Sawant’s colleagues were taking marching orders from her.”
Not everywhere, or on all things, certainly. None of the council members are all that dominant, but Sawant’s influence appears to be real. Veteran Council member Nick Licata described the council now as “More progressive. More sensitive to social and economic justice. The other members are inclined to go there, but Kshama is pushing them. Kshama has made things happen that never would have happened before.”
That amounts to some real change in the city of Seattle.
Sawant is being challenged this year by a couple of opponents, at least one of whom has substantial establishment back. But she’s running in the best district in Seattle for her politics. We’ll see if her approach continues to push the city in different directions for another few years.