Seattle socialist Kshama Sawant leads council race in voter backlash against Amazon's $1.5-million donation

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      A fiery and charismatic left-wing Seattle councillor has a comfortable lead in her district race despite efforts by an ecommerce giant and more conservative labour leaders to defeat her.

      With only 2,500 ballots left to count, Socialist Alternative's Kshama Sawant has a 1,515-vote edge over Egan Orion in District 3.

      Sawant led the movement for Seattle's $15 per hour minimum wage and greater protections for tenants. She also supports a $275-per-employee levy on corporations, which she calls an "Amazon tax". And she wants Seattle to be 100 percent reliant on renewable energy by 2030.

      Sawant is admired by some leftists in Vancouver after campaigning on behalf of Coun. Jean Swanson and other Coalition of Progressive Electors candidates in the 2018 election.

      The Seattle Times reported that the District 3 election was the city's most expensive council race, with Orion receiving "dozens of contributions" from Amazon managers and executives.

      A political action committee backed by Amazon donated $200,000 to Orion's campaign to dislodge Sawant, who's already served two terms on council.

      Amazon's total contribution to this PAC came close to $1.5 million, according to The money was dispersed to support several campaigns.

      Orion, a small businessperson and executive director of Seattle PrideFest, was endorsed by the Seattle Times, Metropolitan Democratic Club of Seattle, and union locals representing Teamsters, the building trades, electrical workers, operating engineers, firefighters, hospitality workers, labourers, painters, plumbers, and pipefitters.

      Orion blamed Amazon's attempt to influence the election for his apparent defeat.

      Sawant was backed by the Stranger, Sierra Club, and several other union locals, but she ticked off the police by opposing a new contract.

      On election night, it looked like Sawant was going to lose, but after more ballots were counted, she catapulted into the lead.

      In August, the Martin Luther King Labor Council endorsed a member of the school board, Zachary DeWolf, over Sawant in the primary. DeWolf ended up in fourth place in the primary, well behind Sawant and Orion.

      Sawant is a 46-year-old former software engineer and economics instructor who was born in Pune and raised in Mumbai in the western Indian state of Maharashtra.

      Kshama Sawant has been a keynote speaker in the past at fundraising rallies for COPE councillor Jean Swanson in Vancouver.
      Charlie Smith

      In an interview with the Straight in 2018, Sawant cited the great Indian politician, economist, and social reformer Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar as one of her greatest influences.

      In the same interview, Sawant described Arundhati Roy, author of The God of Small Things and My Seditious Art, as a "very impressive thinker".

      As a politician, Sawant believes that politicians representing the working class and the poor must force concessions from the ruling class.

      "It doesn't matter what's in your heart as an elected official," Sawant said at the time. "What matters is how you're going to fight for them and actually get results. And the only way you can get results is the way we've shown, which is using your elected office as an open and unambiguous fighter for working-class people."


      After this article was published, Sawant declared victory.