City of Seattle, WA

09/17/2020 | News release | Distributed by Public on 09/16/2020 19:55

My remarks prior to passage of City Council Bill 119891, authorizing legal assistance to Councilmember Sawant during the initial stage of the recall petition against her.

My remarks prior to passage of City Council Bill 119891 authorizing legal assistance to Councilmember Sawant during the initial stage of the recall petition against her:

I would like to thank my constituents who took the time to contact me and my office with their strong feelings about this issue - both for and against it - since it was reported widely in the media over the past month.

I'd like to offer 3 reasons for the vote I am about to take:

#1: I passionately disagree with many actions and positions of Councilmember Sawant (and she certainly disagrees with me). Yet the decision and the specifics of law before us today are not about our disagreements over politics or personalities. And, during these tumultuous times with a public health pandemic and economic recession - when our current President in the other Washington has cheapened our democracy by demonizing his opponents with personal attacks on their character - we here in Seattle must do a better job respecting our differences, finding common ground, and staying focused on what we were elected to do.

Today's decision is not about personalities or politics, but about the provisions in our State government laws and the relevant provisions of the Revised Code of Washington (RCW) say:

  • The elected official has to make the request for assistance: She requested it.
  • The City Attorney has to approve it. He approved it.
  • And the City Council has to vote on it. That's why we're here today.

In deciding the most prudent path, I would normally consult our City Attorney for advice. In this rare case, our City Attorney has already indicated his approval. In other words, our elected City Attorney supports having us pay for the legal assistance and to have his office provide that legal assistance going forward. The fact that our elected City Attorney already approved this is very compelling to me.

#2: While this situation is unfortunate and unusual, it is not unprecedented. In fact, there is a very compelling precedent. In 2011, just one year before I joined the City Council as a bright-eyed Legislative Aide for Tim Burgess, the Seattle City Council unanimously approved nearly identical legislation to defend Councilmember Richard Conlin against a recall position. The recall petition accused Councilmember Conlin of taking various unauthorized actions, which included signing important documents he was not supposed to sign. In the end, the courts wisely rejected the recall attempt. When he was exonerated, Councilmember Conlin said, 'disagreement over a policy issue is not grounds for removal from office.' He was right. Ironically, he later lost his reelection narrowly to newcomer Kshama Sawant. And the voters again re-elected Councilmember Sawant less than a year ago.

And, finally, #3: The laws governing the recall of elected officials in Washington State are complex and the facts of this case are not clear. All the more reason that adequate legal counsel should be available to the duly elected official defending against a recall petition - a right to an attorney in their defense, whether or not they can afford it.

I realize this is not necessarily a popular position in my district and many supporters of mine will be asking for a long time, How could you support Councilmember Sawant on this? But I would like to assure ALL my constituents that what I am actually supporting and honoring are the facts as I know them, the thoughtful approval of our elected City Attorney, and the crystal clear precedent set by a previous City Council which approved this same accommodation for a previous Councilmember.

Today's action, if approved, would merely provide legal assistance to the duly elected official who is the subject of the recall petition. Ultimately, this matter will be decided by voters in Seattle's District 3 - sooner if the courts allow the petition to advance or later, if we simply allow the elected official to finish the term she was elected to serve.

Today I will be voting Yes on this Council bill.

Thank you.

# # #

For Seattle Times columnist Danny Westneat's take on the various recall efforts, CLICK HERE. Mr. Westneat writes, 'My two cents, as someone who lives in Sawant's 3rd District, is that Sawant's penchant for grandiose, activist stunts hardly comes as a news flash to the people. We had an election less than a year ago when Sawant could have been recalled, but the voters, eyes wide open, chose to rehire her anyway. Sorry, but there's no democracy do-over for buyer's remorse.