Running with the Chamber

Why is Pamela Banks running against Kshama Sawant?
Why is Pamela Banks running against Kshama Sawant?

Seattle’s downtown business community has now spoken.

The Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce, through its political arm, the Civic Alliance for a Sound Economy (CASE), announced on May 18 its endorsements for the 2015 Seattle City Council primary elections. This is significant due to the Chamber’s role in guiding the increasingly conservative direction of Seattle’s city government in recent decades. While the Chamber has in recent years taken progressive stances on such locally safe political topics as climate change and marriage equality, it remains ultimately committed to the ideology of economic fundamentalism that has now long dominated Seattle City Hall, leading to our city’s current crisis of rampant economic inequity.

Here are the CASE endorsements:

District 1: Shannon Braddock
District 2: Bruce Harrell
District 3: Pamela Banks
District 4: Rob Johnson
District 5: no endorsement
District 6: no endorsement
District 7: Sally Bagshaw
At-large Position 8: Tim Burgess
At-large Position 9: Lorena González

Of all these endorsements, the most intriguing is that of Pamela Banks, who has openly acknowledged that her primary reason for running is to unseat the controversial socialist incumbent Kshama Sawant. Banks’s candidacy is intriguing because she’s a genuinely progressive woman of color running against a genuinely radical woman of color. (Welcome to Seattle, indeed.)

Banks is currently president and CEO of the Urban League of Metropolitan Seattle and has a long history as a local community organizer. When she announced her candidacy on March 5, Banks declared, “I’ve learned over my career that you solve more problems with a telephone than a megaphone.” Obviously, this dog-whistle barb was aimed at Sawant, who’s well known for her longtime involvement with local radical activism.

Sawant — who accepted no corporate funding during her 2013 city council campaign, won her seat decisively based on citywide grassroots support, and gives back most of her city council salary to local progressive causes — is now being challenged by the CEO of an organization that is funded mainly by big business and government. Among the funders of the Seattle Urban League are Starbucks, JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Morgan Stanley, Union Bank, Key Bank, Safeco Insurance, Walmart, Microsoft, Comcast, Google, Eli Lilly, Cambia Insurance and — last but not least — the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce.

Clearly, certain powerful people despise Sawant — both locally and nationally. As Josh Feit at PubliCola reported this morning, “some local, wealthy donors” in District 3 are actively organizing to unseat Sawant:

“And some of them gathered at a breakfast fundraiser [on May 22] to support Sawant’s opponent, Banks. The campaign reportedly delivered the motivating message to supporters that hefty out-of-state donations were going to be coming in from top-tier-donor counterparts from around the country who are antsy about Sawant’s growing influence in a prominent city like Seattle — and they don’t want her to be re-elected.”

Here is yet another case of a progressive challenger running to unseat a progressive incumbent on a city council that has increasingly drifted towards the political right in recent decades. Sawant was previously challenged last July when Alison Holcomb, criminal justice director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington, announced that she was “seriously considering” challenging Sawant in the District 3 race. Holcomb wisely changed her mind, and thus retained her considerable credibility as one of the key architects of the recent legalization of recreational marijuana in Washington state.

Further back, in 2009, widely respected ultra-liberal council incumbent Nick Licata was challenged by Jesse Israel, a political newcomer claiming progressive credentials. This was when all of Seattle’s city council seats remained strictly citywide, leaving many local political cognoscenti to wonder why Israel chose to challenge Licata instead of the more conservative council incumbent Richard Conlin. (Licata was of course re-elected that year and has now chosen to retire from public office rather than seek a fifth term within the new district council system.)

Seattle city politics has long been prone to such internecine municipal intrigue. With this year’s August 4 primary election day still ten long weeks away, get ready for further such hijinks this summer.

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