The Slant of Seattle

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Jenny Durkan is not going to be recalled as mayor of Seattle.

Most readers of this page probably never would have heard of my hometown’s mainline Democratic mayor if Seattle had not suffered protest, mayhem, and the establishment of a six-block “autonomous zone” in June. When Mayor Durkan declined to take back the “Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone” — the CHAZ — by force, she was labeled a weakling and an appeaser by conservatives around the nation.

In the midst of that episode, I argued here that Durkan was playing it smart. The loudmouth lords of the CHAZ had presented her with a list of demands, such as retrying all African Americans under sentence for violent crimes and reducing the budget of the Seattle Police Department to zero. Their demands were all impossible. There was no way a Democratic mayor of a left-leaning city, or any mayor of any city, was going to meet them. And if she had followed President Trump’s plan and sent in the cops with nightsticks and tear gas, people would have blamed her for the inevitable broken heads. Instead, she described their occupation as a street festival — which we often have, here. She also called it “a peaceful expression of our community’s collective grief and their desire to build a better world.” Really this was a warning to the participants that they had better keep it peaceful.

When Mayor Durkan declined to take back the “Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone” by force, she was labeled a weakling and an appeaser by conservatives around the nation.

But they didn’t. The cops were gone, and the guns came out. A business owner told the Seattle Times that at least three groups of informal security patrolled the CHAZ with handguns and rifles. “Some wore official-looking private security uniforms,” the café owner said. “Others wore casual clothes and lanyards identifying their affiliation with Black Lives Matter. A third group wore all black with no identifying labels and declined to name their group affiliation.” This latter group was antifa, and was the most troublesome.

Already in the protests elsewhere in the city, people had been hurt. A friend told me of a man she knew who went out on the street and got clubbed on the head with a baseball bat. In and around the CHAZ came four shootings. Two of the victims died — Lorenzo Anderson, 19, and Antonio Mays Jr., 14, both of them black. Mays had come all the way from San Diego to be part of the historic protest. The day after he was shot, Mayor Durkan sent in the cops, and the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone was no more.

Several businesses in the Zone filed a lawsuit against the city, demanding compensation for leaving them without protection for three weeks. Plaintiffs say they were “subject to violence, harassment, trespass and vandalism; denial of access to their property; loss of police protection and public services, including trash, medical and fire services; loss of business revenue, loss of the use of public streets, sidewalks and parks . . .”

The mother of Lorenzo Anderson filed a wrongful-death suit against the city, claiming that it had allowed a dangerous environment and that emergency workers had failed to render assistance to her son. Her son had bled out on the street for 20 minutes, with no help from any aid car. Volunteers drove him to the county hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

After municipal sovereignty was restored, several leftists filed papers to recall the mayor in a special election. Their accusation was that she had authorized police use of “chemical weapons” (tear gas) and that her decree of May 30 banning possession of rocks, bottles, pipes, and bats was “grossly overbroad.”

A Republican candidate for governor posed with the petition and urged his supporters to sign it for the opposite reason — that Durkan had allowed the lawless takeover of six blocks. The Republican didn’t care that the petition had been filed by the supporters of that takeover. As a conservative, he was “running against Seattle,” whose political players were all the same to him. He couldn’t have signed the petition anyway, because he doesn’t live here. I could have signed it, but I didn’t because recalling my liberal Democratic mayor would have been a victory for the Seattle Left, and I didn’t want them to have any victories.

All that is by the wayside now. Mayor Durkan — who served as United States Attorney here under President Obama — challenged the recall in court. Under Washington law, a recall requires a list of particulars. Under the law, the court is required to assume the particulars are true and decide whether they justify a recall. The Washington Supreme Court ruled unanimously that the things Durkan was accused of were either the responsibility of the chief of police, who had already resigned, or didn’t rise to the occasion. The Court killed the recall.

As a writer I’m sad about that, because a recall would have been spectacle. As a citizen, I am relieved.

This is Marxist rhetoric. It is not liberal, and is beyond even progressive.

I still may get my recall, though. Kshama Sawant, the lone Trotskyite on the Seattle City Council, is also the subject of a petition for recall. The bill of particulars against Sawant includes charges that she misused city funds for political purposes; that she delegated some of her duties to Socialist Alternative, her political organization; that during the coronavirus lockdown of City Hall, she opened it up to her supporters for a rally without permission; and that she held another rally outside Mayor Durkan’s house, the location of which is supposed to be kept secret because of her previous position as U.S. attorney.

And the court has allowed recall of Sawant to go forward. I can’t sign that petition because I’m not in Sawant’s district (which includes the CHAZ, or as they called it toward the end, the CHOP — “Capitol Hill Organized Protest”). Petitioners need about 10,000 signatures to put the recall on the ballot, which could happen early next year. It won’t make the November ballot. Here is how Sawant responded to the court ruling:

We should not be surprised that the courts would side with the racist police and system, rather than with this awakening movement. The ruling class is on the defensive. But they are empowering reaction. We saw how not only Trump, but a section of the mass media defended the murders in Kenosha. We see in Seattle how a section of the Democratic establishment, led up by Mayor Durkan, has gone to war against Black Lives Matter. And has joined this to the effort to try to drive out our socialist City Council office.

It is likely no accident that this recall petition is almost identical to Durkan’s statement calling for the Council to expel me. It is no accident that three of the charges in the recall petition are a direct attack on the black lives matter movement. It is no accident that billionaire Trump donor Martin Selig is supporting the recall effort. It is no accident that the recall effort is being represented in court by John McKay, a former U.S. Attorney under George W. Bush, a former corporate vice president, and I hear a close personal friend of someone you may know — Jenny Durkan. It is no accident that my sleazy corporate-backed opponent from last year, Egan Orion, is supporting this campaign. It is no accident the recall campaign is hiding the source of their $40,000 in funding, keeping it anonymous. And it is no accident that at the same time as this recall campaign is taking place, Bezos and Amazon executives are trying to punish working people for the Amazon Tax by attempting to move more jobs out of Seattle.

They are afraid — the ruling class and the right wing are afraid of us.*

This is Marxist rhetoric. It is not liberal, and is beyond even progressive. Just the other day Trump called California Senator Kamala Harris a “communist,” which was even more nutty than his attorney general calling Seattle an “anarchist jurisdiction.” But here and there, the c-word does fit.

I hope the recall campaign can get the signatures. I will keep Liberty’s readers informed.

* Of the people Sawant smears in her statement, Martin Selig was the developer of Seattle’s tallest building, the 76-story Columbia Center, back in the 1980s. John McKay, the former U.S. Attorney for Western Washington under Bush, was fired in 2006 because he was too independent. Egan Orion was Sawant’s opponent in the 2019 election. She accuses him of being “sleazy” because Amazon poured in a bunch of money to help him — but the money became the principal issue in the campaign, and it hurt him.

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