Supporters clap for councilmember Kshama Sawant during an election night party on Tuesday, November 5, 2019, at Langston Hughes Performing Arts Institute in Seattle. Sawant trailed her District 3 opponent Egan Orion on election night but has closed the gap in later returns.
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Supporters clap for councilmember Kshama Sawant during an election night party on Tuesday, November 5, 2019, at Langston Hughes Performing Arts Institute in Seattle. Sawant trailed her District 3 opponent Egan Orion on election night but has closed the gap in later returns.
Credit: KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

How Amazon's money backfired (and helped labor)

The race to watch in the Seattle City Council election is District 3, where incumbent Kshama Sawant trails Egan Orion by about eight points.

KUOW reporters David Hyde and Amy Radil talked to Morning Edition host Angela King about the big takeaways.

Radil: We think that the Amazon spending in this race may have backfired. Egan Orion said so and called it a “distraction.” And people who hadn't even been supporting Sawant rushed to endorse her once Amazon dropped that money.

Hyde: The polling had indicated that the public was pretty dissatisfied heading into this election and that the current council is pretty unpopular. And earlier, these races had really focused mostly on the issues, particularly homelessness.

But then just after the ballots got mailed out, Amazon really changed the conversation by pouring $1.5 million into these races.

That got national attention: Elizabeth Warren tweeted about it, Bernie Sanders tweeted about it twice. And at that point, labor was really effective at making the race all about Jeff Bezos. And looking at these results, you could say it worked in a lot of these races.

Radil: One exception so far appears to be District 4. In that race, Alex Pedersen was backed by business. He has a strong lead over Shaun Scott.

King: David, you were at Kshama Sawant’s election party last night. What was the mood like there?

Hyde: Before the results came in, there were a lot of smiles, upbeat speeches, chants. But when the results flashed up on the screen, it got kind of quiet.

There wasn't any cheering because Sawant was trailing her opponent by more than eight percentage points. And even though a lot of late votes typically would break her way, that's a lot of ground to make up.

One of her supporters last night said to me, that's what happens when you go up against one of the biggest corporations in the world, namely Amazon.

King: So what did Sawant say?

Hyde: She had a lot of zingers about Amazon and not-so-veiled references to Jeff Bezos.

Sawant: “It’s not about inviting the billionaires to the table because for god’s sake, they own the whole goddamn table.”

King: So how big a deal was money in this race?

Hyde: A big deal. Cash flooded into District 3. There was around a 50 percent jump in spending compared to 2015. At this point, Sawant is hanging on by a thread. But last night, someone said she's going to keep fighting until every vote gets counted and her supporters are definitely fired up for that.

Radil: Last night, the first thing Orion said was that the Amazon money on his behalf was unwelcome. He thinks that it actually backfired and threw doubt in the people's minds. And he said he doesn't want to be seen as being in Amazon's shadow if he prevails and wins a seat on the council.