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Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan calls a council candidate a socialist but dismisses charge of 'red-baiting'

caption: Seattle mayor Jenny Durkan sent a letter to supporters in which she endorsed candidate Mark Solomon for Seattle City Council District 2. She said two other candidates would "cause more division in our city."
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Seattle mayor Jenny Durkan sent a letter to supporters in which she endorsed candidate Mark Solomon for Seattle City Council District 2. She said two other candidates would "cause more division in our city."
KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan called a City Council candidate a socialist in an email to friends and supporters.

The candidate, Tammy Morales, then accused Durkan of "red-baiting" for calling her a socialist who would “cause more division” in Seattle.

The mayor's email was in support of Mark Solomon, another candidate for District 2 in southeast Seattle. Longtime councilmember Bruce Harrell, who represents that district, is not running for another term.

Durkan said in her letter that "adding another socialist like Tammy Morales, or a rigid conservative like Ari Hoffman to the City Council will cause more division in our city.”

Durkan told KUOW on Thursday that she did not mean "socialist" as a slur.

“In 2019 -- almost 2020 -- Seattle, the word ‘socialist’ is not pejorative,” she said.

She noted the rise of socialist celebrity politicians like Bernie Sanders and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

Durkan said Ocasio-Cortez, the congresswoman from New York, has inspired people to get engaged.

Durkan also offered some praise for Seattle's current socialist Councilmember Kshama Sawant, saying, "While Councilmember Sawant and I don't agree on everything, surprisingly we do agree on some things. She is unabashed about who she is and what she believes."

Still, Durkan said Morales has sent mixed signals. She joined the Democratic Socialists of America earlier this year, but now said she doesn’t consider herself a socialist.

Durkan said Morales posted about joining the DSA on social media, but when she went back to verify that, the account was no longer active.

“I assumed when she joined it, that meant she was ascribing as a member,” Durkan said, adding somewhat tongue-in-cheek, “I apologize that I thought if she joined the Democratic Socialists, that meant [she was a member]."

Morales told KUOW that she's not a socialist.

"I've said many times that I identify as a Democrat and that I believe the Democratic Socialists, the DSA, is a more progressive wing of the Democratic Party. That's why I joined," she said.

Morales said that wing "is in ascendency and it's important for our elected leaders to understand that."

In a note to supporters, she called Durkan's critism "so 1950s."

“I'm not a socialist, but her implication that it's a bad thing is ridiculous,” she wrote.

Morales pointed to endorsements from Democrats.

Beyond party ties, Durkan said her opposition to Morales has to do with their approaches to issues like homelessness and policing.

“I think she’s divisive because we have really strong policy differences,” Durkan said.

She said Morales would reignite the “polarizing” debate over sweeps of homeless encampments and use of the city’s “navigation teams.”

“[Morales] wants to de-fund them and eliminate them because she believes that encampments should remain anywhere,” Durkan said. “What we’re doing now isn’t working perfectly but it’s working better. Last year we moved more people from homelessness to permanent housing than ever before.”

Morales wrote to supporters, “The mayor is right about one thing – I don't think City Hall is doing enough to address homelessness.”

Morales said she favors funding for trash pickup and hygiene services as well as a “Housing First” model and “securing progressive revenue for permanent supportive housing.”

Durkan said she and Morales are also at odds over hiring more police officers, something Durkan said she favors and Morales opposes.

“That is out of step with where that community is,” Durkan said. “What I hear from the community is, they want to make sure that they have more public safety officers serving them. [Morales] goes to the line of saying, ‘No, we need less police’. I just think that’s wrong.”

On her campaign website Morales said she would focus on fair contracts for police and the community, restorative justice programs and prioritizing de-escalation training for officers.

The seat in District 2 is open because Bruce Harrell is not seeking reelection. Morales came close to unseating Harrell in 2015.

Now she’s running against Solomon, a crime prevention coordinator with the Seattle Police Department who is endorsed by the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce, as well as candidates Chris Peguero, Phyllis Porter, Henry Dennison, Omari Tahir-Garrett, and Ari Hoffman.

"The issue is not socialism. That is a very typical screed that is used against anybody who is not interested in representing corporate interests," Morales said.

"It's frustrating to me that that has become the conversation, that's not the issue in this district."

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