Amazon’s Bid for Business-Friendly Seattle City Council Tanks

Seattle City Council member Kshama Sawant speaks at City Hall in Seattle on June 12, 2018. Seven of the nine Seattle City Council seats were up for grabs and retail giant Amazon made unprecedented donations totaling $1.5 million to a political action committee that supported a slate of candidates perceived to be friendlier to business. Among the company’s top targets was Sawant, a fierce critic of Amazon who held on to her seat. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)

(CN) – With just a handful of ballots left to count and the victory of a socialist incumbent, the race for Seattle City Council has a decisive loser: Amazon and its $1 million bid to install a council more friendly to big business.

Last year, the City Council passed a per-employee tax on the state’s largest employers to pay for affordable housing and its fight against homelessness. About 500 companies grossing $20 million or more per year would have paid approximately 14 cents per hour worked by each employee – which after five years would add up to over $45 million.

Amazon, Starbucks and the Downtown Seattle Association fought the tax and, two weeks later, the council voted 7-2 to repeal it. Ahead of the Nov. 5 election, the tech giant dumped over $1 million into the race in a bid to remove progressive council members and back candidates that would make the City Council much more friendly to big business.

But the Amazon-led attempt to unseat progressive council members such as Lisa Herbold and Kshama Sawant and to fight Tammy Morales backfired, resulting in a City Council that is even more progressive than the one that preceded it.

One week after the election, not every vote has yet been tallied. But clear winners and losers have emerged – especially one would-be influencer, according to Travis Ridout, professor of politics at Washington State University.

“Amazon lost,” Ridout said in a phone interview. “It’s not all that surprising. As a company, they’re very polarizing, just like we’re polarized on a national level. It gave opponents a bogeyman of sorts. I suspect they’ll be more hesitant to go into a City Council race like this one in the future.”

Tuesday afternoon’s tally of another batch of mail-in ballots left just 1,800 to be counted in King County, home to Seattle. The results were clear: out of nine council seats, seven had been in play during last Tuesday’s election. Only two candidates backed by Amazon are ahead.

“Money does not buy an election,” Ridout said. “I think we already knew that.”

One of the most striking results was the late surge in mail-in ballots for socialist incumbent Kshama Sawant. Initially trailing Amazon-funded Egan Orion, Sawant finished Tuesday afternoon with nearly 52% of the vote. Over the weekend, she declared the race over.

In her victory speech at the Langston Hughes Performing Arts Institute in Seattle, Sawant called the results “a repudiation on the billionaire class” and promised a new head tax on Amazon and other big businesses.

She added that the voters told Amazon that Seattle politics are not for sale.

“The great American abolitionist Frederick Douglas said, ‘If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will,’” Sawant told supporters.

But Ridout suggested there is still a way for Amazon to have the influence it sought.

“What if they had donated to every City Council member as a way to say, you know what? We’re going to work with you, whatever the outcome,” Ridout said. “Amazon still has a lot of political power in Seattle, but it may be a political power that is working more in the background.”

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