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Conlin concedes defeat in council race against Sawant

Richard Conlin concedes Credit: Matt Fikse-Verkerk

Four-term Seattle City Councilmember Richard Conlin on Friday conceded defeat in his re-election campaign against Socialist challenger Kshama Sawant.

Since last week, late-arriving ballots have steadily eaten away at Conlin’s 7.5 percentage point election night advantage. Almost every daily vote count released after Election Day favored Sawant and by Friday afternoon she was ahead by a margin of 1,640 votes. The latest results in the race showed Sawant with 50.3 percent of the vote and Conlin with 49.36 percent.

“Unfortunately it appears that my opponent has received the greater number of votes, and we do not at this point see a realistic path to success,” Conlin said at a press conference held in a second floor hallway at City Hall. “I formally concede the election to Ms. Sawant. I hope she will serve the people of Seattle effectively.”

Conlin said that while he wanted to continue his work in public service, he did not expect to run again for public office.

Asked about Sawant’s Socialist party affiliation, Conlin said: “I think people of Seattle, generally, when they think of Socialism, we think of Sweden and that’s not a bad model.”

“I don’t think socialism necessarily makes most people in Seattle afraid,” he added.

Sawant, an economics instructor at Seattle University, ran on promises of fighting for a $15 minimum wage, rent control and a “millionaires” tax. She has said she wants to implement the $15 wage in 2014; Mayor-elect Ed Murray has indicated that he favors a more gradual approach. And the idea is certain to provoke strong business opposition.

Shortly after Conlin conceded Sawant issued an emailed statement. “While I do not agree with Richard Conlin’s political positions, I respect that he served on the City Council for 16 years,” the statement said. “These exciting results show a majority of voters are fed up with the corporate politicians who have presided over the widening chasm between the super-rich and the rest of us.”

Sawant is likely the first Socialist elected to the Seattle City Council. Scott Cline, a staff member at the Seattle Municipal Archives, said he examined records dating back to 1910 and could not find another example of a self-described Socialist who won a council seat.

Video from Robert Mak

First elected to the council in 1997, Conlin served as council president from 2008 to 2011. Currently he is chairman of the Planning, Land Use and Sustainability Committee, where he has overseen density increases in a number of neighborhoods, and in recent years he has championed local food production and environmental sustainability initiatives.

Several councilmembers released statements shortly after the press conference that praised Conlin for his work on the council. “Councilmember Conlin has been a mentor to me since I was elected to the Council in 2007,” Councilman Tim Burgess' said. “I will miss his wisdom.”

Conlin said it was difficult to know why exactly he had not garnered enough voter support to win the race.

“Two days ago I got three emails,” he said. “One of them said, I’m voting against you because you voted against the arena, the second one said I’m voting against you because you supported apodments, and the third one said I voted against you because you voted to ban plastic bags.”

“You know,” he said. “It’s hard to know exactly what happened.”

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