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The Seattle politician Amazon tried to oust has declared victory

The win by the socialist Kshama Sawant is the latest salvo in an increasingly contentious battle between Amazon and local Seattle officials.

Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant holds up her fist onstage in front of a podium.
Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant speaks during an International Women’s Day rally in Seattle, Washington ,on March 8, 2017.
JASON REDMOND/AFP via Getty Images
Jason Del Rey has been a business journalist for 15 years and has covered Amazon, Walmart, and the e-commerce industry for the last decade. He was a senior correspondent at Vox.

Amazon poured nearly $1.5 million into last week’s Seattle city council elections, aiming to defeat local, progressive politicians who supported a tax on big business that Amazon opposes.

It didn’t work.

On election night, Amazon’s key political nemesis, Kshama Sawant, originally trailed by 8 percentage points — but over the weekend, she declared victory after ballot counts put her ahead of her Amazon-backed rival by more than 3 percentage points. Election tallies indicate that only two of the seven candidates Amazon backed will win, meaning the company’s efforts will fail to tilt the council in a pro-big-business way that would benefit Amazon.

The win by Sawant, a socialist and former software engineer, is the latest salvo in what has become an increasingly contentious battle between Amazon and its hometown city council. Amazon’s rapid growth in Seattle has helped transform the city into a tech powerhouse, but local politicians blame that growth and the accompanying real estate boom for much of the city’s ills, with a homelessness crisis near the top of the list.

Last year, the city council voted to levy a new tax on large businesses of about $275 per employee — called the “head tax” — to help fund homelessness services and low-income housing. Amazon fiercely opposed the bill, arguing that the city’s problem was not a lack of money to spend but rather ineffective spending of the money it had.

After the tax passed, Amazon and other Seattle businesses continued to fight and eventually succeeded in pushing local leaders to repeal the tax.

But a new, similar tax might now be in play after Amazon-backed candidates’ showing in last week’s election. Amazon supported seven city council candidates via a $1.45 million contribution to a political action committee backed by Seattle’s chamber of commerce in the hope of electing a more business-friendly slate of officials. But it appeared as of Monday that only two of the seven would win election.

The council has nine members in total, but two seats were not up for election this year. Local unions spent about $1 million on the race, according to Reuters.

Since being elected for the first time in 2013, Sawant has been a frequent critic of Amazon, hosting several rallies at the company’s headquarters to protest Amazon’s perceived negative impacts on Seattle.

It’s possible that Amazon’s cash donation aimed at defeating her rallied more voters to her side, with presidential candidates Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders both tweeting about Amazon’s opposition to her.

In fact, her opponent, Egan Orion, sounded on election night as though he would have been happier without the Amazon association.

“We didn’t need any more money in this race. I think it was a big distraction that played right into Kshama’s hands,” he said.

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