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Amazon tried to buy a new Seattle City Council. It doesn’t look like it worked.

Amazon’s money may help defeat its biggest political foe, but its chosen candidates are not expected to have a majority on the city council.

An Amazon employee holds an American flag outside the company’s Seattle headquarters.
Amazon Employees for Climate Justice lead a walkout and rally at the company’s Seattle headquarters on September 20, 2019.
Jason Redmond/AFP/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 local elections in its hometown of Seattle, hoping to install a majority of business-friendly politicians on the city council and to defeat an incumbent socialist who’s also a vocal Amazon critic. The dynamic between council members and Amazon has been a contentious one over the last two years, highlighted by a very public battle over a proposed business tax in 2018.

Early election results for the Seattle City Council show that the company’s loudest opponent, the incumbent councilmember Kshama Sawant, trailed an Amazon-backed candidate as of Tuesday night. But results indicate that Amazon’s favored candidates won’t make up the majority of the council.

Amazon donated $1.45 million to a political action committee backed by Seattle’s chamber of commerce, called Civic Alliance for a Sound Economy (CASE), in the hope of beating back progressive politicians who blame Amazon’s growth — and the dizzying real estate frenzy that has accompanied it — for much of the city’s ills, which include rising homelessness rates and soaring rents. Amazon gave just $25,000 to the same group four years ago, according to Reuters.

As of Tuesday night, three of the seven Amazon-backed candidates had healthy leads, three were losing, and one race was a virtual tie. Seven of the nine seats on the city council were up for vote. It’s worth noting that most votes in Seattle elections are cast by mail-in ballot, meaning close races can take days to call as last-minute mail-ins are counted. New results are expected late afternoon Wednesday Pacific time.

One of the candidates in the lead is Egan Orion, a CASE-backed politician who received significant personal donations from Amazon executives and was running against Sawant. He was leading Sawant by about 8 percentage points as of Tuesday night, but the incumbent has not conceded because she has previously made up ground in the days after a prior election to come out on top. During her time in office, Sawant has been a frequent critic of Amazon, hosting several rallies at the company’s headquarters to protest its perceived negative impacts on Seattle.

Amazon donated $1 million of the $1.45 million total just a few weeks ago, setting off a firestorm of criticism from left-leaning politicians, including presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.

These elections mark just the latest chapter in an increasingly tumultuous relationship between Amazon and some of its hometown’s politicians, who want the company to do more to combat homelessness and housing crises and a widening chasm between the city’s tech elite and working-class population. Amazon has taken some steps over the last few years to appear more like a good corporate neighbor, including donating 60,000 square feet of its downtown real estate, with a 10-year no-rent agreement, to a shelter for homeless families.

But tensions came to a flashpoint last year when the Seattle City Council voted to implement a tax on big businesses, including Amazon, to help fund affordable housing and homeless services. Amazon paused some office construction in protest of the proposed tax and then questioned its future in the city after the tax passed. The same city council then repealed the tax just weeks later, as Amazon and other big business groups ratcheted up the pressure.