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Amazon Spending to Take Seattle Council Not Working So Far

Dina Bass

(Bloomberg) -- Amazon.com Inc.’s attempt to overhaul the Seattle City Council through political donations may have fallen short, initial election returns suggest.

While only some ballots have been counted, early results from Tuesday’s election indicate that Amazon-backed candidates won’t win a majority of the nine seat council. Only four of Amazon’s choices were ahead in the early count and one of those by a slim margin.

Amazon, the biggest employer in Seattle, contributed $1.45 million to a business-backed political-action committee to help elect council members the company viewed as more favorable to its interests and those of the business community.

The group, called the Civic Alliance for a Sound Economy, backed six new candidates for seven open council seats. Three of them trail, according to the early results. It also backed one incumbent, who leads her race. Two positions weren’t up for election this year.

But the retail giant may still attain its biggest local election prize -- the defeat of local socialist and chief Amazon antagonist Kshama Sawant, who trails rival Egan Orion, a candidate who garnered personal donations from at least 18 Amazon executives.

Yet even that victory is far from assured as Sawant made a late come back in a previous election six years ago. Washington State votes by mail-in ballot so close races can often take days to count.

Amazon said Wednesday it was pleased with the outcome so far.

“We’re looking forward to working with the new city council, which we believe will be considerably more open to constructive dialogue and making the decisions that need to be made in order for Seattle to be world-class city to live and do business,” Amazon spokesman Drew Herdener said in a statement.

The election and a bitter primary this August have divided Seattle, a city facing rapid expansion in the technology sector along with crippling traffic and worries about high housing costs and persistent homelessness.

The spending on the local races reflect a potential pushback from business as progressive politicians gain prominence nationally. It also framed the election as a test of whether money from deep-pocketed companies would be effective on a public wary of corporate influence in politics.

U.S. Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren criticized Amazon’s spending on the Seattle races as they vie for the Democratic presidential nomination.

Seattle’s business revolt ignited last year as the city considered a tax on large employers to fund homeless services. After the measure passed in May 2018, Amazon helped lead a resistance that ultimately ended in the measure’s repeal a month later. Since then, the company has made several announcements about its intentions to expand in Bellevue, just east of Seattle.

(Updates with comment from Amazon in the seventh paragraph.)

To contact the reporter on this story: Dina Bass in Seattle at dbass2@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Jillian Ward at jward56@bloomberg.net, Andrew Pollack, Alistair Barr

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