Earlier this month, Mayor Ed Murray announced that he will not seek re-election, due to a scandal arising from multiple men who accuse him of sexually abusing them as minors. When he made his announcement, Martin Luther King County Labor Council Executive Secretary-Treasurer Nicole Grant was standing right behind him on a stage in west Seattle. Afterward, she teared up a little, then told Seattle Weekly that Murray “was unparalleled in delivering policies that help workers…You could ask him for more, and he just wouldn’t flinch. He’d just take a deep breath and be like, ‘How are we going to do this?’” With Murray leaving, “it feels like a lot is at stake,” she said.
For the next mayor, she said, the Labor Council is looking for “somebody who’s not incompetent. Like, shares our values and knows how to work and knows how to deliver.”
The comment appeared to be a lightly veiled critique of Seattle’s emergent leftist movement, and spoke to a deep fissure in Seattle’s political landscape between traditional liberals like Murray and more radical leftists like socialist City Councilmember Kshama Sawant: Leftists have long questioned Murray’s progressive bona-fides; mainstream Democrats have bristled at what they see as the rhetoric-over-results approach of the far left.
Then, on Wednesday, the veil fell off. In a diatribe directed at democratic socialist candidate Jon Grant, Nicole Grant (no relation) lacerated the candidate as a phony and the larger leftist movement he’s aligned himself with as bad for workers. The letter reads like a thesis statement of establishment Democratic politics, and demonstrates how raw feelings have gotten as people like Jon Grant and Kshama Sawant challenge the political order.
Nicole Grant’s statement came after Sawant and Socialist Alternative announced their endorsement of Jon Grant and mayoral candidate Nikkita Oliver. The endorsements were hardly surprising. Sawant, Grant and Oliver are often seen as in the vanguard of Seattle’s New Left, and all three share a post-Occupy Wall Street political sensibility.
But Nicole Grant did not take news of SA’s endorsement of Jon Grant lightly. Instead, she called it a betrayal of the labor movement. Her reason? Labor already has a candidate, she said: Teresa Mosqueda, for whom the labor council made an “ultra early” endorsement this past winter. (Jon Grant declared before Mosqueda.) “She is one of us: a worker, a union member, and a powerful Latina leader…a working class, power-femme.”
In her statement, Nicole Grant said that by endorsing Jon Grant over Mosqueda, “Socialist Alternative would rather turn their back on the very unions and workers who have helped Sawant get elected twice because suddenly Jon Grant says he’s a socialist. Tragedy.” (The Labor Council endorsed Sawant’s opponent Richard Conlin during her first run for City Council in 2013.)
The statement continues: “He can say whatever he wants but here he is on Seattle’s left, slumming, taking up space, stealing credit, posing. Jon Grant is a hypocrite who is running on housing affordability while he bought a south Seattle foreclosure putting an immigrant woman out of her house…with his dad’s money. That’s not socialism.” She went on to mock Jon Grant for having “already lost this race once,” when he ran against incumbent Tim Burgess in the 2015 general election. “Socialist Alternative’s inability to support Teresa Mosqueda…shows how disconnected they are from the people they claim to represent,” wrote Nicole Grant, before ending with this: “Socialist Alternative can say Democrats are evil all day long but tell that to an immigrant union worker who is caught in Donald Trump’s travel ban. We don’t have time for posers like Jon Grant, we are fighting real evil.”
On Friday, Jon Grant responded with his own written statement, in which he carefully avoided attacking Nicole Grant while responding to her assertion that he bought a house “with his dad’s money.”
“In [Nicole Grant’s] statement a number of false accusations were made, while also questioning my integrity and motivations for running for office. It saddened me to receive such personal attacks from a labor leader who I greatly admire and respect…
“When my home was purchased in 2013 it was bank-owned and vacant; under no circumstance would I ever initiate a transaction that would displace someone. Prior to owning my home I lived in a Georgetown rental apartment that was getting hit with sustained yearly rent increases. I recently stopped by my old apartment which now rents for $1300, compared to $850 when I first moved in. I asked my family to loan me the money to buy my house, which they took out of their retirement temporarily and I paid them back by taking out a mortgage.”
Reached Thursday by telephone, Nicole Grant said she stands by her original statement, “posing” and all.
“People have found it strong because it’s not written in rich people language or academic language,” said Nicole Grant. “It’s a statement from a worker’s movement that’s led by young people.”
She also acknowledged the statement’s strategic outrageousness: “It’s such a competitive information environment, it’s like, how do you get anybody to listen? You didn’t call because that [statement] was boring.”
But the emotion behind the words is very real, she said. The Labor Council hasn’t stood in constant opposition to Socialist Alternative. Far from. It endorsed and donated to Sawant in her second run for City Council, and worked with her on the $15 Now campaign. That support, she said, was “not without controversy for us. We represent a huge membership and have had to bring a lot of people along to get with a coalition of socialists.”
Yet SA has shown little in the way of return, she said, and SA’s failure to endorse Mosqueda “was infuriating. It’s an insult.”
“The greatest gift somebody who’s drowning in privilege can give is to step back,” she said. “It’s not like [Jon Grant’s] leadership is so exemplary that he’s literally the only person that could be a great city council person on merit. He’s run of the mill.”
This post has been updated, and includes reporting by Sara Bernard