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Councilmember removed from leadership after offensive mailer

October 13, 2021 GMT

SEATTLE (AP) — The Metropolitan King County Council voted Tuesday to remove Councilmember Kathy Lambert from her leadership role on committees as punishment for a mailer sent out by her campaign that featured a colleague and was widely condemned as racist.

After initially defending the mailer, which portrayed Black Councilmember Girmay Zahilay as a socialist and puppet master holding a marionette of Lambert’s opponent, Lambert apologized last week amid rescinded endorsements, saying the message is “not what was intended.”

Before the vote was taken, Lambert asked to instead resign from her committee leadership positions, The Seattle Times reported. She said the vote on removing her was “rushed in an unprecedented way” and was about damaging her reelection prospects. She faces a challenging race for reelection in November.

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“One lapse in judgment that was insensitive should not be allowed to overshadow 27 years of good service,” Lambert said. “For those of you who have never made an insensitive remark or act, congratulations.”

The Council voted 9-0 with Lambert also voting in favor.

The legislation removing Lambert from committee leadership roles says Lambert’s actions “have adversely impacted the ability of the council to conduct its business efficiently and effectively.” It says her actions were contrary to the county’s equity and social justice policies and “impaired the ability of councilmembers and council staff to perform their duties.”

Council Chair Claudia Balducci said based on those impacts, it was imperative that they take concrete action quickly.

“This reorganization was essential to protect the integrity of the Council,” she said.

Lambert had been the chair of the Community, Health and Housing Services Committee and the Regional Water Quality Committee. She was also vice chair of the Law and Justice Committee and the Local Services Committee.

The mailer shows Zahilay joined by Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant, Vice President Kamala Harris and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. Zahilay’s face is edited onto a pinstriped suit and a red bow tie and he’s holding the puppet strings attached to a picture of Lambert’s opponent Sarah Perry.

Zahilay previously denounced the ad as racist and inaccurate, noting that he’s not a socialist and he’s not the only County Council member to endorse Perry.