A political flyer sent out by King County Councilmember Kathy Lambert’s campaign depicting her opponent as a puppet controlled by prominent Democrats of color is being criticized as fear-mongering and divisive imagery and rhetoric.
The flyer contains an image of Lambert’s Democratic opponent, Sarah Perry, as a puppet being controlled by Senator Bernie Sanders, Vice President Kamala Harris, Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant, and Lambert’s King County Council colleague Girmay Zahilay. The flyer accuses Perry of being a “socialist puppet” controlled by these politicians of color.
Lambert did not respond to requests for comment despite multiple calls and emails to her campaign office.
Perry said she was deeply disappointed by the imagery and language used on the flyer and was surprised that Lambert would “sink that low.” She said the depiction of her as a puppet was not only offensive to her as a “strong, professional woman,” but to other women like her as well.
She accused the flyer of being racist and antisemetic, replicating imagery that has been used by nationalist propagandists for centuries to depict certain politicians and public figures as being puppeteered and controlled by Jews, and tropes that play into xenophobic fears and attitudes through history.
King County Councilmember Girmay Zahilay, who was depicted as puppeteering the strings on Perry’s back, also found issue with the flyer, accusing Lambert’s campaign of fear-mongering. Zahilay endorsed Perry for Lambert’s District 3 seat.
“Some might say it’s because I endorsed her Democratic opponent. Actually 6 of [Councilmember] Lambert’s colleagues endorsed her opponent,” Zahilay tweeted on Oct. 6. “And yet, of those 6, it’s only my face in a big red bowtie and my name in red boogie man letters that she chose to distribute to thousands of voters.”
Zahilay said that painting a Black elected official with a foreign sounding name as an enemy to suburban and rural values is nothing new.
Perry said while she was endorsed by Zahilay, she has only met him twice before. She also said she has never met nor has any connection to Kamala Harris, Bernie Sanders or Kshama Sawant.
She said rhetoric used in the flyer labeling her as a “socialist” or aligning her with the “defund the police” movement mischaracterize her ideology and remove nuance from her political beliefs.
“I do not know why she chose to use that term,” Perry said, as she doesn’t identify as a socialist and doesn’t seek to defund police resources. In fact, she said she supports giving law enforcement and first responders additional resources, and her focus on police reform will be to increase transparency, accountability and standards, she said.
Her feeling is that the imagery and rhetoric used in the flyer was intended to elicit a gut-level response to the fear, doubts and uncertainty felt by more conservative constituents in the district. The flyer uses buzzwords such as “socialism” and “defund the police,” which have been used and misused, not just recently, by conservatives to mobilize voters against Democratic candidates.
Perry said that kind of rhetoric is not “healthy” for the community and only ends up creating more divisiveness. She said in the end, elected officials and communities move forward by working together and collaborating, not burning bridges.
Perry pointed out The Seattle Times endorsement of the incumbent Lambert, in which “Kathy’s effectiveness at working across party and geographic lines” is touted by her former colleague Larry Gossett as a reason for her success in the non-partisan county council seat.
Perry said this flyer shows her true partisan nature during what could be a closely contested election this November. The District 3 primary election left Lambert leading Perry by only around 2,000 votes.
With a list of endorsements including from Gov. Jay Inslee, Perry feels that Lambert’s campaign rhetoric may have come out of fear of losing the election. Perry accused Lambert of having to try to attack her credibility simply because Lambert does not have enough accomplishments to stand on during her incumbency.