A small group of loud right-wingers have launched a recall campaign against Lynnwood City Council Member Josh Binda, one of the youngest people of color ever elected to a city council in Washington state history. In a council meeting earlier this month, representatives from the campaign called on Binda to resign so as to “spare” them the effort of actually garnering the community support necessary to unseat him. 

Binda said he’s not going anywhere. 

The recall touts three main grievances: Binda violated campaign finance law, he filmed a promotional video in City Hall, and–the last straw–he posted a shirtless photo on Instagram. 

The recall campaign did not respond to my request for comment, but other critics seemed less concerned about the actual rule-breaking and more concerned with “decorum,” “ego,” “style,” and a little lollipop he put in his mouth during a meeting once.

Binda said he knows he’s made mistakes, but he asserts that no one would threaten his job over those infractions if he were white, conservative, or even just a little more mindful of parliamentary procedures.

Whether the Republicans are truly upset about broken rules or whether they want to rid the body of anyone who would think twice about pumping more money into jails, the national backlash Binda has received paints a grim picture for marginalized people who want to run for office but fear disproportionate punishment over growing pains in the halls of power.

Nipples *Not Clickbait*

Most recently, Binda came under fire for posting a shirtless photo on his personal Instagram account to show off his “Love Conquers All” tattoo, which commemorates his school speaking tour by the same name. Based on the overwhelming outrage from conservative media, this appears to count as Binda’s greatest sin.

The Lynnwood Times broke the shocking story that a 23-year-old posted the same pictures you would find on any other 23-year-old’s social media. In a description the Times could have ripped from smutty One Direction fanfiction, the outlet noted that Binda stood “turned to the left clasping his left buttock, shirtless revealing his abs, wearing black unbuckled pants fashioned slightly under his beltline.” The Lynnwood Times also reshared a shirtless picture Binda posted last summer and one he posted in the summer of 2020.

As Binda said, “they act like they’ve never seen someone without a shirt before.” 

In public comment following the Lynnwood Times’ horny post, recall supporters accused Binda of “targeting” middle schoolers and high schoolers because he dedicated his tattoo to the student he said he inspired on his “Love Conquers All” speaking tour. 

Binda told The Stranger that he is not “targeting,” “seducing,” or trying to become a “sex symbol” for children. He pushed back on the notion that the human body is inherently sexual. He said he “[challenges] people to examine their bias and why they find [the image] so sexual because that didn’t come from me.”

He argued that the outlet overstated the so-called “public outcry” in its original story about the shirtless picture. When the story was published, it referred to two Facebook comments as “public outcry.” The more popular of the two comments featured three likes, according to screenshots. The “public outcry” actually came after the story, which found its largest audience at the New York Post

Binda is not surprised by the reaction to his body. He said the uproar perpetuates the oversexualization of Black bodies and the age-old racist stereotype that young Black men are sexual predators. 

In a paper published in the Inter-American Journal of Philosophy, philosophy scholar Adebayo Ogungbure describes a US culture that sees Black men as “hypersexual, hypermasculine, hyperaggressive and dangerous males who are prone to perpetrating sexual violence,” especially against white women

The origins of these beliefs date back to chattel slavery and continue to this day, Ogungbure writes. White mobs lynched or castrated Black men at the mere speculation of sexual assault–think Emmett Till, Pervis Payne, and countless other Black men and children who were killed over false allegations of rape and harassment. These beliefs still “reverberate” in the popular imagination, which “contests the livelihood, possibility, agency and freedom of black and brown men by pathologizing and criminalizing them as rapists, brutes, and social deviants,” Ogungbure writes.  

Understanding these racial dynamics, Binda does not believe people would receive his photos so negatively if he were white. Former Congressman Aaron Schock posed shirtless on the cover of Men’s Health magazine in 2011, which accompanied a feature celebrating the young, white politician's physique. He faced virtually no pushback (besides some Congressional colleague making a snarky remark about him “promoting” health while supporting a Medicare overhaul) and certainly no recall attempt. 

Binda in a Bind

Recall supporters are also still mad about campaign finance violations he paid back before he took office and before anyone even called him out. 

In January, the Washington State Public Disclosure Commission (PDC) found Binda guilty of breaking two campaign finance laws during his 2021 bid for office. In the first instance, Binda failed to file a big post-election expenditure report in a timely manner. In the second, flashier concern, Binda used $2,742 of campaign funds for personal expenses, including a necklace, a haircut, airfare, and more than $1,500 on luxury fashion from Versace.

Former Lynnwood Police Department cop Thomas J. Brooks and prolific right-wing PDC complainer Glen Morgan filed the two PDC complaints on the day of Binda’s election. Binda speculated that Brooks and Morgan filed the complaints for political motives, since Binda, whose campaign was born out of the 2020 Black Lives Matter movement, brought a strong progressive vote to the council.

Binda told The Stranger those illegal expenditures were honest mistakes. As a first-time candidate, he did not fully understand what he could and could not spend campaign money on. He told the Lynnwood Times earlier this year that he mixed up his personal and campaign debit card because they look similar.

Whether you take his word for it or not, Binda paid back all the money he mishandled before anyone even filed a complaint.  

Smile for the Camera

The recall aims to hold him accountable for filming a video in city council chambers that he posted on Instagram to promote his “Love Conquers All” tour. According to the Everett Herald, several area schools paid him more than $12,000 for his assembly appearances in the months of January and February. 

The Lynnwood City Council launched an investigation at the end of January to decide if he broke the municipal code that prohibits City officials and employees from “knowingly” using their “office or position for personal or family benefit gain or profit.” If the investigation finds he violated municipal code, the punishment varies from a verbal apology to removal.

Binda deleted the video to avoid further “confusion,” and he told KING 5 that he “will accept the consequences and take full responsibility for my actions” when the ethics board reaches a decision. 

Still, Binda rebukes claims of wrongdoing. He told The Stranger that he did not “profit” from the video shot in City Hall because he posted it after he finalized his contracts with the schools. He intended to announce the tour to students–not solicit sales–as they would attend as a mandatory, non-ticketed assembly during the school day. 

The contracts he sent to The Stranger confirmed this timeline, but they show he used his City email as contact for contracts with both Everett High School and Redmond High School. Lynnwood municipal code prohibits officials and employees from using City resources for personal gain or profit.

Some elected officials told The Stranger that it is weird for Binda to accept money for public speaking as a public official in general. (You’re supposed to do that after you raise your profile as a politician.) Rep. April Berg (D-Mill Creek), who endorsed Binda in 2021, called Binda’s paid speaking tour “unethical.” She wrote, “As an elected official, I would never charge to speak at a school event. As the mother of a high school student in the BSU, I am deeply offended that an elected official would charge students to speak at an event.”

Another Right-Wing Recall

Binda believes the recall effort is obviously politically and racially motivated–it's a bunch of Republicans wearing “Resign Binda Now” T-shirts modeled after the “Black Lives Matter” logo. But he says local media and his council colleagues seem to support their efforts. 

In some ways, this recall campaign mirrors the right-wing recall against Seattle City Council Member Kshama Sawant. She also went to City Hall after-hours and paid a fine for mishandling money. But at the center of it all, civility-politics-obsessed Democrats and Republicans were most disturbed by her unconventional operations, which she believed were punished more severely because the culture at large holds her to a higher standard as a woman of color.

As Lynnwood Council Member Jim Smith said of Binda, everyone breaks campaign finance rules by accident, everyone slips up on ethics, and maybe most 23-year-olds post shirtless photos, but it's about the “full package.” Those infractions, plus the bad manners on council “accumulates to something totally unjustifiable,” he said. 

In the case of Sawant, some more conservative Democrats hid behind the civility claims as a means to drive her socialist ideology out of council. In this case, Binda doesn’t deliver speeches about the evils of capitalism or call his colleagues “Democrats” as an insult, but he pushes the envelope by Lynnwood’s standards.

Earlier this month, he voted yes on a failed resolution to support the bill in the Legislature to ban the sale and manufacturing of “assault weapons.” He stood alone in abstaining from a vote to give more than $600,000 in additional funding to the “Lynnwood Community Justice Center,” which includes an 84-bed jail. He also voted not to overturn the Mayor’s veto on the $40 car tab relief. 

The Republicans of the Lynnwood Times 

His ideology has earned him an enemy in the owner-editor at the Lynnwood Times, Mario Lotmore, Binda said. He believes Lotmore reports with an agenda to take the progressive council member down. 

Lotmore is a Republican, and he ran an unsuccessful campaign for state Senate under the party’s banner in 2018. Binda said that conservative bias reared its ugly head when Lotmore attempted a “smear campaign” by filing a third Republican-driven PDC complaint against the candidate on election day. Lotmore later wrote about the complaint in the Lynnwood Times

Lotmore complained that Binda failed to show his campaign books within 48 hours of the reporter’s request as mandated by state law. Binda and Lotmore met about 49 hours after the request. They planned to meet a few hours earlier, but Binda pushed back the meeting because he needed more time, Lotmore wrote. 

Binda felt the complaint amounted to a conflict of interest. The president and secretary of the Washington Coalition for Open Government disagreed on whether or not the complaint runs contrary to journalistic values, according to the Everett Herald. The secretary said it pointed to a political agenda, the president said the complaint defended the press’ access to public records. 

Still, Binda believes Lotmore’s coverage is somewhat manufacturing criticisms and the recall campaign as well. Two weeks after Lotmore posted Binda’s shirtless pictures, Diodato Boucsieguez filed the recall committee with the PDC. Like Lotmore, Boucsieguez is a Republican who ran an unsuccessful campaign for the state legislature in 2018. Boucsieguez also worked at the Lynnwood Times for six months during 2020 and 2021. 

Representatives for the recall campaign did not respond to my request for comment. 

Not the Most Popular Guy!

Not only does Binda feel targeted by local media, he characterized council chambers as a “hostile” work environment.

Binda claimed his colleagues were out to get him before he even took office. Soon after the 2021 election, the Lynnwood City Council met in an executive session to discuss “potential litigation and ethics concerns” associated with Binda, according to the Everett Herald. While the council cannot legally disclose the specific content of that meeting, Binda sees the session as an attempt to intimidate, bully, and keep him out of office despite his commanding victory. 

More recently, Council President Shannon Sessions aired her grievances with Binda in an April 17 council meeting that he did not attend. Following a dispute over the council member’s trip to Washington D.C., Sessions said Binda “continues to think he’s above everyone else” and acts like “the rules the rest of this council and other elected officials have to follow don’t apply to him.” She added that Binda is “very good at making excuses,” “blaming others for his poor choices,” and “deflecting.”

Mind Your Ps and Qs 

Sessions’s words echoes the concerns of Smith, who criticized Binda for “poor decorum” and a disregard of “parliamentary procedures” in a phone call with The Stranger. Mostly recently, Binda spoke out of turn at the end of a council meeting to address the recall supporters in the audience. He got gaveled off. 

“I carry myself differently, I talk differently, I do certain things differently,” Binda said. “I’m a new generation, and the council is totally against that.”

Binda added that his youthful style might not be so demonized if he were not Black. He alleged some members of the council had trouble respecting Black people. After all, the body showed little urgency in holding Smith to account when an investigation found him guilty of racist and sexist treatment against a Black city employee. Binda was among the only council members who called for any kind of accountability or punishment. Nothing came of it. 

However, not everyone sees the racism Binda sees. 

State Sen. John Lovick (D-Mill Creek) told The Stranger he’s “very disappointed” by Binda. Lovick endorsed Binda in his 2021 race, but he’s not happy with Binda’s social media presence and his lack of “professional decorum” in City Hall. And, personally, he doesn’t buy race or age as an excuse.

“He was young when he was elected. He was a Black person when he was elected,” Lovick said. “People expect a lot of elected officials, and it's not too much to ask an elected official to have proper decorum.”

Lovick thinks it’s ego that’s really kneecapping Binda. Lovick recalled an offensive Instagram post where Binda put half of his face on one slide and the opposite half of Congressman and civil rights activist John Lewis’s face on the next, completing the face. To Lovick, the image communicated a desire for notoriety and not a desire to make change in his community. 

“I just wish he would spend his time and his energy in better ways,” Lovick said. “He still has the opportunity to make it right and do a lot of good for young people and his community. I hope he will.” 

Should Binda get recalled for being cringe on Instagram, making rookie mistakes, and looking bored in council meetings? Lovick said it's up to the people of Lynnwood. 

If a judge lets them pursue a recall, the campaign needs to collect about 2,400 signatures, or 35% the number of votes cast in Binda’s race, to get the recall on the ballot. Despite criticism from endorsers, Binda believes the majority of Lynnwood will have his back on this one. Besides, he said he will not let a gaggle of Republicans, the Lynnwood Times, or his council colleagues scare him out of office.

“This is a lot bigger than me,” Binda said. “I will fight this recall for every single BIPOC person who has feared losing their jobs out of intimidation, who has been silenced, who has been treated as a second class citizen.”

He added, “If they silence me, young BIPOC people will be discouraged from running for office, and I’m not going to let that happen.”