With Bellevue City Councilmember Kevin Wallace announcing he is not seeking re-election, three candidates are looking to fill his place on the council.
Wallace has been a conservative voice on the council, urging fiscal responsibility and a Bellevue-focused rather than regional view since he was elected in 2009.
Wallace has endorsed candidate Jared Nieuwenhuis, but two more liberal candidates are vying for the position as well, Karol Brown and Heidi Chiat.
Chiat has a background in urban planning and architecture, and said she was spurred to run for public office by the hopelessness she felt when President Donald Trump was elected.
Describing herself as a “Bernie-style Democratic Socialist,” Chiat is concerned with her children and other families like hers being priced out of Bellevue. She is a teacher and an advocate for paying a fair living wage.
“Jeff Bezos has recently donated a warehouse in Seattle for a shelter for women and children. They wouldn’t need one if he paid a family wage,” Chiat said. “In today’s dollars, the 1967 minimum wage would be $19 an hour. In the meantime, Bellevue should join ‘The fight for $15.’ As workers spend all the money they earn, it would grow the economy while supporting local/family businesses.”
Universal childcare and preschool, funded by a city gas tax and the Bellevue School District, is also on her agenda.
She would also like to limit development to no more than three stories and require residents actually live in the homes they purchase rather than using them as investment havens.
Chiat’s goals include “preserving Bellevue’s economic and cultural diversity by increasing the inventory of affordable housing and the minimum wage, so that people who work here can live here and support local/family businesses,” she said. “There are ‘help wanted’ signs all over Bellevue. Positions go unfilled because potential employees can’t afford to live in Bellevue.”
Brown finds herself more in the middle of her two opponents.
An immigration attorney, Brown said the diversity of Bellevue requires a deft hand.
“I understand the needs of a diverse community like Bellevue,” she said. “I work with families of many different ethnicities who reunite with their loved ones in the United States. I have worked with asylum applicants seeking freedom from horrific human rights abuses in their home countries.”
Brown said the city needs to encourage high density housing near transit to help spur affordable housing in Bellevue. With that, she said the city should invest in transit to help alleviate congestion plaguing Downtown and the Interstate-405 corridor, as well as replace parking lost by Park and Ride closures.
She said communication and compassion between groups with seemingly different goals can help make the city the best it can be. That includes people of different economic backgrounds as well as ethnic ones.
“An effective Bellevue City Council can support good schools, a thriving economy, a livable wage, effective transportation, affordable housing and a diverse and accepting community,” she said. “The Bellevue City Council represents the state’s biggest minority-majority city, and we need to bring our community together. I will put people first, work together to solve real problems, and encourage transparency, engagement and accountability in our government.”
While Brown was light on concrete plans for change, she said bringing in “world-class” employees for businesses would allow Bellevue’s economy to remain strong.
Nieuwenhuis has served on Bellevue’s Parks and Community Services Board, as well as the boards of LifeWire, the Lake Hills Neighborhood Association and The Sophia Way, among others.
He hopes to use this experience to keep the city more focused on its inner workings.
Nieuwenhuis said that the lack of transparency with the planning of Fire Station 10 and the permanent men’s homeless shelter made him realize he wanted to be involved on the council.
“Bellevue is a special place and I want it to remain so for my daughter and for future generations,” he said. “On top of that, I see the city drifting away from what I like to call ‘The Bellevue Way.’ That’s a pragmatic, common-sense approach toward issues with neighborhood involvement.”
He believes the best way to increase inventory of affordable housing involves both keeping people in their current homes and incentivizing developers to include below-market housing to keep the economy thriving. Some rezoning approaches might work as well, he said.
Nieuwenhuis said transportation is one of the city’s key issues, citing cut-through traffic in neighborhoods as a risk to pedestrians and children. He said the city should work with Sound Transit on more commuter bus lines and should create more walking and bike paths.
But his main reason for running is to listen to what the residents want.
“I want to be the champion of neighborhoods,” he said. “I’m a fiscally conservative, independent moderate. I only have one letter after my name, and that’s ‘B.’ I’m Bellevue-centric.”