Update: An earlier version of this article stated Nieuwenhuis didn’t respond to the allegation he and others were “running a slate.” That was incorrect. He did, in fact, say he, “would not characterize us as slate but we are unified in our stance on this issue.” The Reporter regrets the error.
A campaign mailer claiming three Bellevue City Council candidates support heroin injection sites is just plain wrong, according to the candidates it’s about.
Paid for by Friends of Jared Niewenhuis, Friends of Phil Yin and Friends of Steve Fricke, the mailer calls out opponents Karol Brown, Janice Zahn and incumbent Lynne Robinson, and tells voters to “stop these candidates from bringing heroin into Bellevue.”
Thing is, each of the women the mailer is about say it’s false.
“I’ve seen the mail piece sent out by my opponent and others, and it’s simply untrue,” Brown said in an email. “I’ve had my stance on safe injection sites on my website for weeks now. I support the City Council’s decision to reject safe injection sites in Bellevue, plain and simple.”
Brown said she’s repeated that stance at every candidate forum and that her opponent, Niewenhuis, is misleading voters.
“I hope and believe Bellevue residents will see through his dishonest tactics and make their choice on the facts,” she added.
Zahn, whose opponent is Yin, echos Brown. At every candidate forum, on her website and while door belling, her stance has been clear.
“I do not support a safe injection site in Bellevue,” Zahn said. “More importantly, the Bellevue City Council had already voted (after a public hearing with public input) to ban safe injection sites before the mailer was sent out. My opponent knew it and still chose to play politics with a very important public health and public safety issue.”
Robinson said her opponent, Fricke, as well as the other candidates listed on the mailer know “full well that the unanimous council vote to ban safe injection sites in Bellevue means there is no council support for what they term “heroin injection sites” in Bellevue.
“I clearly voted in support of the ban,” Robinson said, noting that as the liaison of the Human Services Commission, the Bellevue representative of the Mental Health and Drug Addiction oversight committee and board member of the Eastside Human Services forum, she thinks it’s better to focus on prevention, education and treatment of opioid addiction. “Their lies and scare tactics are disgraceful.”
Deputy Mayor John Chelminiak sent a letter to the editor in her, and the other candidates’, defense.
“They’ve distorted the records and positions of their opponents, Councilmember Lynne Robinson, Karol Brown, and Janice Zahn,” Chelminiak wrote of Niewenhuis, Fricke and Yin. “The three women have spoken of a positive future for Bellevue. The three men are attacking the women as soft on crime. Nothing could be further from the truth.”
But those who funded the mailer feel differently.
Nieuwenhuis said Brown opposed the heroin injection site ban in King County and that she took political contributions from “the very people who thought up and are pushing for injection sites.”
Yin claims Zahn “refused” to sign Initiative 27, a citizen-led initiative that sought to put before voters a ban on heroin injection sites in King County. However, after a King County Superior Court ruled in October that the initiative is invalid because voters essentially cannot vote on the medical needs of others, it doesn’t appear it will be on the February ballot.
Fricke also thinks his opponent, Robinson, “refused” to sign I-27.
“She refused to sign the petition for I-27 but tells a resident she would sign it,” Fricke said. “Then, at candidate forums, she states she did not sign it because she did not want to prohibit other communities to have a heroin injection site.
“At the vote to institute a city ban, she said she would look at the issue in three years. So her actions are not consistent with her words (assuming she is now supporting a ban. Or is this just a temporary ban?).”
Robinson did vote for a citywide ban on Community Health Engagement Locations, often referred to as safe injection sites, at a council meeting last month.
Several have accused the male candidates – and have also pointed out their gender – as running a slate, or a group of candidates that run in a multi-seat election on a common platform. The common platform may be because the candidates are all members of a political party, have similar policies or another reason. City council positions, however, are non-partisan positions.
“When the four [Republicans] agreed to run (for a non-partisan office) and be promoted as a slate of four on campaign literature, Mr. Fricke, Yin, Nieuwenhuis and Lee all became responsible for how and what each on their slate of candidates told Bellevue voters in their campaigns,” Bellevue resident Farida Hakim wrote in a letter to the editor.
Fricke said he is not a member of any political party.
Chelminiak said the men, who he also believes are running a slate, are attacking the women as being soft on crime.
“Nothing could be further from the truth,” he said.
Nieuwenhuis said he not characterize himself and the other men as a slate but said they are unified in their stance on this issue. Yin and Fricke denied the allegation.
“Being able to work with people to form a consensus is a crucial part of being a City Councilmember,” he wrote. “Jared, Phillip, countless Bellevue residents, and I agree that heroin injection sites are wrong for our community.”
Yin said the three do agree on a number of issues and mentioned a few issues he and incumbent Conrad Lee agree on, but the only team he’s on is “Team Bellevue.”
When the Reporter initially asked for a comment from Yin, he initially replied, “Let me give the guys a call and see what they think…” However, Yin said he speaks on his own behalf and not for anybody else.
Zahn said she hopes voters will see past their efforts to mislead voters.
“I have received so many emails and phone calls from residents across Bellevue expressing their support as a direct result of his negative campaigning,” she said of Yin. “… I encourage him, and each of the slate of candidates, to run on their own experience and vision for Bellevue. Let’s behave on the campaign trail the same way we would govern, like leaders with integrity. Bellevue and our voters deserve nothing less.”
Brown believes if the three want to run as a slate, that’s their decision. She said it’s up to voters to decide whether they feel comfortable with a slate or are looking for council members who are willing to work together on issues facing Bellevue.
Robinson wonders if it was all just miscommunication.
“Perhaps they thought we meant heroines,” Robinson said. “I do support heroines.”