Bellevue’s budget, neighborhoods and transportation were on the minds of candidates for City Council as the Bellevue Downtown Association hosted a candidate forum Tuesday night at the Bellevue Westin. The event was held in partnership with Sound Publishing.
All six candidates for the three positions on the November ballot attended the forum, including Mayor Conrad Lee and Lyndon Heywood for Position 2, Steve Kasner and incumbent Councilmember Kevin Wallace for Position 4, and Lynne Robinson and Vandana Slatter for Position 6.
Publisher William Shaw of the Reporter moderated the forum, which included several questions from the audience.
Though ideas and experience varied widely, most candidates at the forum agreed Bellevue was at the pinnacle of its transformation, with innovation, business and development accelerating rapidly and neighborhoods facing a unique set of growing pains.
“Bellevue 1.0 has been great,” said Slatter, an Indian American who immigrated from Canada. “I think there is a Bellevue 2.0 out there. Forty-one percent of our city is ethnic and 30 percent is foreign-born. As a one billion dollar city, if we’re going to be global and competing with Hyderabad and Beijing, it’s important to have that perspective at the table.”
The two most closely watched races are Wallace versus Kasner and Robinson versus Slatter, the latter being newcomers who earlier this year beat out incumbent Don Davidson. Robinson led the primary race with 48 percent of the vote to Slatter’s 26.3. Wallace held a slim lead over Kasner with 46.3 percent of the vote, compared to Kasner’s 42.3. In position 2, Heywood and Lee immediately advanced to the fall elections, though Heywood has vowed not to raise any funds.
Primary results indicated a council shake-up with Davidson’s departure, but more recently contender Kasner, a member of the East Bellevue Community Council, has taken some heat for his comments at a Democratic gathering, claiming that he wanted to be a part of a “tsunami” of Democratic values, turning the “purple Eastside” blue.
“I have a great track record of representing our whole city, whether it’s downtown or the neighborhoods of Lakemont, Lake Hills, Wilburton and Meydenbauer,” said Wallace. “If you ask neighborhood leaders from those organizations they’ll tell you I stand for them and we have great lines of communication…I stand for nonpartisan and collaborative leadership.”
Wallace, who is wrapping up his first term, highlighted his work on the light rail alignment, in protecting such neighborhoods as Enatai and Surrey Downs, and said his knowledge of law and finance made him well-suited to the difficult issues facing the city. He noted his work during the recession, maintaining a budget without raising taxes.
“That’s a great start,” said Kasner. “I have a business degree, I have a law degree, I’m a teacher and I can look at budgets also. But there’s a personal side to that…The skill I bring is consensus. These are not raw numbers on a spreadsheet, these are people who work for the city, human services needs we have, public-private partnerships. We must do a better job to get the assets we need for our city, to the projects and departments that need them.”
The new council will address what and how to pay for capital projects, new shoreline rules and a comprehensive plan update.
“I think transportation is going to be one of our biggest issues in the next few years. Our decisions on transportation are going to affect the quality of life and vitality of our economy,” said Robinson. “We need to make sense of light rail, make decisions on stations that encourage people to take light rail to work and walk three blocks, instead of driving into an underground parking garage…And we need to increase bikeability, walkability and to encourage people to get out of their car.”
Slatter said building a cohesive vision for the city was maybe the city’s biggest challenge because it required upholding a thriving downtown core, managing the impacts of urbanization, while also protecting Bellevue’s quality of life and neighborhoods.
“Downtown, you know, it’s perfectly fine. But to be honest it’s all nice and new and sparkly, but a lot of the time it feels a bit like an airport terminal,” said Heywood who noted Bellevue’s downtown waterfront park would bring character to the city. “It could be really good if it’s managed properly.”
“The goose that lays the golden egg is downtown,” countered Lee. He pointed repeatedly to his track record of service, noting Bellevue’s status as a global city and his role as the first ethnic minority mayor in the city. “We have to continue to have adequate revenue to pay for public safety, to pay for infrastructure and sustainability and our environment as a city within a park. We have to be sure of our financial strength and financial ability or financial means. It’s what’s going to sustain this environment so people want to continue to live in Bellevue.”