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Originally published October 21, 2009 at 12:09 AM | Page modified October 23, 2009 at 6:27 PM

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Hutchison backs light rail on 520

Injecting a new theme into the race for King County executive, Susan Hutchison proposed Tuesday that Sound Transit move its planned light-rail line across Lake Washington from Interstate 90 to a new Highway 520 bridge.

Seattle Times staff reporter

King County Executive candidates debating

King County executive candidates debating

King County executive candidates squared off in a debate sponsored by King 5 Tuesday night.

Injecting a new theme into the race for King County executive, Susan Hutchison proposed Tuesday that Sound Transit move its planned light-rail line across Lake Washington from Interstate 90 to a new Highway 520 bridge.

"There's no reason to take lanes out of I-90, which is the major commuting road from the Eastside to Seattle, and turn it over to light rail," Hutchison said in a televised debate with her opponent, Dow Constantine. The matchup was co-sponsored by KING-5 and The Seattle Times.

Hutchison said a priority in transportation planning should be to reduce auto congestion, and said after the debate, "I don't think the voters care which route it takes, but people are upset about losing lanes on I-90."

Constantine, chairman of the Metropolitan King County Council, pounced on Hutchison's proposed rail alignment, saying, "Today my opponent came out against the voter-approved plan to expand light rail across the lake on I-90 to Redmond."

He noted that Bellevue Square developer Kemper Freeman, whose Kemper Holdings contributed $25,000 last week to a cable-TV ad ridiculing Constantine's council record, is suing the state to block the conversion of the I-90 express lanes to rail.

"Her biggest supporters are people who are suing to stop light rail from coming to the Eastside," Constantine said. Since voters last year authorized a new light-rail line across I-90 to Bellevue and Redmond, Sound Transit has spent $20 million on environmental and engineering studies of that route, agency spokesman Geoff Patrick said.

Constantine and Hutchison, a former TV news anchor who now directs the Charles Simonyi Fund for Arts and Sciences, sounded familiar themes in a debate marked by sharp verbal exchanges.

Constantine said his opponent lacks the necessary experience and understanding of county government. When she proposed to "call up the military" to beef up flood-control levees on the Green River, he responded, "The Army Corps of Engineers is doing a great job. Susan, you're not running for commander-in-chief. You're running for county executive. There is a chain of command."

Hutchison blamed Constantine for the county's deep budget problems. "You are the leader of the County Council," she said. "That is the spending arm of government. It is the legislative branch that has the power of the purse. Because of that you have the responsibility for this reckless spending that continues to plague this county."

She added, "My opponent has raised taxes nine times in seven years on the council — nine times — and in fact three times in a year, and so his answer is raising taxes and mine is not."

Constantine, a Democrat, said Hutchison has given $15,000 over the years to Republican candidates and conservative causes such as the political committee of the Building Industry Association of Washington.

"My opponent has not leveled with you about what her true beliefs are," Constantine told viewers. "She's sided over the years with the far-right fringe in politics. Now that she's running for county executive she wants you to believe she's a nonpartisan moderate."

Keith Ervin: 206-464-2105 or kervin@seattletimes.com

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