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Originally published July 31, 2013 at 8:01 PM | Page modified August 1, 2013 at 9:51 AM

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Bellevue City Council candidate sets funding record

Vandana Slatter’s largely self-funded campaign sets a funding record in the Bellevue City Council primary contest with Don Davidson and Lynne Robinson.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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It isn’t easy, as a political newcomer, to topple a longtime incumbent.

That’s why Bellevue City Council candidate Vandana Slatter says she’s raised more money before the primary than any previous candidate has raised in the primary and general election combined.

Slatter, an Amgen senior regional medical liaison competing against veteran Councilmember Don Davidson and civic volunteer Lynne Robinson, has raised eyebrows along with $94,091 in political contributions.

Much of that money — $46,594, including a $5,000 loan — is her own, said her treasurer, Abbott Taylor. Her husband, Greg Slatter, contributed $1,800.

“I’m a first-time candidate and the only way for voters to get accurate information about me and my qualifications is through my [campaign] literature. Challenging an entrenched incumbent is an expensive project,” Slatter said.

Adding in her unpaid bills, Slatter’s primary campaign will spend at least $108,000.

Robinson has raised $48,764.

Davidson, who got a late start because of health problems, has raised $22,918.

Some supporters of Robinson also are unhappy about a Slatter ad that accused Robinson of playing politics after the two candidates fought over Democratic Party endorsements for the nonpartisan council position.

Slatter’s big spending and tough language point to the competitive nature of the race and its high stakes, as the two liberal women simultaneously fight each other and challenge Davidson, the conservative dean of the City Council.

If Davidson were to lose in the primary or general election, it would change the balance of power on the council, which has a narrow conservative, tax-averse majority.

The other Bellevue council race on the Aug. 6 vote-by-mail election ballot isn’t as hot, because there is little doubt that incumbent Kevin Wallace and East Bellevue Community Council Chair Steve Kasner will outpoll Bill Hirt and Jeffrey Talada in the top-two primary.

Davidson, Robinson and Slatter are represented by three seasoned and pricey political consultants, Randy Pepple, Christian Sinderman and Lisa MacLean, respectively.

“For all the attacks in the past about how much downtown developers are trying to buy elections,” Pepple said of Slatter’s campaign spending, “this is the most egregious example of a candidate trying to buy their way into the general election. And it might work.”

“It’s going to be an interesting test of whether shoe leather and community ties can outpace record expenditures,” Sinderman said. “And so that’s kind of what this election has become about: about someone’s record of service to a community versus someone’s checkbook.”

Nonsense, said Slatter’s consultant, MacLean. Voters are used to political newcomers using their own money to introduce themselves to voters.

“It hasn’t deterred Suzan DelBene and her success or Maria Cantwell and her success,” MacLean said. “They’ve turned out to be, I think, really stalwart and very popular political leaders in our community. I expect Vandana will rise to the same level.”

It isn’t hard to distinguish Slatter and Robinson from Davidson, who was first elected to the City Council in 1984.

Davidson, a dentist and past president of the Bellevue Chamber of Commerce, has advocated conservative budgeting and generally resisted higher taxes in his six four-year council terms and two shorter appointed terms.

Distinguishing Slatter and Robinson from each other has been more of a challenge.

Robinson, a physical therapist, touts her long Bellevue-based civic history, which includes chairing the Parks and Human Services Board and the Network on Aging, and volunteering in local public-school classrooms.

Slatter, a doctor of pharmacy, is on the board of the Overlake Hospital Foundation and previously served on the state Board of Pharmacy and the NARAL Pro-Choice Washington foundation board.

Some of Slatter’s seven campaign mail pieces and cable-TV spots — far more than either of her opponents — have described the other candidates in unflattering terms. One ad calls Robinson “a typical political candidate — an insider who plays politics in partisan organizations.”

Robinson responded that Slatter has put out ads “with totally made-up stuff. I’m not sure how I could be considered a political insider when I’ve never had a political office before.”

Slatter, asked about her description of Robinson as a political insider, said that when the two sought endorsements from Democratic groups, “Lynne knew every political person and politician in the room. I am the only moderate candidate in this race committed to working effectively with all sides.”

Robinson won the sole endorsement of King County and 41st District Democrats. She and Slatter received dual endorsements from 48th District Democrats.

Other Slatter ads say Davidson has been in office too long and his record is one of “siding with the conservative special interests that bankroll his campaigns.”

Davidson acknowledged he is politically conservative — “I don’t run from that fact.” When his name is linked to those of business leaders like Bellevue Square developer Kemper Freeman Jr., he said, “I’ve always joked that everybody thinks that Kemper has my ear. Well, the fact is that he and I think quite a bit alike.”

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

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