Bellevue candidates debate partisanship, public safety
Bellevue City Councilmember Kevin Wallace calls challenger Steve Kasner overly partisan, while Kasner says the city’s budget leaves public-safety gaps.
Seattle Times staff reporter
Bellevue City Council candidate Steve Kasner, tagged by incumbent Kevin Wallace as excessively partisan, said city budgets supported by Wallace have left the fire and police departments understaffed.
Wallace and Kasner, in the most sharply drawn of three nonpartisan council races, hit those themes Tuesday night at a candidates forum sponsored by the Bellevue Downtown Association.
Also appearing at the forum were Lynne Robinson and Vandana Slatter, vying for the open seat created by longtime Councilmember Don Davidson’s loss in the primary, and Mayor Conrad Lee and challenger Lyndon Heywood.
Wallace, the Wallace Properties president who is seeking a second term on the council, wasted no time bringing up partisan comments Kasner made at a 41st District Democrats meeting in August.
Kasner told the Democratic group he was part of, “The tsunami that is going to rain down on those who do not have Democratic values” and “turn the purple Eastside absolutely blue.”
“This partisan rhetoric has no place on the City Council,” Wallace told the BDA forum. “I think that’s a fundamental difference between my opponent and myself.”
Kasner didn’t respond to Wallace’s attack or address his own earlier comments at the forum, instead focusing on his record as chair of the East Bellevue Community Council and criticizing Wallace’s actions on the City Council.
A substitute teacher in private schools, Kasner apologized to Wallace at a Seattle Times editorial board interview last week for referring to Wallace and other council conservatives as “Neanderthals.”
Kasner also said that he has always worked collaboratively and that partisanship “has no place in the running of the city.”
Kasner, endorsed by Bellevue Fire Fighters Local 1604, said no-new-taxes budgets adopted by the council during the economic downturn eliminated eight firefighters’ jobs and left the Fire Department “like the little boy with fingers in the dike.”
Robinson, saying public safety took “a tremendous cut,” also called for restoration of Fire Department staffing to put an idled engine back in service.
But Wallace said police and fire protection were never in danger, as shown by improved heart-attack “save rates,” decreased emergency response times and lower crime rates.
“All indicators are that we’re providing great service,” Wallace said.
Fire Chief Mike Eisner said last week the loss of eight positions led the department to shut down an engine company at the Wilburton-Woodridge station and move a ladder truck from Bellevue Way South to Wilburton last year.
“It’s had minimal impact thus far,” Eisner said of the cutback, “but it obviously reduces our capability of dealing with large-scale emergencies, and it remains a priority for the department to seek restoration of these staffing cuts in subsequent budgets.”
Slatter, an Amgen medical liaison and Overlake Hospital Foundation trustee, said that during most of her 11 years in Bellevue she didn’t think about running for office. “But the last five years we’ve been kind of bogged down on light-rail discussions,” she said.
Slatter called for regular reports by neighborhood groups to the City Council, and said she would make “building a conscious vision for this city” a top priority.
Robinson, a physical therapist and Parks and Community Services Board member, said she wants to encourage walking, biking and bus ridership. The biggest transportation challenge, she said, is “to figure out how to get people out of their cars. We need to make it easy for people to get to work and easy for people to shop locally.”
Lee, a council member for 20 years and operator of a real-estate management business, called himself “a workhorse, not a showhorse. ... You have to work hard to bring the council together, working with six very smart people.”
Heywood, a graphic artist, said he was upset when 164th Avenue Northeast near his home was repaved and re-striped without a bike lane. He criticized city staffers who, he said, are “lording it over us as though they own the city.”
The lineup of candidates reflected the changing face of Bellevue, where more than 40 percent of residents are ethnic or racial minorities, and nearly one-third are foreign- born.
Three of the six candidates were born outside the United States: Lee in China, Slatter (whose parents are from India) in Canada, and Heywood in England.
Heywood alluded to that diversity in his closing comments, saying his race is “a choice between someone with a funny accent you can’t understand, and Conrad Lee.”
Keith Ervin: 206-464-2105 or firstname.lastname@example.org