Whether a conservative majority continues to control the Bellevue City Council may depend on how well voters like the record of its longest-serving member — and whether they think he’s physically up to another four-year term.
Don Davidson, 73, who was excused from participating in council meetings for nearly three months because of health issues, recently returned to the council and the primary-election campaign.
Davidson faces two candidates for the Position 6 seat in the Aug. 6 primary: Lynne Robinson and Vandana Slatter.
Kevin Wallace, the youngest council member and a political ally of Davidson’s, has one serious challenger for his Position 4 seat, Steve Kasner, and two who have little civic experience and have raised no campaign money.
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Wallace’s challengers are Kasner, Bill Hirt and Jeffrey Talada.
Mayor Conrad Lee and his sole challenger, Lyndon Heywood, who has reported no campaign contributions, will not appear on the primary ballot.
Ballots will be mailed to voters July 17. The top two vote-getters in each race will advance to the November general election.
If any of the three incumbents were to lose, it would change the political balance on a council that has often split votes 4-3 between its more liberal and conservative wings.
Although the political lines are drawn less sharply than they were two years ago, when the council was battling Sound Transit over the future light-rail route through South Bellevue, they continue to define much of what the council does.
The next council will adopt new shoreline rules, update downtown design and development standards, and decide whether taxes or developer fees should be raised to pay for capital projects such as new Bel-Red Corridor roads.
Neither Robinson nor Slatter explicitly mentions Davidson’s age or the health problems that kept him from attending council meetings most of the spring.
But Robinson, 53, a physical therapist and chair of the Bellevue Parks and Human Services Board, says it’s time for “more energized leadership” — and she doesn’t hesitate to attack Davidson on his past votes.
Slatter, 48, an Asian American in the biotech industry and former state Board of Pharmacy member, says she represents the “next generation of leadership” in a city with a booming tech industry and a population that is more than 40 percent nonwhite.
Davidson, a dentist who has been elected to six four-year council terms and two shorter appointed terms, says he’s ready to go for another four years despite his recent double-bypass heart surgery and weeks in physical rehabilitation.
“I don’t want everybody to think I’m some invalid. I’m the same old guy,” Davidson said.
Davidson’s council experience and name recognition might seem to make him a sure thing to advance through the primary and onto the November ballot. But a glitch occurred when his campaign submitted his candidate statement to King County too late to be included in the voters pamphlet.
Davidson claims decades of public service, including top positions in the Seattle-King County Dental Society and the Bellevue Chamber of Commerce.
As mayor, he said, he helped start the negotiations with Sound Transit that led to agreement on the light-rail route, and presided over a sometimes unruly council. At one meeting, when some council members accused others of conflicts of interest, “I had to send them all to their rooms so they could calm down.”
Robinson, former chair of the Bellevue Network on Aging, said Davidson “fought light rail every step of the way” and refused to take the Parks Board’s input on a route favored by Davidson that would have spanned Mercer Slough Nature Park.
Davidson long opposed Sound Transit’s preferred route along Bellevue Way Southeast and 112th Avenue Southeast, saying it would disturb neighborhoods and damage wetlands. He eventually joined a unanimous council in agreeing to that route.
In a city that is attracting more Asian-born tech workers, Slatter said, “I represent the face of the changing Bellevue. … I think having that voice at the table is vital.”
There are partisan overtones in the election for the nonpartisan seat. Randy Pepple, who managed Republican former Attorney General Rob McKenna’s bid for governor last year, is advising Davidson’s campaign. McKenna last month solicited funds for Davidson, who he said “is being targeted for defeat by some of the same Seattle leftist groups which attacked me last year.”
Democratic campaign consultant Christian Sinderman, who is advising Robinson, said the election is about the need to replace “an old guard that is resistant to change.”
The Municipal League rated Davidson outstanding, Robinson very good and Slatter good.
In the four-way race for the seat now held by Wallace, it would be an upset if Hirt or Talada outpolled Wallace or Kasner, chair of the East Bellevue Community Council.
Kasner, who holds a law degree and works as a substitute teacher at several private schools, is the odds-on favorite to face Wallace in the general election. He says he is “horrified” by the amount of time the council spent arguing over the light-rail route, while failing to upgrade neighborhood roads and sidewalks.
Wallace, who runs a family-owned property development and management company, touts his support for recent no-new-taxes budgets and calls the city’s light-rail agreements with Sound Transit “a great result” of negotiations in which he played a key role.
But Wallace continues to fight claims by detractors that his earlier support for an alternative rail route jeopardized the project and that it is difficult to separate his personal financial interest from his stands on that and other issues.
Wallace pledged this month to recuse himself from council deliberations on development standards on the eastern edge of downtown, where his parents own the Wallace Properties headquarters building.
“It’s not an illegal conflict of interest,” Wallace said, “but the optics of it are bad.”
Kasner said the new ethics code Wallace voted for should have been stricter, “to make clear that our personal dealings and our city dealings are absolutely separate.”
Hirt, a retired Boeing engineer, is running for City Council as he did for the Legislature last year, as a protest against Sound Transit’s light-rail project, which he says will do nothing to relieve auto congestion.
Talada, a volunteer who helps immigrants learn English and prepare for citizenship, wants to make the council obsolete by using “crowdsourcing” for policy decisions.
The Muni League ranked Wallace outstanding, Kasner adequate, and Hirt and Talada not qualified.
Keith Ervin: 206-464-2105 or firstname.lastname@example.org