After battling Sound Transit for two years over the route its light-rail line would take through downtown Bellevue, City Councilman Kevin Wallace buried the hatchet.
“We can cooperate with Sound Transit and the rest of the region to deliver on this project, or we can fight. I think the answer is we’ve got to cooperate,” Wallace said moments after voting in 2011 in favor of an agreement with the transit agency.
Now, as Wallace seeks a second term on the council, he describes the evolution of his thinking on the rail issue as a sign of how he has matured from a sometimes-abrasive combatant into a collaborative policymaker.
But to neighborhood activist Steve Kasner, who is campaigning to replace Wallace on the council, the incumbent’s long battle against Sound Transit delayed a regional transportation project and wasted city money on useless studies.
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“In the last four years,” Kasner said, “the council wasted a million dollars on the light-rail route that could have been put into other projects.”
Kasner, chair of the East Bellevue Community Council, also says it’s time for the City Council to adopt a tougher ethics law to make sure council members’ personal business interests don’t collide with their city duties.
The outcome of the election will help define the new City Council after the primary-election defeat of Wallace ally and longtime conservative Councilman Don Davidson.
Parks Board member Lynne Robinson and Overlake Hospital Foundation trustee Vandana Slatter are competing for Davidson’s open seat.
In a third race, Mayor Conrad Lee is defending his 20-year council tenure from a challenge by Lyndon Heywood, who isn’t raising funds for his campaign.
Among his top accomplishments, Wallace lists negotiation of a series of council agreements with Sound Transit, and balancing the city budget without resorting to tax increases.
Wallace says he “achieved the holy grail” of reaching light-rail agreements that were unanimously approved by City Council. “I’ve been a tireless defender of the neighborhoods of Bellevue from the impacts of light rail, and I’ll continue to be,” he says.
It was a bumpy road to those agreements. In 2010, while debating the rail route, Wallace accused Councilwoman and Sound Transit board member Claudia Balducci of putting Sound Transit’s interests ahead of Bellevue citizens’ interests. She responded by suggesting he was putting his personal financial interests ahead of citizens, and he accused her of the same.
An outside investigation the following year showed neither council member had violated state law.
President of downtown-Bellevue-based Wallace Properties, Wallace has support from the King County Republican Party, Washington Realtors and some elected officials from both parties. John Stokes, a Democrat elected to the council two years ago despite attack ads funded by Wallace’s father, Bob Wallace, has endorsed Wallace as a dealmaker and an advocate for social-service programs.
Wallace has worked to build Eastside support for a higher gas tax, which he says is necessary for completion of such projects as widening Interstate 405. At some point, he says, Bellevue may need to increase the property tax to pay for roads to serve downtown and the next big growth area, the Bel-Red Corridor — but not yet.
Kasner, a former chair of the Bellevue Parks and Community Services Board and member of the West Lake Hills and South Bellevue Community Center advisory committees, claims a record of bringing conflicting interests together to agree on solutions.
Among those solutions were the decision to locate the South Bellevue Community Center at Eastgate Park, and city-approved renovations of the long-moribund Kelsey Creek and Lake Hills shopping centers.
Kasner’s portrayal of himself as a peacemaker was undermined by his secretly recorded comments at a Democratic Party gathering.
Kasner said in the talk he would be part of “the tsunami that is going to rain down on those who do not have Democratic values” and bring a Democratic majority to the nonpartisan City Council.
Later apologizing for calling some council members “Neanderthals” in that talk, Kasner also said there’s no place for partisanship on the City Council.
Kasner said the City Council needs a stronger ethics policy than the one adopted earlier this year. The policy, which Wallace defends as the most rigorous ethics standard the city has ever had, doesn’t prohibit members from voting on legislation in which they have a financial interest.
Opponents of such a ban said they feared it would discourage many business people and attorneys from serving on the part-time council.
Wallace says he has gone further than the law requires by recusing himself from “a handful” of votes, including Kelsey Creek Center redevelopment and selection of a garbage hauler, to avoid possible conflicts of interest.
More conflicts should be banned, not just subject to voluntary recusals, Kasner says.
“You can own as much property as you want,” Kasner said. “That’s the free-enterprise system. But you can’t own a lot of property and get in a position of public trust and make decisions about properties that you own.”
Kasner said he filed as a candidate in part because Wallace was the one council member who wouldn’t meet with him about neighborhood concerns — a claim Wallace denies.
Kasner’s supporters include King County Democrats, labor unions, Washington Conservation Voters and a long list of civic and elected leaders.
The Municipal League of King County has rated Wallace outstanding, Kasner adequate.
Keith Ervin: 206-464-2105 or firstname.lastname@example.org