BELLEVUE — Two longtime incumbents are facing challengers for their seats on the Bellevue City Council.
In the race for the Position 7 seat, three-term incumbent Jennifer Robertson, who has raised more money than any other council candidate, will face challenger James Bible, a prominent civil-rights attorney and former president of the Seattle King County NAACP.
In Position 1, John Stokes, who has served for eight years on the City Council, including two years as mayor, is seeking a third term against business owner Holly Zhang.
Here’s a look at the candidates in the two races. Read about the races for the Position 3 and 5 seats here.
Stokes, a retired attorney, was elected to the City Council in 2011 and selected as mayor for 2016 and 2017. He moved to Bellevue in 1991 from Texas.
His most pressing issue, he said, is affordable housing and homelessness, which he stressed are connected and shouldn’t be separate conversations. He was mayor when the City Council approved its housing strategy, which aims to create or preserve thousands of homes that are affordable to those whose household earnings are between 50% to 80% of the area median income over the next decade. He was also the mayor when the city approved the Downtown Livability Initiative, which allowed more growth and density in the downtown neighborhood.
He’s represented Bellevue on several task forces related to housing and homelessness, and said he wants to see more Eastside cities involved in a regional response.
“I’ve worked on getting the Eastside and the cities outside Seattle engaged, and not just an afterthought,” he said. “That’s the most important and impactful thing in the region.”
If elected, he hopes to work with more developers and companies to build more housing for lower-income workers in Bellevue who want to live there, too, though he noted that city officials haven’t yet come up with a plan for how to do so. That’s one reason he wants to remain on the City Council, he added.
He co-founded Eastside Pathways, a coalition of more than 60 public, private and nonprofit organizations that work to improve outcomes for children on the Eastside.
He received 61% of the vote in the primary election, and his campaign has raised $31,005 as of Oct. 25.
Zhang is the owner of Holly Zhang Pearl Gallery, a specialty jewelry store in the Shops at The Bravern in Bellevue. She moved to the United States from China in 2002 and has lived in Bellevue for a decade.
If elected, she said she would revisit Bellevue’s restrictions on how many rooms can be rented from one house and the type of accessory-dwelling units that can be rented by an owner. Letting owners rent out more spaces would help with the booming population and would be more affordable, she said.
The approach would also address homelessness, she added, because those experiencing homelessness could live in rented or subsidized bedrooms that would otherwise be empty. The people will have a greater sense of security, she said, and having a permanent address will make it easier for them to find employment. Bellevue could work with other cities to shoulder some of the costs, she said.
“We need to find a solution right now and not after five or 10 years, because if we wait that long we are going to have more homeless people on the street,” she said, noting that she understands what the experience is like, because she was homeless for one year as a teenager.
She would also like to impose a two-term limit for city councilmembers — there are no current term limits in Bellevue — so that, she says, more people can involved in city government. She would also work with nonprofits and the school district to see if there’s a way to subsidize childcare for families with young children.
She received 20% of the vote in the primary election, and has raised $11,725 as of Oct. 25.
Bible is a civil-rights attorney and owns the James Bible Law Group in Bellevue’s Eastgate neighborhood. He moved to Bellevue when he was a teenager.
He worked as a King County public defender and in 2007 was named president of the Seattle King County chapter of the NAACP. He stepped down from the role in 2013. He’s represented clients in several high-profile cases, including the family of Charleena Lyles, a Seattle woman who was shot and killed by two Seattle police officers in June 2017.
His work as NAACP president would translate well to the City Council, he said, as he supervised more than 20 NAACP executive committees that focused on issues like criminal justice, health and education, and he learned how to manage plans and programs.
He would like to explore whether Bellevue could form its own public housing authority, and focus on raising wages for workers, and possibly raising the minimum wage in Bellevue, as Seattle and Tacoma have done. He grew up in a low-income household in Bellevue, he said, and city officials often don’t hear from those who are struggling the most.
“It’s time to acknowledge that there is a signification portion of the population in Bellevue that lives in apartments, that are working in service jobs, that can’t afford to pay for lunch for their kids,” he said.
He questioned whether Bellevue is adequately prepared for the major influx of new workers expected in downtown but said that adding light rail and working with companies to stagger start times would be helpful.
“The interests of the individual should be just as important as the interests of an entity like Amazon,” he said. “Bellevue shouldn’t go too far forgetting that.”
His campaign has raised $24,514, which is about a quarter of what Robertson has raised. He said that his campaign is a “people-powered, people-driven movement,” and that he has concerns about how “corporate interests are able to finance particular campaigns.”
Robertson has served on the council for three terms and was deputy mayor in 2012 and 2013. She is a lawyer specializing in land-use and municipal law at Northwest Urban Law, PLLC in Mercer Island and has lived in Bellevue since 2002.
She says she’s worked on Bellevue’s growth for 16 years, as she was on the planning commission before serving on the City Council. She praised the city’s preparation for the impending growth spurt but said that city officials didn’t expect the surge to happen as quickly as it has.
“It’s a little bit of an increased intensity that we need to make sure we stay ahead of,” she said, noting that the city has been working with companies like Amazon on their transportation planning.
She’s particularly proud of her work on light-rail alignment, which was at the center of intense debate during her first term as the city and Sound Transit decided on the route in Bellevue. The route will run on its own corridor, reducing the possibility of congestion or chances of a crash, she said.
If reelected, Robertson would like to continue her earlier work on having a downtown circulator bus, which was considered during her first term but was tabled because of the recession. She would also continue the council’s efforts to bring a regional aquatic center to Bellevue as the Bellevue Aquatic Center has a lengthy waitlist for swimming lessons and isn’t big enough to serve all who want to use the facilities, she said. City staff are currently looking at ways to partner with other cities to cover some of the costs of bringing a center to Bellevue.
Her campaign has stressed her experience on the City Council and how her opponent would have a “step learning curve” if elected.
“With complex issues like Amazon and light rail, this is not a time for on-the-job training,” she said.
She received 56% of the vote in the primary election. With $115,155 in campaign contributions, Robertson has raised more money than any other candidate outside Seattle and Spokane, which she says shows her broad support. About $30,000 are from businesses and political-action committees.