John Chelminiak emphasizes Bellevue’s future in his re-election campaign for City Council to contrast himself with Don Davidson, who served 26 years on the council but lost in the 2013 primary. Theirs is one of three contested races in the general election.
In his re-election bid for Bellevue City Council, John Chelminiak emphasizes the city’s future, the need for roads and transit to stay ahead of growth, and the need for more housing options for residents and workers.
But the focus on the future is also a pointed reminder that his opponent, Don Davidson, 76, served almost three decades on the council but lost in a three-way primary in 2013 amid health concerns and a public weary of fights over Sound Transit.
The race, along with another between biotech executive Vandana Slatter and Planning Commission Chairwoman Michelle Hilhorst, will also determine whether the council remains a more centrist, collaborative body willing to spend money for transportation improvements and social services, or more returns to the contentious, conservative cast it had before Davidson’s defeat.
“The council has worked together well the past two years. I’d hate to see it go back to the fights and divisiveness over light rail and other issues crucial to the city’s future,” said Mayor Claudia Balducci, who is stepping down after 12 years on the council, the past two as mayor, to run against Jane Hague for Metropolitan King County Council.
Most Read Local Stories
- Coronavirus daily news update, April 6: What to know today about COVID-19 in the Seattle area, Washington state and the nation
- Coronavirus daily news updates, April 7: What to know today about COVID-19 in the Seattle area, Washington state and the nation
- New UW analysis lowers coronavirus death projections and suggests hospitalizations may have already peaked in Washington
- Washington state nonprofit files lawsuit saying Fox News misled viewers about coronavirus
- 'We're all scared': Spread of coronavirus marked by friction, frustration among employees at Valley Medical Center facilities VIEW
Two other Bellevue council seats will be decided in the Nov. 3 general election. But for Position 1, incumbent John Stokes, a longtime trustee of the Bellevue Schools Foundation, is unopposed. And in the race for Position 7, land-use attorney and incumbent Jennifer Robertson picked up 77 percent of the vote in the August primary. Her opponent in the general election, Lyndon Heywood, a bicycle and transit advocate, got 11 percent and has raised no money for the campaign.
That’s meant most of the interest and energy are focused on the other two contests.
Although the council is nominally nonpartisan, members are typically aligned with the Republican or Democratic parties and endorse candidates of a similar stripe.
Chelminiak, a senior manager for Waste Management, describes himself as an excommunicated Republican. Early in his career he was an aide to former King County Executive Tim Hill and Metropolitan King County Councilmember Jane Hague, but as he ran for re-election in 2011, the Republican Party donated $3,000 to Hilhorst, his challenger.
Chelminiak said he apparently alienated the party after being elected to the council in 2007. “I was so tired of partisan politics. It was all Tim Eyman and no new taxes,” he said. “That’s not me. I’m interested in community building.”
In his two terms in office, he has often sided with the council’s more progressive wing, but he also notes he’s worked to reach consensus with the conservatives over the route light rail will take through the city and the need to build the city’s infrastructure to keep ahead of planned redevelopment in the Spring District, Wilburton and Eastgate areas.
“The most difficult job the City Council has to do is to stay ahead of the growth we’ve planned for,” he said.
Chelminiak, 62, said he’s a strong advocate for adding to the city’s stock of affordable housing and supports increasing Bellevue’s annual contribution to the regional housing coalition, ARCH, which pools city contributions on the Eastside to build subsidized apartments and homeless shelters.
Davidson, a retired dentist, said the city already pays its fair share of ARCH funding, which has remained at about $800,000 for the past eight years. He said the city also encourages and supports faith-based organizations that want to build affordable housing in Bellevue.
Davidson opposed the chosen Sound Transit route through Bellevue and in December 2014, along with Bellevue Square owner Kemper Freeman, brought a legal challenge to the city’s shoreline permit for the project. They argued it would force removal of 1,300 trees and negatively impact salmon habitat along Mercer Slough. The appeal was dropped in April.
Chelminiak said millions of dollars of environmental analysis found that the route selected, along Bellevue Way and 112th Avenue Southeast, had the fewest environmental impacts.
Davidson said he continues to have issues with Sound Transit and hasn’t made up his mind about a potential ST3 ballot proposal in 2016 that could extend light rail to Redmond Town Center and Snohomish County. He won’t make up his mind until he sees what projects are included.
He notes that the original Sound Transit package approved by voters in 1996, was supposed to extend from Seattle-Tacoma International Airport airport to Northgate.
“Here we are 20 years later and we don’t have a functional train to the University (of Washington),” Davidson said. “Are they going to need money from Phase 3 to complete Phase 1?”
Davidson said his strongest assets are his leadership experience from 26 years on the council, including four as mayor, and his strong fiscal oversight.
“If we want to provide for public safety, economic development and human services, we have to manage our budget,” Davidson said.
Chelminiak was rated outstanding by The Municipal League of King County. Davidson was rated very good.
In the race to fill the open Position 5 seat being vacated by Balducci, Slatter, 50, a Canadian-born daughter of Indian immigrants, says she’ll bring a fresh perspective. She describes her opponent, Hilhorst, who served on the Planning Commission the past two years, as too similar to other members of the council’s conservative wing.
“We already have the pro-developer point of view on the council,” Slatter said. “We need different experiences and a variety of backgrounds.” Slatter holds a doctor of pharmacy degree from the UW and is a senior regional medical liaison for Amgen.
Slatter said that in doorbelling for the council seat, she’s heard from residents that neighborhoods have too often felt surprised by planning and land-use decisions. She’d like to see greater transparency on the council and more inclusion of residents in the decisions that affect them, she said.
Slatter has picked up campaign contributions from several labor unions and the Puget Sound Leadership PAC, which supports progressive Democrats.
Hilhorst, 46, an IT operations account manager for AT&T, said her work on the Planning Commission to draft the city’s 10-year Comprehensive Plan gives her experience in managing growth.
“The growth is going to occur. We’re going to be thoughtful about where it goes and what infrastructure we need to support it,” she said. That familiarity with city issues, as well as taking testimony from the public, she added, means that if elected, “I can really hit the ground running.”
Hilhorst said she considers herself nonpartisan, but she’s picked up campaign contributions from many business and real-estate interests including the political arm of the Bellevue Chamber of Commerce, Kemper Holdings and Bellevue developer Bob Wallace.
She also differs from Slatter on funding ARCH. Slatter favors increasing the city’s annual contribution for affordable housing. Hilhorst said projects should be considered on a case-by-case basis.
Hilhorst, who notes that she has 20 years experience managing big projects and big budgets, was rated outstanding by the Municipal League. Slatter was rated very good.
In the Position 7 race, Robertson has raised $77,000, the most of any of the candidates, while her opponent, Heywood, has reported no contributions, according to the state Public Disclosure Commission.
Robertson said the key to managing growth is to ensure infrastructure keeps up with demand, including improving and expanding roads, transit and pedestrian and bicycle facilities. She also wants to maintain or improve the city’s public safety service levels, add a downtown fire station and restore the popular bike patrols.
Robertson, 46, supports a project-specific approach to funding affordable housing and notes that in addition to ARCH, the city spends several million on human services grants.
Heywood, who commutes by bike from Bellevue to his job in Woodinville, said the city has done a poor job developing safer bicycle and pedestrian routes into and around downtown. He doesn’t support increasing funding to ARCH, but argues that “in an ideal world,” King County, as the regional government, should fund affordable housing, not individual cities.