Squeaker in Bellevue: How big will change be?

A business-oriented incumbent may have escaped defeat, but the winds of change are still blowing.
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Kevin Wallace

A business-oriented incumbent may have escaped defeat, but the winds of change are still blowing.

Almost two weeks after election night, Bellevue City Council candidate Steve Kasner and incumbent Kevin Wallace found themselves again pounding the pavement. But this time it was to resolve questions about some ballots in a race so close that every vote counts.

But Wallace has led throughout the ongoing vote count, signaling that change on the Bellevue council will likely be less dramatic than appeared possible after the primary eliminated a longtime member of the council's conservative bloc.

As of a Saturday afternoon vote count, Kasner trailed Wallace by just 217 votes out of 28,000 ballots cast. Barring a last-minute change in voting trends or a heavy tide in his favor as final decisions are made about ballots with questionable signatures or other problems, Kasner may have come up just short.

 “I was laughing today because if you round both numbers, it’s 50-50,” Kasner said. “To get this close, you can taste it."

King County's latest results show Wallace with 50.26 percent of the votes to 49.51 for Kasner. Wallace's thin election night advantage fell last week as late-arriving ballots cut his lead in half, dropping the margin to at one point as little as 172 votes. Wallace gained back several dozen more votes in his lead by the end of the week.

Still, Bellevue will see a new face on its council next year: Lynne Robinson has won with more than 62 percent of the vote to Vandana Slatter’s 37 percent in a race between two first-time candidates for council. In a third race, Conrad Lee was re-elected to the council, where he currently also serves as mayor, with 78 percent of the vote against opponent Lyndon Heywood.

Robinson’s win and the close race between developer and incumbent Wallace and neighborhood leader Kasner indicate the old guard will continue to be challenged. The message from voters seems to be for less championing of growth and more discussions with neighborhoods about their concerns instead of the sometimes headstrong crusades of councils past.

Many pegged these elections as a barometer of change — not just in leadership styles, but in the demographics and economic stature of the city. Half of the candidates were immigrants and new to the political scene. Slatter, for instance, whose family heritage traces to India, reminded voters that, as an immigrant from Canada, she could identify with the city's 30 percent and growing foreign-born sector. And compared to other races, Slatter and Robinson offered less dramatic political differences, with both having successfully challenged incumbent Don Davidson in the primary.

Bellevue has eagerly moved out of Seattle’s shadow in recent years. But Robinson’s election and Kasner’s strong backing indicate voters may be less concerned with its emerging profile than in bridging its urban ambitions with neighborhood interests.

“I think after the primary, we knew there was going to be a huge [change],” said Robinson on election night. The newest councilmember started in a neighborhood leadership role, working to secure projects like the first phase of the Meydenbauer Bay Park. Her portfolio of service includes a stint on Bellevue’s Parks Board, the Network on Aging and full-time work as a physical therapist.

Wallace also noted Robinson's election as an indicator that the Republican leanings in Bellevue aren't as strong as in the past. “Robinson’s result indicates that the Democratic Party has been a strong party in recent years,” said Wallace, reacting to early polls. “She was running from a Democratic base and that appears to show in her results.”

Meanwhile, Kasner has indicated that if the current trend of votes holds, he won’t ask for a recount. The current margin is too large for the state to order one automatically, although the candidate could pay for one.

During the campaign, Wallace jabbed Kasner for his partisan statements at a Democratic gathering earlier in the fall (council races are in theory nonpartisan). Kasner vowed to be more accessible to the community than the existing council and city staff. He also disputed his opponent’s ability to separate his business interests from public service.

“If I win, great, I’ll be on council, said Kasner. "And if I don’t, I’ll still talk to council about the things that are important — neighborhoods and public safety.”

Bellevue is used to more lopsided election results. Wallace won his first term with a small edge of 3 percentage points, but except for a recount in 2011, triggered by a 95 vote difference between current councilmember John Stokes and challenger Aaron Laing, such narrow margins are rare for a city still realizing its potential.

Chief issues for the city will be development of the Bel-Red corridor, selection of a new city manager, transportation topics ranging from light rail to highway tolling and a strengthening of the city’s economic vitality both downtown and in its smaller retail cores.

“I don’t know what [council] agenda is, what’s coming up right away,” said Robinson when asked about her first order of business. “But there’s going to be a lot more discussion going on.”


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