Does a changing Eastside want a change on County Council?

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There's a lot of change and growth on the Eastside.

Bellevue and its Eastside neighbors have changed in ways that still surprise some of the rest of the Puget Sound region. They look a whole lot more diverse than many neighborhoods in Seattle, often vote Democratic and care about transit.

Bellevue Mayor Claudia Balducci would like to make one more change: She is running to replace the area's longtime representative on the King County Council, Jane Hague.

It's the only real contest for a council seat this year, and it's by far the most serious threat that Hague has faced in recent memory. In 2005, she wasn't even challenged, although the council was shrinking from 13 members to nine. She had some difficulties four years ago, after an admission of claiming a degree she didn't have and a reckless-driving conviction after being pulled over on suspicion of impaired driving. But she faced three primary election challengers and ultimately won the general election fairly handily.

Over the course of Hague's 20 years on the Council, even the nature of her position has changed. She was first elected as a Republican to a council that is now officially nonpartisan.

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King County Councilmember Jane Hague

At the time, Bellevue was regarded as the heart of a solidly Republican Eastside, and a suburban, upper class bastion that was overwhelmingly white. Its shopping mall, Bellevue Square, was a center of style and easily mocked snobbery (not everything has changed). It had plenty of parking because, well, who would go there any way except by car?

These days, it's not that hard to get to Bellevue by bus, and planning for light rail is well on its way. Bellevue's demographics have undergone a sea change as the Eastside has become one of the most diverse communities in the Puget Sound region.

Both candidates point to their support for transit, the population diversity and the Eastside's changing needs as reasons they are excited about representing the Council's 6th District, which also includes Kirkland, Redmond, Medina and other small cities.

Hague is eager to talk about work she did with other council members to protect the area from many of the Metro Transit bus cuts proposed by King County Executive Dow Constantine. And she says there is a lot to be done to ensure livability while building job opportunities that will continue to draw a diverse population, a considerable part of which is immigrant.

Hague has faced criticism for missing quite a few council meetings and votes, but she dismisses any idea that she isn't pulling her weight. She points to her own roles in regional and national organizations. And she's a vice chair of the Council.

Balducci, who first entered Bellevue politics 12 years ago, played a leading role in bringing about a hard-fought agreement on the Bellevue City Council to a plan for light rail, a significant change for a city where the shopping center's owner was a leading critic of Sound Transit's thinking. She says the kind of unifying leadership she exerted has been largely missing with Hague representing the area. That's particularly important, she suggested when announcing her candidacy, for an area that has become so diverse.

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Claudia Balducci, right, visits with an Eastside family.

In trying to unseat a veteran, Balducci has been somewhat frustrated by a common media theme that amounts to asking a challenger, in so many words, What has the incumbent done to merit being replaced? "The story should be who is the best representative for the district in this election," she said.

Even with the media inclination to frame the question in an essentially stand-pat way, though, Balducci has won the endorsement of the Seattle Times editorial board, not noted for its adventuresome takes on local politics. The Times, in part, praised her "intellectual honesty" and pointed to her work on bridging differences over transit as signs that she could be a very strong, independent leader on the Council.

Balducci also argues that her Democratic-oriented views are also a better fit for the district than Hague's. By most analyses, the district does lean Democratic now.

Hague, though, is buying none of the idea that it's time for a change in the Council representation. At 69 (and cheerful about discussing her age), Hague says she is excited about the opportunities to make progress on Eastside issues and feels good about the collaborative workings of the council, whether or not it is truly nonpartisan. And, as far as a need for new blood, she says, none of her Council colleagues with Democratic ties has endorsed Balducci. One, Larry Gossett, has endorsed sticking with Hague. In a changing Eastside, however, it's hard to know what influence that might have or how voters will decide.

Join Crosscut at Civic Cocktail on Nov. 4 for a post-election wrap-up with political consultants Chris Sinderman and John Wyble, and former Seattle mayor Charley Royer. Then, Sen. Pramila Jayapal will discuss race, rent control and more.

  

About the Authors & Contributors

Joe Copeland

Joe Copeland

Joe Copeland is the former senior editor at Crosscut.