Light rail has been a contentious issue for the Bellevue City Council in recent years, with members divided on the project. Now the Eastside’s light rail line is in final design and no longer in doubt. But those light rail disputes are still campaign fodder for incumbent Kevin Wallace and his challenger Steve Kasner, one of three races for the council that will be taking place in November.
Wallace is a local property developer with long ties in Bellevue. He made headlines in his first term on the council as part of a majority that tried to block Sound Transit’s light rail route through Bellevue. He said though the light rail flap got a lot of attention, the drama is over.
“I think the arc of it is, the first two years were tumultuous years and the second two years were about coming together and creating solutions and collaborating,” he said.
Wallace and his allies voted to study a different light rail route than the one Sound Transit preferred. Their route was controversial because it cost more and cut through the wetlands in the city’s Mercer Slough Nature Park. But ultimately that route was given up in a compromise. Wallace said the city is now “going from defense to offense” in negotiations with Sound Transit.
Kasner said he was upset by Wallace’s focus on blocking light rail and spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to study the alternate route. Kasner said other neighborhoods have been neglected in the meantime.
The time and money he spent there could have been invested in other causes, and the decisions and processes didn’t feel particularly open.
Though the race is considered nonpartisan, Kasner calls himself a progressive while Wallace has more backing from business groups. If Kasner wins it would give a new orientation to the city council, which has been governed by a conservative-leaning majority.
That would be an upset – Wallace has raised twice as much money as Kasner. He’s also been rated “outstanding” by the Municipal League while Kasner was rated “adequate.”
Still, the Wallace campaign has stayed on the offense. It circulated a video clip of Kasner’s stump speech, in which Kasner tells local Democrats to expect an Eastside tsunami to “rain down on those who do not have democractic values.”
Looking back, Kasner said the tsunami reference was probably a bit much.
I’ve said to people that I apologize for some of the language that I used in the video. However, I don’t apologize for the sentiment which was driven by the fumbles and failures of the council.
He said Wallace’s focus on the video smacks of desperation. Still, it has had repercussions. In the primary, The Seattle Times endorsed Kasner, who serves on a neighborhood board and works as a substitute teacher. For the general election the newspaper switched its endorsement to Wallace, in part because of the video.
Wallace said Kasner’s partisanship in the video won’t sit well with Bellevue’s mostly moderate voters.
The comments about wanting a tsunami to wipe out anyone who doesn’t share his views or to turn the purple Eastside absolutely blue, or calling members of the council Neanderthals, I think is really striking and says a lot about the character of the person that people are considering to vote for.
Wallace said the unsung accomplishment of the council has been to keep city services going without raising taxes. He points to programs at the South Bellevue Community Center as one example. Bellevue recently annexed the neighborhood and is also making improvements to local roads.