Steve Kasner is banking on his 20 years of community service, including his role as the current chair of the East Bellevue Community Council since 2006 and his extensive teaching and sports coaching on the Eastside, to win the 2013 primary election bid for position 4 on the Bellevue City Council.
His message of change and his zealous promotion of total governmental transparency, coupled with open citizen involvement throughout every decision-making process, may just persuade Bellevuites that he is the candidate who will find solutions to the city’s challenges going forward.
Kasner, a married father of two boys, Aren, 21, and Kyle, 18, received the Seattle Times’ endorsement for Bellevue City Council on July 12 as one of the candidates who will bring “a fresh infusion of new voices” to it. It’s given him the extra mojo he needs to doorbell in order to compete with his opponent’s hefty cash reserves and run the race he thinks he can win.
“I believe in absolute open transparency and full disclosure, but many people don’t believe that,” Kasner told JTNews from his home in Bellevue. “They believe, ‘We’re in power and we’re going to do whatever we want and if the community doesn’t like it — tough.’ But I have my core values and that’s what I believe in.”
Several more endorsements for the former appointee to the West Lake Hills Advisory Committee add to the growing list, including the King County Democrats, Washington Conservation Voters, NARAL Pro Choice Washington, now former State Rep. Marcie Maxwell (D-41st), and two former Bellevue mayors.
But the Municipal League Foundation, which rates candidates for character, involvement, knowledge, and effectiveness, pronounced two incumbents, including his opponent Kevin Wallace, “outstanding” and “very good.” It assigned Kasner a rating of “adequate.”
“I can’t tell you why I got the rating I did,” said Kasner. “They only called two of the six references that I offered and I was only interviewed by seven people. I believe they made a mistake in this particular evaluation of me and the race.”
According to Kasner, Wallace has unfairly painted him with a “liberal” label, but he defends what he calls his “democratic values.”
“I happen to identify myself as a Democrat and I am to the left of my opponent,” said Kasner, “but if you’re talking about bipartisanship, let’s talk about what I believe in — strong neighborhoods, open government, and reasoned decision-making. Those are not partisan values, those are community values.”
Kasner is expecting to be one of the two top-tier candidates to go forward into the general election out of the four primary candidates, including Bill Hirt and Jeffrey Talada.
The 54-year-old former sports coach who was frequently found at the Stroum Jewish Community Center on Mercer Island anticipates that the race will be nasty and rancorous.
But Kasner’s attitude borders on defiant.
“They’re a shadow government,” said Kasner. “There’s absolutely no transparency as to who these people are, what they’re doing and what their backgrounds are. The Planning Commission does all of the work before it gets to the City Council. I will never railroad something through.”
For the last two years, a fight over a future light rail route through South Bellevue consumed much of the council’s time. The next body will have to revise design and development standards for the city’s downtown core, grapple with new shoreline use regulations, and choose who pays the bill for new building projects — the taxpayer or developers.
“The council is the bottleneck,” said Kasner. “They’re so focused on messing around with light rail that they’re getting no other work done. They took 50 percent of their time to work on light rail at the expense of the vitality of the city.”
In 2003, when Factoria Mall proposed a South Bellevue Community Center there, Kasner led the effort, often amidst the voices of angry citizens who wanted it to be located at the mall, to develop it off of Newport Way, with baseball fields and tennis courts.
“The easy thing would have been to let the neighborhood have what they wanted and put the community center in Factoria Mall,” said Kasner, “but that wasn’t what was best for the community. Now, that property is just short of 50 acres in an urban city of 130,000 people.”
Kasner has already raised $15, 411, with some coming from his supporters and some taken from his own money.
Ultimately, he figures he will need roughly $75,000 to get his message out and contend with Wallace.
“Regardless of what money we raise in the community,” said Kasner, “I would self-fund the primary. My budget is between $20,000 and $25,000 for the primary and I am willing to put all of that in if I have to.”