By Assunta Ng
Past Bellevue Mayor Conrad Lee lost his mayoral bid on Jan. 6, although he wanted to have a second term. Bellevue Council member Claudia Balducci, director of King County Jail for Adult and Juvenile Detention, was elected mayor. Lee wasn’t even nominated to be a mayoral candidate. Balducci is the second female to be mayor of Bellevue.
Lee abstained in the first round of voting. After three rounds of voting, with a 3-3 tie between Balducci and Council member John Stokes, Lee cast the breaking vote for 4-3 to go to Balducci.
As mayor, Lee said he was responsible for bringing millions in Chinese investment to Bellevue. But his City Council colleagues didn’t agree with Lee’s assessment, and some have raised eyebrows at Lee’s actions.
City Council member Kevin Wallace, who was elected as deputy mayor, said, “I don’t know what that [statement] means. We have many Asian residents who have connections with Asia, who have brought in investment to the city.”
Claudia Balducci, the newly elected mayor, said, “Conrad has worked hard to develop the economic development of Bellevue. But he doesn’t have to be mayor to continue his role in development. You can do a lot without being a mayor.”
Council member Stokes said that when Lee returned from a China trade mission last year, he announced that he signed an agreement with some Chinese private corporations. “Bellevue has a [part-time] weak mayor and [full-time] strong city manager system. The mayor doesn’t have any authority to do these things. It needs the City Council’s approval. The city manager has to look at [the deal]. Conrad has to present it to the City Council. The council has to understand the cost of the budget, and the city’s obligation.”
The mayor has to bring the council in to make those types of decisions, Stokes explained. “It’s a policy issue.”
Stokes said Lee has good intentions and has done good things, but times have changed. His loss in his mayoral bid is “not a rejection of him. It’s the way that things are done.”
Wallace said council members, including Lee, agreed two years ago that it would be good to “rotate” council members to be mayor for the sake of fairness and having “new perspectives.” In a Wednesday phone call, Lee said he didn’t remember making that agreement. “That’s just an excuse,” he said. “Politicians always talk like that.”
Asked why he voted for Balducci since they don’t agree on issues, he said, “Things are evolving. Given the cards I was dealt, I did the best thing I could.” Lee said Wallace and Balducci have opposing opinions, and the best politics happens when people who differ work together. “I got the best out of the situation,” Lee said. “The two should be working together hand in hand to represent the people.” (end)