Earlier this week, I met up with Bellevue City Council candidate John Stokes in a Redmond coffee shop. John and I are connected through our education advocacy work and I know him to be a deep thinker and a dedicated advocate for children. I wanted to find out more about his decision to run for office and what he hopes to do for Bellevue. It turns out that John’s school advocacy has led to him to greater involvement in city activities where he’s discovered that Bellevue’s leaders are deficient in progressive values.
Here are some highlights from our conversation:
KATHLEEN: Hi John. So tell me, why are you running for Bellevue City Council?
JOHN: It was a culmination of work done in the past with education and parks—I’m on the parks and community services board—and I’m very interested in seeing light rail come through Bellevue.
I’ve been in Bellevue for twenty years and really want to see Bellevue continue with smart growth and do things in a more progressive way so that we continue to have a livable city that is also economically vital.
We have changing demographics. We have a much more diverse city and I’m concerned that a lot of the current policies are not directed towards the whole city but are more focused on certain parts of downtown.
KATHLEEN: What areas of the city do you feel are being neglected?
JOHN: There’s a downtown-centric view by some developers and some people. There are other developers looking at growth areas in the Bel-Red corridor and the I-90/Eastgate corridor. Crossroads and some neighborhood centers are in decline. A lot of leaders don’t think about the fact that Bellevue is a large city and most of it lies east of Interstate 405, and a lot of things need to be done to that part of the city as well as downtown.
KATHLEEN: What skills or experiences will you bring to the city council that make you better suited to represent Bellevue citizens than your opponent Aaron Laing?
JOHN: First, I bring 20 years of direct involvement in the community, working in the schools. I’ve been a leader in every [school] bond and levy campaign, active as a PTA leader, and in the Bellevue Schools Foundation for nine years, and as head of the Bellevue Bridging the Achievement Gap committee. I’ve been on the school district fiscal advisory and instructional materials committees and on the Parks and Community Services Board. I’ve been involved in the planning and implementation of park lands.
The other difference is I’m not supported by Kemper Freeman and certain narrow interests downtown. I have a broad range of support. And I’m part of and supported by Move Bellevue Forward, a group that is very interested in seeing light rail come to downtown, through the city and not bypass the city.
KATHLEEN: What values will you use to guide your decision-making on the council?
JOHN: I think the overall value is what is best to keep Bellevue a vibrant, growing city that encompasses all the diversity in Bellevue and that works to see that all of our citizens have opportunity and access to services, and that we promote job growth without sacrificing environmental concerns or just building more roads and big piles of concrete.
KATHLEEN: What are the citizens of Bellevue concerned about?
JOHN: They’re concerned about specific things in their neighborhood and light rail. But what has been overarching, has been a desire for solid, strong leadership with a vision for moving forward and not wanting to just keep status quo. I’ve been pleasantly surprised with that.
KATHLEEN: So, John, because of the recession, the most recently passed city budget, for 2011-2012, deviated from Bellevue’s typical long-term planning approach. Would you have allocated funds differently in this budget?
JOHN: I can’t specifically say that I would have reallocated funds unless I was involved in the process, but I do think that it is a mistake to not keep planning for the future. I believe that there is a future and that we are going to get out of the recession and that to me, people are using the recession as an excuse for a different agenda of lowering taxes and cutting back people’s expectations of services, so that in the end it benefits people who don’t want to pay impact fees. We have a real problem of property owners and developers who don’t want to pay their share of growth that will ultimately benefit them enormously.
It’s a real negative that people are using the current financial situation to project out very decreased government activity over a long time. I think that is wrong. I think we can be frugal. We have to always try to use our resources the best way possible, but if it takes going out to the citizens and asking for resources then I think that we ought to be able to do that. We’ve done it with bonds and levies for schools. We did a half a billion bond for school construction. That took vision, and that took guts. We did a parks levy that people voted 67% for.
So I believe that if we talked to people about what’s at stake, and we have a good track record, that people will do it. I think that it’s part of the compact between people and their government. That it’s just a way to make things happen for people. It’s not government grabbing taxes, taking from people, it’s people contributing to their benefit.
Please return next week for part two of my visit with John Stokes and find out what John is “absolutely, unalterably, unequivocally opposed to” as we look at transportation and planning for growth in Bellevue. (Hint: NPI doesn’t like it either.)