By Zachariah Bryan
Northwest Asian Weekly
Bellevue Mayor Conrad Lee has been on the city council for 20 years.
Put another way, that’s over 7,300 days, or over 175,000 hours, or over 1 million minutes.
To say the least, Lee has put in a lot of time in his job, and now he’s running for reelection.
His motto? “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
“We have to keep up with the growth, we have to manage it right, and to do it right we need a longtime councilmember with proven experience,” said Lee. “In my own life — I’m not a young chick — I think I’ve achieved a certain degree of success and stability. I bring wisdom.”
Long disregarded as a suburb for rich white people, Bellevue has throughout the past 20 years become a bustling center of diversity and entrepreneurism. More than 30 percent of the population is foreign born, and more than 40 percent are ethnic minorities. And big businesses such as Coinstar, Expedia, ITEX, Sierra Entertainment, T-Mobile, and Vulcan have their headquarters in Bellevue.
And the growth continues: Kemper Freeman has planned a $1.2 billion expansion of his dining and retail complex, The Rockefeller Group is looking to build a high-rise office complex on 5.5 acres, a few office towers ranging from 18 to 24 stories tall are being planned, and apartment complexes continue to be planned and built at a steady flow.
Lee says Bellevue has seen such growth and success because the city is well managed and has good schools, safe streets and low taxes. Lee says he incentivizes people not with a bag of money, but rather with a good environment to live in.
“We need to provide an active, receptive, welcoming, enlightened political environment and business environment for these people to want to be here and feel like they can succeed,” said Lee. “If you have a quality, if you have a product people want, if you satisfy people, people will come … These things don’t happen by themselves, we have to do our share. I’ve done my part in making Bellevue the way it is for the past 20 years.”
Lee, in ways, is a spitting image of the city he helps run: both an injection of diversity to an otherwise white council and a man with an entrepreneurial spirit.
Born in China, Lee came to the states in 1958 and moved to Bellevue in 1967. He received a degree in electrical engineering from University of Michigan and received an MBA from the University of Washington. He worked at Boeing, was a stockbroker, was a long-time small business owner in real estate and, finally, was elected to Bellevue City Council in 1993.
Lee is not without his detractors. His opponent, Lyndon Heywood, decided to submit his name against Lee because he feels that too many seats on the council go uncontested, producing a political stagnancy.
“I feel fresh eyes are desperately needed on our council,” said Heywood. “After staying too long in office, I get the impression that council members stop siding with the citizens they exist to represent … That is a dangerous situation to get to, and a balance that I would like to address.”
Mostly, Heywood is using the opportunity to bring up critical points about the growth of Bellevue. He says he is concerned that focusing on downtown detracts from properly developing the surrounding neighborhoods, that Bellevue doesn’t cooperate enough with nearby cities and governments, and that the government doesn’t do a good enough job communicating and working with residents.
Still, Lee sees nothing but opportunity. Businesses seem to have no problem setting up shop in the city and he believes he is in a good position to work with the growing powerhouse economies on the other side of the Pacific Ocean, particularly China.
“We want to continue on the direction I set. We’re on the right track,” Lee said. “I believe that we have a great opportunity facing the whole region. Especially Bellevue.” (end)
Zachariah Bryan can be reached at email@example.com.