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Originally published November 29, 2011 at 8:59 PM | Page modified November 29, 2011 at 9:18 PM

Recount due in Bellevue's Stokes-Laing race

Bellevue City Council candidate John Stokes led Aaron Laing by 51 votes out of nearly 35,000, meaning a manual recount will start Dec. 8.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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A hard-fought Bellevue City Council election that set a record for campaign spending ended — sort of — with John Stokes narrowly edging out Aaron Laing in results certified Tuesday.

But Stokes' 51-vote lead, just shy of a 0.17 percent advantage, means the results will be subject to a mandatory manual recount starting Dec. 8. More than 35,000 ballots were counted.

Stokes, a strong advocate of Sound Transit's light-rail plans and dense mixed-use development in two commercial areas outside downtown, apparently won despite entering the race months after Laing and being outspent.

Stokes' apparent victory beats back an attempt by downtown property owners Kemper Freeman and Bob Wallace to expand a 4-3 majority of council members who have been skeptical of Sound Transit's rail route and of taxes and fees to support commercial development outside downtown.

Stokes, who was backed by Bel-Red Corridor developer Wright Runstad, Washington Conservation Voters and Fuse Washington, would replace Grant Degginger, who did not seek re-election.

Bellevue voters also kept council members Claudia Balducci and John Chelminiak, Stokes allies, in office with more than 65 percent of the vote.

The Stokes-Laing race is one of three in King County subject to hand recounts. The others are between Enumclaw School Board candidates Dan L. Peterson and Tina McGann, and Public Hospital District 4 commissioner candidates Gene Pollard and Karyn Denton. Hospital District 4 is in the Snoqualmie Valley.

Des Moines City Council candidates Rebecca King and Bob Sheckler will undergo a machine recount in their race.

A hand recount is required when the margin between candidates is fewer than 150 votes and one-quarter of 1 percent; a machine recount comes when the margin is fewer than 2,000 votes and one-half of 1 percent.

Stokes said he was confident his lead — which never disappeared — would hold through the recount and said his election will help "make sure this light-rail project does go forward." He said in a statement he won a race "that will long be remembered as the most contentious and contested in Bellevue history."

Stokes' statement said voters "rejected a special-interest driven opposition campaign that engaged in some of the most negative tactics imaginable, proving that Bellevue is a community of educated, thoughtful individuals who appreciate leadership and service over superheated rhetoric."

Laing hasn't conceded and said in an interview, "My perspective is there's a reason the state requires a mandatory recount of votes, and we'll see what comes from that process."

Laing, who at one point condemned an independent-expenditure campaign that challenged Stokes' honesty, said Tuesday he was unhappy about negative campaigning by Stokes. The big issue in the election, Laing said, was "whether the families of Bellevue should be forced to bear a 40 percent property-tax increase in order to subsidize private development" in the Bel-Red Corridor.

Of the $195,253 raised in the election by the campaigns or independent forces, $123,822 was spent to favor Laing or attack Stokes while $71,431 went to promote Stokes.

Keith Ervin: 206-464-2105 or kervin@seattletimes.com

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