Mayoral election rematch: Candidates clash over PACC, public safety and city's direction

Pictured left to right: Skip Priest and Jim Ferrell - Courtesy photo
Pictured left to right: Skip Priest and Jim Ferrell
— image credit: Courtesy photo

The 2013 mayoral election is a rematch between two longtime Federal Way leaders as incumbent Mayor Skip Priest will once again face Deputy Mayor Jim Ferrell for the job.

Both candidates say their priorities are public safety and the city's recession-bruised economy. However, the candidates have different views of the leadership behind those priorities. Priest said he's "proud of the direction Federal Way is heading," while Ferrell said "we can do better."

Economic development

With a price tag of nearly $32 million, the proposed Performing Arts and Conference Center (PACC) would be the most expensive project in city history. Both candidates say the downtown core needs a catalyst for more development, but they disagree on whether the PACC is the right project.

Priest supports the proposal, which has moved forward with schematic designs, and has promised to build the project without debt. He said the PACC has the potential to revitalize the area located just off I-5, create a better first impression for visitors, and get those visitors to come back.

So far, the city has borrowed $5 million from the state for the site on 20th Avenue South, where a former Toys R' Us was abandoned in 2006.

"I'm not going to put the city at risk unless I think there's a return," Priest told The Mirror's editorial board.

Ferrell said the PACC proposal has a flawed business model, and lacks a plan for ongoing expenses and surrounding development.

"I don't think it's a wise idea for this community, not now," Ferrell said. He likened the PACC scenario to a "three-legged chair," and said the project needs a corporate partner. If elected, and if the public buys into the project after a vote, Ferrell said he will find such a partner.

"People only support what they help create," he said.

The city is working with a developer on the former AMC Theatres site on 20th Avenue South, which attracted now-defunct proposals for skyscrapers and a Crystal Palace. The site has sat vacant since 2007.

Ferrell said the current administration lacks a sense of urgency and takes a reactive approach to economic development. The AMC site, Ferrell said, is the best place to "carve out an urban center" by actively recruiting businesses that bring jobs and capital.

The city reported in January 2013 that vacant office space had been reduced by nearly 15 percent since 2009, which Priest credits to a sign of an improving economy.

Crime and public safety

In 2011, Priest was mayor when crime was at its lowest rate since the city's inception, according to statistics provided by the police department. The achievement occurred despite an 11 percent reduction in police staff.

Ferrell said Priest ignores bigger problems in Federal Way, specifically with crime and public safety. He pointed to Priest's re-election announcement this spring, in which the mayor glossed over the spike in crime in 2012. The city saw a 24 percent increase in burglaries from 2011 to 2012, and about a 12 percent increase in auto thefts from 2011 to 2012.

So far in 2013, residential burglaries are down 31 percent, but commercial burglaries increased by 31 percent. The latter statistic stems from vacant buildings, which are a target for thieves who steal metal and copper, according to police.

If elected, Ferrell said he will find revenue streams in the budget to put toward funding for more police officers, and will pursue Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) grants.

"People will only come here if they feel safe," Ferrell said.

Priest said crime statistics went up in 2012 due to increased liquor theft and because the city asked people to report more crimes. The latter resulted from the expansion of the Safe City surveillance program to neighborhoods such as Twin Lakes, he said. Priest backed legislation to tighten the reins on "cash for gold" dealers in an effort to curb burglaries and stolen jewelry. He also pushed for tougher laws against metal and copper wire theft.

In 2012, Priest and Ferrell lobbied before the House Committee on Public Safety for legislation to reduce metal theft.

In 2012, Priest announced the city would decline a $800,000 COPS grant because the city couldn't afford to pick up the tab once the money ran out. Ferrell recently led an effort to apply for a COPS grant to fund two more police officers in Federal Way. The city awaits notification on the grant.

2010 election background

In 2009, Ferrell led an effort to create the elected mayor position. Voters approved a ballot measure that changed the form of government to include a directly-elected "strong mayor" who runs the city's daily operations. In 2010, the position attracted four candidates, including Priest, who was a state representative at the time, and Ferrell, a city councilman. In the 2010 general election, Priest won the election with about 52 percent of the vote.

In the 2010 campaign, Ferrell spent $80,073 and Priest spent $39,622.

2013 campaign info: Mahlon "Skip" Priest

• Money: As of Sept. 20, Priest's campaign has raised $16,724 and has spent $6,225, according to the Public Disclosure Commission (PDC).

• Biggest donors: Affordable Housing Council, Trucking Action Committee, local resident H. David Kaplan, Westfall Gooden Oil owner Cory Charlston.

• Key supporters/endorsements: Affordable Housing Council, Superintendent Rob Neu, FWPS School Board President Tony Moore, State Rep. Pat Sullivan (D-District 47), Federal Way City Councilmember Jeanne Burbidge, Deputy King County Executive Fred Jarrett.

• Municipal League rating: Outstanding

• Background: Priest served on the Federal Way City Council from 1992 to 1997, including two years as an appointed mayor under the city's council-manager form of government. Priest was first elected to the state House of Representatives in 2002, where he served until 2010.

• Website:

2013 campaign info: Jim Ferrell

• Money: As of Sept. 20, Ferrell's campaign has raised $14,301 raised and has spent $8,477, according to the Public Disclosure Commission (PDC).

• Biggest donors: Federal Way Police Officers Guild, Highmark Investments, attorney Yarden Weidenfeld, and Ferrell himself.

• Key supporters/endorsements: Federal Way Police Officers Guild, Federal Way Police Lieutenants Guild, King County Police Officers Guild, King County Sheriff John Urquhart, State Rep. Roger Freeman (D-District 30), 30th District Democrats, Federal Way City Councilmember Susan Honda.

• Municipal League Rating: Very Good

• Background: Ferrell was first elected to the Federal Way City Council in 2003, and has worked as a King County prosecutor for 18 years. In 2009, he led an effort to change the city's form of government to allow voters to directly elect a "strong mayor."

• Website:

Meet the candidates

The Federal Way Mirror will host a public forum for mayoral and city council candidates from 6 to 8 p.m. Oct. 9 at Twin Lakes Golf and Country Club. Participants include mayoral candidates Skip Priest and Jim Ferrell; city council position 2 candidates Kelly Maloney and Mark Koppang; city council position 4 candidates Jeanne Burbidge and John Fairbanks; and city council position 6 candidates Diana Noble-Gulliford and Martin Moore.

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