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Federal Way mayor candidates take the stage and make their pitch | Video
More than 200 residents flocked to Federal Way High School on Monday to learn more about the city's mayoral candidates.
Citizens passed an initiative this past November allowing them to elect their own mayor. Since then, four candidates with city council experience have stepped forward to run for the job. The candidates to become Federal Way's first elected mayor — Linda Kochmar, Mike Park, Jim Ferrell and Skip Priest — answered roughly 30 questions during a two-hour debate hosted by The Mirror and Federal Way Chamber of Commerce. Most of the questions posed to the candidates were submitted by residents.
Federal Way folks wanted to know specifics. What do the candidates plan to do to bring jobs to Federal Way? How will they grow the economy? How will they support and encourage small business? What can be done to close the projected $4.5 million budget deficit?
All the candidates agreed the city needs to boost revenues, resist raising taxes, harness spending, close the budget gap, revitalize downtown, maintain and grow businesses of all sizes, ensure public safety and be seen as a regional leader. In answering the questions, the candidates granted the audience an opportunity to judge their character and get a better feel for their leadership style and ability.
Ferrell, a city council member since 2003, came across as animated, confident and unafraid to go against the grain. He painted himself as the leader the city desperately needs to accomplish many of the goals the city council has set out to achieve but has been unable to reach.
"We need an ambassador," Ferrell said.
Ferrell appealed to the audiences' emotions. He stressed the importance of fiscal responsibility. When asked whether the candidates support a performing arts and cultural center, Ferrell answered no, and was appalled that his fellow colleagues were in favor of the development.
"The house is burning and we're talking about how we're going to water the lawn," he said.
Ferrell's plans for downtown set him apart from his opponents. He proposed a park or plaza, a branch university, a police substation at the transit center and big retail at The Commons mall, incorporated alongside wisely integrated high rises.
As mayor, Ferrell promised he would ask himself two questions when making decisions on Federal Way's behalf: 1) "Is it the role of government?" and 2) "Is it necessary?" He said he does not plan on hiring a city administrator, or chief financial officer, if elected mayor.
Kochmar, the city's current mayor, came across as truly concerned about the city's future. She appeared approachable and passionate while getting her points across in the allotted 30 seconds per question granted to each candidate. On several occasions, her answers reflected what she, as mayor, and the city are already doing.
"You deserve a professional person for mayor," she said.
When asked about her vision for Federal Way, she said the city council has already outlined the city's vision in its comprehensive plan. She also said the mall is in need of revitalization. Kochmar introduced the idea of initiating a business council to provide advice and marketing for the city's small businesses. She is also open to considering rezoning of some parts of the city to encourage more business. She supports the city's current efforts in terms of opening a business incubator and looking into a medical accelerator. She also plans to hire a professional administrator, if elected.
Park told the attendees he's the only candidate that has served as the city's mayor twice. Though the position is non-partisan, Park made a point to say he is the only independent candidate.
"I will ensure all of your voices are heard," he said.
He sometimes chose to plug his abilities and accomplishments, such as being part of the council team that created the police department, rather than fully answer the questions. However, he was frank with his ideas and opinions when they were stated.
Park is staunch about creating jobs, economic revitalization and public safety in Federal Way. The high-rise project downtown is needed because it will create much-needed jobs. Once those are built, then the city can focus on filling empty ground level retail space, he said. Ties with the business community must be strengthened. That includes ties with businessmen and women in Federal Way's Asian sister cities. Park said a professional city administrator will be hired if he is elected.
In an up-front and candid closing statement, Park said timing is key. Priest's heart is in Olympia and he should remain there, he said. Kochmar's time will soon be up. Ferrell's timing is not right, he said. Park said it's his time to be mayor.
Priest, who is retiring from his position as a state representative to run for mayor, brought humor to the debate. He was the only candidate to interact directly with the audience and came off confident and collected. He spoke clearly and appeared at ease in front of an audience.
His experience as a business owner and as a state representative make him the best person for the job, he said. He can be a spokesperson for the city and already has connections in the business sector as well as regionally and state-wide. Federal Way needs someone who can gain the confidence of the council, staff and community, he said.
Priest unabashedly pointed to the city's sign code as an area of accomplishment. He was on the council when the original code passed; businesses were made to remove large signs that were not thought to be attractive. Priest said he is familiar with making tough budget decisions and doesn't see a need to hire a city administrator if he were elected.
"I expect to manage that operation," he said.