Opinion

City council faces power shift | Bob Roegner

The recent election, which produced two new council members, may have shifted the power relationships in Federal Way City Hall, according to insiders.

Over the past year, as the mayor and council adjusted to the new form of government, everyone has been careful to keep disagreements below the surface. Part of the reason was they wanted the transition to go as smoothly as possible.

But with four council seats up for election, there were also political considerations. All of the incumbents running wanted endorsements, as did the new candidates. Jim Ferrell ran unopposed. Dini Duclos got the endorsement of Ferrell and Mayor Skip Priest, but in a significant gamble, Ferrell endorsed Bob Celski over incumbent Jack Dovey. Priest endorsed Dovey. Susan Honda was endorsed by Ferrell and Linda Kochmar in her campaign to replace Mike Park.

Park and Dovey have been longtime friends of Priest, and along with council members Jeanne Burbidge and Dini Duclos, seemed to give the mayor a working majority. Ferrell, Kochmar and Roger Freeman provided a counterbalance, although this alignment lacked consistent definition. With Dovey and Park leaving the council and being replaced by Honda and Celski, who are likely to have more in common with Ferrell, Kochmar and Freeman, you can expect a much more aggressive council in dealing with the mayor on major policy issues.

There is some disagreement on the council regarding city strategy with Sound Transit, economic development, public safety, neighborhoods and the budget. Also, the police union is testing the mayor in negotiations that recently became public, and could cause additional rifts with the mayor and council. Mayor Priest could get caught in the middle.

Some council members want the mayor to display a stronger leadership role. If he doesn’t, the council might, but if he does, he provides political openings for candidates who might want his job. Mayor Priest will have to be very skillful to maneuver through the maze.

Priest, Burbidge, Freeman and Kochmar are up for election in two years. The first issue to watch is who can get four votes to replace Dini Duclos as deputy mayor, which is effectively the council’s president and leader.

Jim Ferrell appears to want the job, but in the old form of government, he was never able to fashion four votes to become mayor. The political winds may be turning his way now. Ferrell should be able to get Celski, Freeman and his own vote. Duclos, Burbidge and maybe Kochmar will likely go for Burbidge.

That leaves Honda with potentially the deciding vote — although it will remain fluid as the maneuvering unfolds. But there are two other considerations. Most of these folks are Republicans, and Kochmar’s announcement to run for the Legislature as a Republican may cause some behind-the-scenes movement because her primary opponent is likely to be Federal Way School Board President Tony Moore, who has allies on the city council.

Remember the prizes at stake. A seat in the state Legislature next year, or on the city council, or the mayor’s office in 2013. It will be interesting to watch it all unfold.

 

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