Last week, two announcements brought both clarity and confusion to the race for mayor in Federal Way. The first announcement — that incumbent Skip Priest would run for re-election — was expected and adds clarity.
However, the second announcement by Deputy Mayor Jim Ferrell that he would not run for mayor caught most political observers by surprise and added a note of confusion to Ferrell supporters, and others, who were looking for change.
City Hall watchers have anticipated a rematch of the two mayoral finalists from 2010 for many months. In the 2010 race, Priest won with about 52 percent of the vote, and some in the Priest camp thought the race was closer than they expected. Priest and Ferrell were both Republicans and had many common friends. As a result Ferrell campaigned harder and spent more money, but he did not aggressively attack Priest’s record. The thinking around town was that it could be different this time.
While Ferrell had avoided public disagreement with Priest in an effort to put the 2010 election behind him, his maneuverings over the past two years signaled he would seek a rematch. Ferrell had switched parties to become a Democrat. He declined an overture to run for the state Legislature, a position won by council colleague Roger Freeman. He was elected deputy mayor by the council, which increased his status and visibility. Further, Ferrell was able to get two potential allies appointed to the city council. This would give him a majority of the council as endorsers over Priest, a powerful message to the public.
Ferrell had also courted support from the Federal Way Police Guild who appear unhappy with Priest. Lastly, Ferrell had not only not discouraged talk of a run, but in recent weeks he had made several moves laying the foundation for a campaign.
That made his decision not to run all that much more stunning.
His announcement about spending time with the family, concentrating on his job in the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, and using his talents as a council member to better the community are all probably accurate. But there is more to it than that.
Ferrell is among the more ambitious and politically knowledgeable public officials, and is smart enough to know you only get so many opportunities to grab the brass ring. At this point in his political career, time is becoming more an enemy than an ally, but after six races in 10 years, the prospect of another all-consuming race may have weighed too heavy.
Ferrell has a young family and many demands on his attention.
But another consideration might have been that Priest hasn’t really done anything wrong. There has been behind-the-scenes unhappiness from the police. Some members of the business community are concerned over the city’s economic development efforts and the loss of high-profile businesses such as Orion and Baden. And a majority of the city council seem unhappy with the mayor.
But in political terms, that is mostly insider politics that have not affected the general public. Communicating a platform of being a different kind of mayor might have been a difficult task for Ferrell.
But could Ferrell have won? It might have felt like an uphill battle for him, but yes, he could have won. He proved his ability to pull the big upset when he defeated incumbent powerhouse Mary Gates to win his first election to the city council in 2003.
And with the shifting political and community dynamics, a Priest-Ferrell race would have provided the public with two credible options. It would have been a good race. But now we won’t know who would have won.
Or will we? Suddenly, crime has moved from the abstract East Coast to our more personal front porch, and behind-the-scenes questions are being raised.
Could Ferrell be enticed into the race after all? Stay tuned.