On the surface, the race between incumbent Jeanne Burbidge and John Fairbanks for the Federal Way City Council would appear to be a mismatch.
Burbidge has more experience, having served on the council for four terms. She received an “outstanding” rating from the Municipal League. Her endorsements read like a who’s who of Federal Way’s movers and shakers, including incumbent Mayor Skip Priest.
Burbidge can probably raise whatever amount of money she needs to run a good race. She has the advantage of being able to work at her council job full time and is an experienced campaigner. Burbidge is one of the most knowledgeable council members and is known regionally for her work on transportation issues. Her theme is “experience counts.” She is a moderate, and even those who might disagree with her describe her as a genuinely nice person.
John Fairbanks is making his first run for public office. He owns a small manufacturing business, which limits his campaign time to some degree. He received a “good” rating from the Municipal League. He is backed by a lot of friends and family. Raising money will be more of a challenge, so he will do more targeting of key voters. He leans conservative, is affable and sincerely wants to make an impact on the community. Even he acknowledges that running against Burbidge is an uphill battle, but feels the voters deserve a choice.
A closer look suggests that Fairbanks may have a better chance than one might think. He does have some experience with the city, as he serves on the Civil Service Commission, and his business background would be an asset to the council. But his intriguing strategy is to make his weakness his strength, and make Burbidge’s 16 years in office the very reason to vote her out and vote him in.
Fairbanks believes the city needs a “fresh new approach” and that Burbidge has been there too long. But Fairbanks, along with Jim Ferrell — who is running for mayor and has endorsed Fairbanks — may have identified a defining issue in the fall elections: the Performing Arts and Conference Center (PACC).
The PACC does not seem to be connecting with the average voter. The recent Mirror poll showed almost two-thirds of the community against it. While the poll did not have large numbers, it may reflect the feelings of the many voters who live here but reside outside the echo chamber that is the city political establishment.
Fairbanks feels the PACC is too expensive and could end up taking money from other needs, such as police. The risk, he says, is just too big. He opposes the PACC.
Burbidge supports the PACC and feels it will stimulate economic development. She disagrees with Fairbanks on funding and believes that the city would not allow other needed programs to not receive funding. This issue is likely to dominate campaign debates.
But there are other differences. Fairbanks is critical of the mayor for not submitting for a federal COPS grant to add additional police officers a couple of years ago. He also is critical of the city permit process. Burbidge says the city will submit an application this year for a COPS grant.
Fairbanks also says in the wake of the Pinewood murders that not enough is being done about mental health programs, and he feels the city should increase its funding. Burbidge responds that Federal Way’s domestic violence isn’t any higher than other cities, and the city is already funding some community-based programs.
Both will follow traditional campaign approaches, but Fairbanks has gotten creative. He has signs in both Korean and Russian. Through a donation, he has the use of a privately owned bus that displays local campaign signs.
Burbidge is the front-runner due to her high name identification, which should be helped by the low voter turnout. With no national or statewide races to draw voters, turnout is likely to be 20-25 percent.
Priest and Ferrell head the ballot and could influence the council races down the ballot. And their race could be influenced by PACC voters. Priest supports the PACC and Ferrell is opposed to the PACC.
Which voters will show up — pro-PACC or anti-PACC? Public safety and economic development could play a role as well. But watch the PACC voters.