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Hottest city council race is a battle within a battle | Roegner

By BOB ROEGNER Federal Way Mirror Inside Politics
September 27, 2013 · 10:23 AM
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Kelly Maloney made the biggest bang of any of the Federal Way City Council candidates in the primary after her unexpected 17 percent win over second-time candidate Mark Koppang.

Koppang has run before and is considered a very credible candidate. Maloney is the appointed incumbent and was expected to do well, but passing the 50 percent threshold in a three-person race was impressive.

Both candidates have strengths to draw from and would serve the community well. They both lean to the conservative side, and while they may have some different ideas, their basic philosophy is similar.

Both are likable and have been active in the community. Maloney received an “Outstanding” from the Municipal League and Koppang received a “Good.”

Maloney has been advocating the recruitment of a four-year private college to stimulate downtown development. She has called for legislative support for domestic violence, and believes the city’s reputation has been tarnished by the regional media and wants to re-brand the city’s image. Her support for the Performing Arts and Conference Center (PACC) will not come easily, as she has many questions about the project.

Koppang is a businessman and is on the city’s Civil Service Commission. He has concerns about the cost of the SCORE regional jail, whose membership includes Federal Way. He favors the PACC, but would not support the project if it carries a debt. He would like to see gun shows included in background checks. He favors a Kent Station type development for downtown Federal Way.

But there are bigger issues in play here, and this council race is really a battle within a battle. These two candidates are more closely tied to the race for mayor than any others.

Both candidates undoubtedly want voters to judge them on their merits and who would be the best council member. But the sub-text to this race speaks more to friendships, political alliances, and divisions within the community. It also will influence where the power lies after the election.

Politically, the city is divided into two camps: one for Jim Ferrell and one for Skip Priest.

And while city races are non-partisan, Priest is a Republican, and the Republican establishment is supporting Koppang, who served as their district chairman.

Maloney filed a well-publicized complaint against Mayor Skip Priest over his behavior toward her and others. The investigation was stopped by the city attorney, who works for the mayor, with mixed results. Many of Priest’s supporters have turned their anger toward Maloney. But that has also galvanized Maloney supporters, and many political observers believe the primary race showed a notable vein of reactive support for Maloney.

Even though Maloney is not affiliated with a political party, she is expected to pick up significant Democratic support in reaction to Priest’s supporters. Third-place primary finisher Anthony Murrietta, who is involved with labor, has endorsed Maloney.

Some of Koppang’s contributors include Trisha Bennett (Mayor Priest’s wife), Councilmember Bob Celski, Jim Burbidge (who is Councilmember Jeanne Burbidge’s husband), Linda Purlee (Councilmember Dini Duclos’ partner), and school board member Danny Peterson.

Some of Maloney’s supporters include Councilmembers Susan Honda and Diana Noble-Gulliford. Deputy Mayor Jim Ferrell has kept his focus on his race for mayor, but has talked positively about Maloney, and behind the scenes, some of his supporters are encouraging Democratic support for Maloney.

No matter who wins, there will be a need to repair some relationships in City Hall after the election.

Maloney will continue to advocate for her ideas, and as the front-runner, she will likely not acknowledge Koppang. Koppang has a different task. He has to clearly identify why voters should vote for him over Maloney. He has to be very direct and take the gloves off. If he doesn’t, he will lose.

But how Maloney reacts to the challenge will determine if she stays the front-runner. A small turnout benefits Koppang, while a big turnout benefits Maloney.

The Mirror and Federal Way Chamber of Commerce debates occur in the next two weeks. Watch for this campaign to heat up.

Correction from last week: Jeanne Burbidge will have served four terms (16 years) on the city council at the end of this term. I listed only three terms.

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Federal Way resident Bob Roegner, a former mayor of Auburn: bjroegner@comcast.net

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