In mayoral race, Ferrell is the candidate for change | Roegner

Deputy Mayor Jim Ferrell, as seen at an election forum Oct. 9. - Federal Way Mirror
Deputy Mayor Jim Ferrell, as seen at an election forum Oct. 9.
— image credit: Federal Way Mirror

It wasn’t an easy decision for Jim Ferrell to run for mayor a second time.

While he felt the city was stuck in neutral with Skip Priest as mayor, nothing had really gone wrong, either. Would the public consider a change? And what was a compelling reason to run? He announced he would not run.

But then the Pinewood Apartment murders happened. In April, five people died in the worse mass shooting in Federal Way’s history. Could a different mayor have stopped it? Probably not. But it did shake up the city and put public safety on the forefront of public debate. And while a new mayor might not stop an individual crime, he might still make a difference.

The Federal Way Police Officers Guild had asked Ferrell to run before and he declined. This time he considered it more seriously. Ferrell felt he could be that difference.

Jim Ferrell has always appeared to be a man in a hurry. Whether it’s a council meeting, taking care of his young son or just having a cup of coffee, there is a sense of energy about him. Like the football linebacker he once was, he seems to be in perpetual motion. But we were never quite sure which direction he was headed, and that caused questions in the community. Some thought he was a political animal and that Federal Way was a stepping stone to Olympia and maybe statewide office someday.

But Ferrell’s movements to change the form of government to a strong mayor system, and then run twice for the job, seem to solidify that his goals are local. In between the two runs for mayor, Ferrell turned down another chance to run for the Legislature. Mayor isn’t usually a stepping stone — it’s a destination. Incumbent Mayor Skip Priest gave up his seat in the state House to run for mayor.

Ferrell is outgoing and friendly, with a ready smile and a firm handshake. When talking to people, he uses terms like “buddy” or “pal.” That makes the person feel comfortable. He’s easy to like.

Even though his day job has been in the King County Prosecutor’s Office, his heart has been in politics and political change.

Ferrell is hard to categorize. He is a fiscal conservative, but has never fit the Republican mold. He switched parties to become a Democrat due to his views on social issues, but still carries an anti-tax fiscal side. He is mostly a populist. Opponents argue that he switched political parties so that he could attract Democratic votes while anticipating Priest would get the Republican votes. That may or may not be true, but it has allowed him more latitude in questioning Priest’s record in debates — something he was reluctant to do in 2010. Priest is usually good in debates, but he has appeared off-balance and on the defensive with Ferrell.

In a race for mayor, it is usually the incumbent’s record that warrants the most scrutiny. Such is the case this year. Priest has allowed himself to become more vulnerable than you would expect of a seasoned politician. That has benefited Ferrell, but as he has appeared more electable, more voters have taken a closer look at his record and where he might lead the city.

In addition to the conversion from the council-manager to strong mayor form of government, Ferrell also led the change in the Federal Way Municipal Court from appointed to elected judges.

He has consistently argued for more police and has received the police guild’s endorsement. He was able to obtain agreement from the city council to support a COPS grant this year to add more police, even though Priest had not included it in his requests. Ferrell has supported downtown improvements similar to a Kent Station, over the Performing Arts and Conference Center (PACC) endorsed by Priest.

Consistent with his populist view, Ferrell has urged a public vote on the PACC. Priest has not taken a position on a public vote. At its current price tag of nearly $32 million, and with questions about financing raised by businessman Jeff Stock, it seems unlikely the public would support the PACC at this time. Ferrell has consistently opposed the PACC as too expensive and believes the cost will harm city services.

Priest has not changed many staff positions at City Hall. Ferrell would be more likely to take a serious look at city staffing, evaluate department head positions and expect additional accountability. He would also review the city’s priorities and set public goals. Those close to Ferrell say he would be more of an activist mayor.

Last time the two met in an election, Priest was not part of city government and Ferrell was. But it was Priest who ran an incumbent status quo safe style of race, staying above the fray. Ferrell was the candidate of change.

The roles are the same for this race. But now Priest has a record to defend. Ferrell is more aggressive and has caught Priest in several mistakes, including using old crime statistics, misrepresenting Ferrell’s voting record at the Chamber of Commerce debate, and claiming credit for getting money from Sound Transit; that credit should properly go to King County Councilmember Pete von Reichbauer and State Sen. Tracey Eide.

Ferrell’s supporters argue that Priest represents the old guard and that a new generation offers change, new direction and a new leader in Ferrell. They believe Ferrell’s theme, “We can do better,” is more than just words. It is a challenge to the  community to look forward and raise their expectations. It is the chance to create a vision for what the community can be when today’s children grow to adulthood. Jim Ferrell believes he can take them there.

The race is too close to call, although it appears Ferrell has the momentum.


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


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