Federal Way Council's challenge to fill vacant seat | Inside Politics

Bob Roegner - Contributed
Bob Roegner
— image credit: Contributed

Jim Ferrell’s election as mayor created an opportunity for some aspiring politician as it created a council vacancy. One vacant seat, and 20 candidates. Who will be the newest member of the Federal Way City Council?

Some candidates, such as Roger Flygare, Anthony Murietta, Mark Koppang, Troy Smith, Keith Tyler, Lorie Weldon and John Fairbanks, have run for Council before and are familiar names to City Hall watchers.

Others, such as Jerry Vaughn and Tom Medhurst, are business leaders and active in the community. Medhurst is also on the city Planning Commission.

Ron Nowicki already holds an elected office as a Lakehaven Utility District Commissioner. Another, Randall Smith, has been active in local politics for years.

The next group – Jessica Carter, Jack Reed Hackett, Paul Kirehu, Robin Cook, Gregory Baruso, Gary Darcey, Michael Hall, Don Smith and Lydia Assefa-Dawson – are not as well known but may bring a fresh community perspective.

As a resident and voter, you can play an important role by doing your homework on the issues and the candidates and telling the Council who you think would be the best Council member. You may also encourage them to have all their discussions in public. They are allowed to go in to executive session but don’t have to.

At the same time, let’s not be naive about how this works. There are big stakes in the result. Most of the candid, open discussions will be behind the scenes and will occur in executive session. Some of the candidates are supporters of the Council members who will make the decision. Some have contributed money to Council members in the past and recently. Some ran against the Council members and that has implications.

Both political parties use the Council as a training ground to recruit candidates for the state Legislature. State Rep. Roger Freeman (D) and Rep. Linda Kochmar (R) were members of the Council prior to their current positions. Both political parties want one of their own members appointed to the Council post.

Supporters and opponents of the Performing Arts and Conference Center (PACC) are likely working for their favorite candidates. Social service supporters have made some contacts. They don’t want to be left out come budget time. Ferrell has a major interest in who wins and if that individual will support his initiatives.

And each Council member has their individual preference on who to appoint, depending on relationships, policy agreements and political connections. They will cautiously lobby for their favorite candidate.

Every group or individual involved has their own agenda. That’s not necessarily bad; everyone has goals they want to accomplish and want like-minded people on the council. That’s also politics at the grassroots level.

On the current Council, Bob Celski and Kelly Maloney are the most conservative, Jeanne Burbidge and Dini Duclos probably lean to the right of center, but like Susan Honda, they can be pretty centrist, and Martin Moore is the Council member most left of center.

Celski is a Republican, Maloney was endorsed by the Republicans, and Moore is a Democrat. Burbidge, Duclos, Celski and Moore are in favor on the PACC, one of the biggest projects in the city.

Maloney and Honda have the most questions. Supporters and opponents of the PACC are not divided by traditional politics, as you have the most conservative member, Celski, and the only announced Democrat, Moore, as supporters.

At the same time, Maloney, a conservative, and Honda, a moderate, lean the other way. But how candidates would vote on the PACC will play a role in who gets appointed.

Citizens who are interested in downtown development, more police and support for business are also talking to the candidates and the Council. The Council does not have any minority representation – a fact that has not gone unnoticed in a town of more than a hundred different languages. Since this is a mini-election mostly done out of public view, judging how the process will unfold is difficult.

Many of the candidates we don’t know much about. But Flygare, Murietta, Randall Smith, Tyler and Fairbanks are Democrats. Koppang is an active Republican, and Medhurst and Vaughn are conservative. The early front runner is Koppang, who supports the PACC, is well liked by three Council members and was endorsed by Celski and Duclos in the last election. But he needs the key fourth vote.

Maloney and Honda are likely to look elsewhere and it would be awkward for Moore to vote for him, at least in the early rounds. Unless he wants to alienate his base of support, Moore has to support Democratic candidates as long as at least one is still in the running.

But there is another problem for Koppang. Medhurst almost upset the pre-vote prognosis of Maloney and Diana Noble-Gulliford getting the two vacancies last spring by getting to the finals. Some thought that he wouldn’t apply this time. He is conservative and could pose a challenge to Koppang, depending on his PACC position.

Medhurst endorsed Koppang in last fall’s election. Nowicki is well known and, as a current office holder, could emerge as a compromise candidate. And if you’re looking for new candidates, watch Assefa-Dawson and Baruso.

Burbidge, Duclos and Celski want someone who favors the PACC and will lean conservative. That helps Koppang, Vaughn and maybe Medhurst. Maloney and Honda will favor others. Moore has the key vote. If he votes with the trio, they will elect the next Council member.

If he votes with the duo, which seems unlikely, it will be a 3-3 tie and the King County Council will pick the Council member. The selection will tell us a lot about our Council and the future direction of our city.

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


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