There was a big turnout last week at the Mirror political forum for candidates running in the primary for mayor and city council. Most attendees were already affiliated with some of the candidates, but others were there to see if the show would be as good as it was two years ago when Mayor Jim Ferrell lost his temper at council candidate Mark Greene. Not quite, but still entertaining and substantive.
Greene is now running for mayor and challenged Ferrell on the Performing Arts and Event Center, calling it “Ferrell’s Palace” and Ferrell the “Pope of the PAEC.” But Ferrell maintained his humor and no repeat occurred. Although the police officer stationed in the back may have provided a calming influence. In defending himself, Ferrell may have added more fuel to the fire of those who believe the city has not been forthcoming about the true state of the PAEC’s financial condition. When questioned about the financial shortfall and borrowing against a city loan, Ferrell said he felt the naming rights to the PAEC would make up the $8 million shortfall. Ferrell’s Blue Ribbon Panel report said, however, the expectation of the highest income level for the naming rights would be only $4.25 million, barely half of Ferrell’s estimate. The Blue Ribbon Committee tended to use low- or mid-range estimates for their conclusions, placing the range between $2.25 million-$3.5 million, again far short of Ferrell’s prediction. Ferrell also appeared to assume the city would receive the amount in a lump sum. Agreements of this nature are usually made with 10 to 25-year payouts. The annual installments to the city may only be a few hundred thousand dollars per year, well short of the $8 million needed. Some members of the “Save Federal Way” group held the view that the whole discussion about a utility tax increase in 2017-18 is really about bailing out the PAEC, not the stated police officers. Even with additional legislative help from the capital budget, it appears the city could be borrowing more than expected and thus more interest paid on the loan.
One candidate for council is already calling for an audit of the proposition for police from a few years ago. Could there be additional citizen oversight requested, to verify where the money has been spent on the PAEC?
Ferrell, as a former prosecutor, appeared the most comfortable and performed as expected. He cited his accomplishments as the PAEC, the downtown park, economic development, police officers and obtaining grants to preserve open space near the Weyerhaeuser North Lake property.
But opponent Susan Honda, who even made a reference to being soft spoken, kept Ferrell on the defensive much of the evening with a newly aggressive style and performed better than expected. She challenged Ferrell on the PAEC and, in an unveiled reference to another Ferrell flip-flop, said she would have preferred a public vote on the PAEC. She also questioned his handling of the Weyerhaeuser property, his approach to the homeless problem and poor cooperation with some community stakeholders. Honda also suggested Ferrell might be more interested in higher office than doing his current job. Honda acknowledged Ferrell’s efforts at economic development but said the community is still short of recouping the 6,000 jobs lost when Weyerhaeuser left and needs more family-wage jobs.
Despite his clever comments about Ferrell, Greene wasn’t a factor in the debate. He did suggest a private partner take over the PAEC and that he would fight any efforts to include manufacturing at the Weyerhaeuser location.
In the council portion, the candidates shared similar policy positions, but some differences did emerge. Diana Noble-Gulliford is the most knowledgeable, having previously served on the City Council and is currently serving on the Planning Commission. She wants the city to improve its relationship with business stakeholders and have zoning that would assist rather than hinder business. She wants to work with other governments to tackle the homeless problem.
Sharry Edwards is known for her work on social issues and sought to broaden her platform. She wants to work with stakeholders to improve the downtown and was the most committed to providing a structure for the homeless. But she only mentioned the option favored by the mayor, although two options have been discussed by city officials. She believes the PAEC will be a great asset.
Jack Stanford brings a businessman’s background to the debate and is concerned with business growth, public safety and keeping taxes low. He would like to see more partnerships among the city stakeholders and suggested the city could be a partner, not always the driver. In a subtle way, Stanford captured some of the undercurrent of dissatisfaction from many stakeholders and council candidates toward City Hall.
Hoang Tran started the race for council as the “mystery candidate,” but he shed that title quickly.
He could be the surprise candidate. Even though he is still new to Federal Way, he more than held his own with a far more seasoned group that has helped build Federal Way. Tran wants to diversify the city’s economic base, and he welcomes the PAEC, but has concerns about the long-term financial stability. He wants a more substantive solution to the homeless problem, calling the Day Center only a start. He is the administrator of the local Department of Social and Heath Services office, and his training showed. He recently raised several thousand dollars for his race, but will it be too late to make an impact?
Who will advance to November? Ferrell and Honda are the logical choices for mayor. Of the council candidates, Noble-Gulliford and Stanford are very similar on policy and will likely split the Republican vote. Two of the four candidates will advance. It’s a toss up among the Republicans with a slight edge to Noble-Gulliford based on experience. Edwards, with her Democratic credentials, should claim the other position in our top-two format. But there isn’t a bad candidate in the group.
Whichever two fail to advance should think about running again.
Federal Way resident Bob Roegner is a former mayor of Auburn and retired public official. He can be reached at email@example.com.