This column should be about last week’s candidates’ forum. But that will have to wait, because the talk of the town is Mayor Jim Ferrell’s out-of-control rant at one of the City Council candidates during the forum.
This is one of those incidents where, unless you were there, it is hard to believe it actually happened. I was there.
Ferrell is not up for election this year and was attending as an interested citizen. Mark Greene, who is running against appointed incumbent Lydia Assefa-Dawson and fellow candidate Anthony Murrietta for the City Council, said he was chosen by the mayor’s camp to run in this race. That caught Ferrell’s attention, but when Murrietta, during his comment period, joked about the reference to the mayor selecting Greene, Ferrell’s temper overtook his patience. He interrupted the proceedings from the back of the room, leaping to his feet and stating in a loud tone toward Greene the comment was not accurate.
A less seasoned moderator could have lost control at that point as the raised voices between Ferrell and Greene were eroding the decorum quickly. But, Dr. T.M. Sell regained control after directing Ferrell to sit down and admonishing Greene that Murrietta still had the floor.
It was an impetuous mistake in judgement for Ferrell to interrupt the proceedings, as he seemed to forget he isn’t just another citizen. He is the mayor. He is expected to demonstrate a higher level of calm, self control and poise under pressure for the citizens he serves. Unfortunately, he didn’t and it got worse.
After a fire commissioner encouraged him, Ferrell went after the topic again during “questions from the audience,” demanding to know who from his camp made the overture and saying he had never met Greene. Greene held his ground and said he had an email exchange with Ferrell’s campaign manager that proved it. Greene said he didn’t state the name as he did not have the person’s permission. He later said he would give the name to Mirror editor Carrie Rodriguez along with the emails.
Some people in the room may have mistakenly thought Greene was referring to Steve McNey, who has been the mayor’s political advisor for many years. Those who know McNey, knew it wasn’t him as he wouldn’t have made such a rookie mistake. But the person Greene talked to was Chris Truppner, who was listed as Ferrell’s campaign manager when he ran for mayor. Truppner doesn’t have McNey’s experience.
After the meeting, Greene provided the press the emails and further background. He said he and Truppner exchanged emails and phone calls. Truppner has been doing some campaign work for other area politicians. Greene had announced several months ago that he would run for the vacant position in the House of Representatives due to Roger Freeman’s passing. He changed his mind and announced for the City Council. Greene says that Truppner suggested that move implying that the mayor would support him. The emails confirm communications between the two and make reference to a possible phone conversation. They also suggest Truppner was trying to recruit Greene as a customer. But they do not confirm Greene’s assertion of Ferrell’s support. Greene says that occurred in a phone conversation. Both Truppner and Ferrell deny that Truppner made any such offer.
Earlier this year, there was some speculation about who Ferrell would endorse in this race, and he did get some comment about not recruiting his own candidates. Some Democrats were unhappy with Assefa-Dawson for supporting Republicans Mark Miloscia and Linda Kochmar. At the same time, some Democrats were also upset with Ferrell for giving the Key to the City to Republican Teri Hickel, who is running against Democrat Carol Gregory.
And to add more to the background intrigue, some Democrats wondered if Greene would take votes from Assefa-Dawson in the primary if he switched to the council race, as that might help Murrietta. What was said in any phone conversations between Greene and Truppner? We don’t know.
There is no proof that anyone representing Ferrell offerred Greene any deals. Would Ferrell have authorized such an offer? I don’t believe so.
But that’s all politics. The real issue here is the mayor’s conduct. This is his second major public meltdown. Apologists for him might argue “he had to defend himself from an inaccurate allegation.” That strategy would only be used by amateurs. Rather than contain the issue to the 60 people who were in attendance and likely didn’t believe Greene anyway, Ferrell’s conduct ensured at least 30,000 would read about his outburst on the front page of the Mirror.
His action expanded, rather than contained the damage. Another spin control answer from his supporters was that he was formerly a county prosecutor and he reverted to his courtroom style. That doesn’t work either; if he exhibited that behavior in a court of law he would have been fined for contempt. And had that conduct occurred by a citizen in a council meeting, Ferrell, as the presiding officer would have had Police Chief Andy Hwang escorting them to the parking lot.
All Ferrell had to do was remember what office he holds and keep his mouth closed until the right time. The press would have done exactly what it did, ask questions and ask for proof. The storyline would have led nowhere. Even in the unlikely event a story was written, it would have been small and buried under “Candidate and Former Political Aide Disagree.” Ferrell might have had a one-denial quote. The facts say this wasn’t much of a story.
But Ferrell’s outburst made it one, and it made him the center of it and not in a good way. He took away from the candidates who were the real story and he embarrassed himself. I have heard comments that it was entertaining.
Are our expectations so low that we expect entertainment from our mayor? Has the lesson of the last mayor been so easily forgotten? Mayor Ferrell needs to learn that along with the perks of being mayor, come adult expectations and responsibilities. Ferrell has a chance to become a really good mayor, but he won’t get the chance if he can’t control his behavior.
Public temper tantrums are beneath the office of mayor. They should also be beneath the occupant.
Federal Way resident Bob Roegner is a former mayor of Auburn: email@example.com.