The race for position No. 2 on the City Council between Bob Celski and Jesse Johnson provides voters with an interesting contrast and choice.
Celski is a former council member who chose not to run for re-election in 2015. However, he was appointed to fill Kelly Maloney’s position when she resigned at the end of 2016. He is a veteran, Republican and may be the most conservative member of the current conservative-leaning council. Both he and his wife attended Federal Way schools, and their Olympic skating son has brought additional publicity to the town. Celski tends to ask direct questions at council meetings but is always affable in trying to sort out council issues. He rarely deviates from his establishment conservative view points and lists his top three priorities as public safety, creating a livable city and economic development.
He wants a focus on the downtown core and is a strong supporter of the Performing Arts and Event Center. He opposed marijuana retail shops, supported the moratorium on apartments and generally opposes tax and fee increases although he would likely support a utility tax increase for additional police. While he is concerned about the financial impact of a utility tax increase on low-income residents and seniors, he feels everyone uses the service and everyone should pay for it. He has supported Mayor Jim Ferrell’s actions in closing homeless encampments and does not support using tiny houses as a possible housing option for the homeless. He is still formulating his thoughts on how to handle the problem but leans toward social agencies rather than government, even though they are as financially challenged as City Hall.
Celski’s opponent is a contrast in most ways.
Jesse Johnson is a Democrat, has a masters degree in education and works for the Highline School District. He greets voters with a smile and talks about the future of Federal Way and what it can achieve. He believes the time is right for new leadership and new voices to be heard and wants to be one of them.
He was raised here and sees the changes as challenges to be overcome. He supports economic development but wants growth managed and a focus on family-wage jobs, not service or fast food. He would like to see the city support more apprenticeship programs, along with engineering, science and technical jobs. He would like to see an urban village approach to downtown housing that supports home ownership, such as condominiums and duplexes, rather than apartments, that might appeal to higher-income residents.
He does not feel that the current city policy of trying to run the homeless out of town is the right answer, as they have many ties to Federal Way and just come back. He believes that the first step in solving the homeless problem is finding them a place to live. Once they have a roof over their head and they feel safe, it is easier to then work on their other challenges.
Johnson would not have voted for the PAEC as he sees higher priorities in the city, but since it is now a reality, he wants it to succeed without becoming a drain on city resources. He believes that small business and start-ups need additional support from City Hall.
Johnson has served as a youth advocate and is a strong supporter of education and the school district’s facilities bond issue but would also support additional police and an emphasis on juvenile crime. He sees some parts of the community that need to feel a much stronger connection to their city government and believes he can help.
Celski is planning a campaign budget of about $16,000 and has been endorsed by Mayor Jim Ferrell, council member Jeanne Burbidge and County Councilman Pete von Reichbauer. Johnson is planning a campaign budget of $12,000 and has been endorsed by Congressman Adam Smith, state Rep. Kristine Reeves and County Councilman Dave Upthegrove.
Republican Celski serves as Democrat Ferrell’s campaign co-chair, and since Johnson is a Democrat there was some negative reaction toward Ferrell from some Democrats for his endorsement of Celski. Ferrell had given a duel endorsement in the race for position 6, which had a Democrat and Republican but wouldn’t give a dual endorsement in this race. Insiders say Ferrell helped Celski get the appointment to the council.
At a recent council meeting, Celski showed some initial reluctance to endorse the school district bond issue, which may open the door for additional debate between the candidates about city priorities. Celski’s supporters say his experience is what is needed now, while Johnson’s supporters believe he is better suited to connect constituents who represent our future to City Hall. Celski is the front runner, but this is a fun race to watch.
Two good candidates with very different ideas about what Federal Way needs and how to handle our current and future challenges: a contrast and a choice.
Federal Way resident Bob Roegner is a former Auburn mayor and retired public official. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.