Challenges and strategies in Federal Way mayor race | Bob Roegner

The preliminaries are over, and either State Rep. Skip Priest or City Councilman Jim Ferrell will be the first full-time separately elected mayor of Federal Way.

The preliminaries are over, and either State Rep. Skip Priest or City Councilman Jim Ferrell will be the first full-time separately elected mayor of Federal Way.

The candidates will now focus their attention on each other while trying to convince the public they are the best. Priest came out of the primary leading by about 8 percent, and given the likely redistribution of voters who cast ballots for eliminated candidates City Councilman Mike Park and Mayor Linda Kochmar, he will remain the front-runner. While 8 percent is a comfortable margin, it is also one that can be overcome. But what did we learn about where each candidate wants to lead us and what their positions are on the issues confronting our community? Frankly, we didn’t learn a lot. Both candidates favor a safe city with good police protection. They also favor improved economic developement, good roads, a vibrant downtown and good parks. They also oppose tax increases. It’s pretty hard to find fault with any of those ideas. But how will the election unfold, and what should you watch for and expect?

As the front-runner, Priest’s campaign strategy likely involves talking about his many years of service to the community as a city council member, mayor and state representative, along with his involvement in civic organizations. He will go to debates, continue to doorbell and send out mailers highlighting his accomplishments over the years. He will try and stay above the fray. It is to his advantage to avoid both controversy and too many policy specifics, if he can. If he comes out with too many hard positions, he provides special interest groups and Ferrell with opportunities to raise doubts about his leadership. But he also needs to be careful not to try and play it too safe, or the media will get critical of the lack of details. Priest rarely mentions his election opponents, let alone attack them. But that could get difficult to maintain.

Ferrell has a completely different challenge in front of him. He will talk about his resume and his accomplishments and why he wants a safe community for children and families. But he has to make up ground. He is behind, and unless he wants to stay that way, he has no choice but to try and draw very distinct differences between himself and Priest. The less controversy there is, the more the race favors Priest. The more doubt Ferrell can create about Priest, the better chance Ferrell has of winning. Since they are both active Republicans, have a lot of the same friends and Ferrell will be involved in city government next year, win or lose, it is a risky strategy for the long term. But Ferrell doesn’t have many options.

Ferrell fired a warning shot right after the primary election. He said Priest represented the “establishment” and “if you were happy with how things are, then he (Ferrell) wasn’t your candidate.” It was a little off the mark because Priest hasn’t been in city government for many years, and Ferrell serves on the current council. But by targeting Priest as the “incumbent,” Ferrell was appealing to the current perception that voters are frustrated with all levels of government. Since many of Ferrell’s supporters are those who feel disaffected from City Hall, the comments appealed to his base while trying to attract new voters. Look for Ferrell to challenge Priest on experience and policy. This whole race has been a huge political gamble for Ferrell, and he knows it. Don’t look for him to subscribe to Federal Way’s “polite political structure.” Priest will try and avoid getting drawn into this type of campaign as it works to Ferrell’s advantage. However, he can’t let every allegation go without response and will need to pick and choose which issues he will respond to.

This should be an interesting and energetic campaign. There will be several opportunities to see and hear the candidates. The one to circle on your calendar is a public debate sponsored by the Federal Way Mirror and the Federal Way Chamber of Commerce. It runs 6 to 8 p.m. Monday, Sept. 27 at the Federal Way High School Little Theater. Don’t miss it.