Federal Way City Council member Jim Ferrell was the first candidate to declare a run for mayor.
He boldly announced his intentions more than a year ago when he stepped up to lead the initiative to change the city’s form of government.
The previous year, a similar measure had gone down in defeat, with Ferrell staying in the background.
Ferrell felt the effort lacked leadership and direction, but also felt he couldn’t be coy about his interest in becoming mayor in a second initiative campaign.
He hired a professional campaign manager to sharpen the message about why the voters should approve a strong mayor form of government, and he raised the money to implement the plan.
He became the face of the campaign and was so strongly identified with the issue that when it passed, some voters thought he was elected mayor at the same time.
But his prominence didn’t come without a price. The close, hard-fought election was so divisive that many in the community want the next mayor to be ABJ — Anybody But Jim.
As a result, Ferrell is easily the most polarizing figure in the race to lead this city of more than 85,000 people. There doesn’t seem to be many shades of gray where Ferrell is concerned. To many, you either like him or you don’t.
He is a complex personality, which makes him among the most interesting to observe and write about. Ferrell is a senior deputy prosecutor in the domestic violence court. As you would expect, he is organized, well prepared and makes his points clearly, if sometimes bluntly, in debates.
But off the stump, he has a friendly, almost boyishly disarming manner. In conversations, he punctuates his sentences with terms such as “buddy” or “pal,” which puts a listener at east and establishes a comfortable tone.
But he is also goal-driven, and is aware that he has alienated many community leaders, including other council members, in his pursuit of the mayor’s office.
His frequent assertions that some city spending is “wasteful” seem contrived to a city council full of fiscal conservatives. They note his previous and possible future interest in other political positions, and believe he has put his ambitions ahead of community interests.
Ferrell doesn’t duck the criticism or even totally disagree with it. He feels changing the form of government was good public policy. He also says that while he has no immediate other political plans, he believes “you want someone with ambition” and recognizes he would have to be successful as mayor to be able to consider other opportunities.
He has proposed a police substation at the Federal Way Transit Center and a downtown park. He wants to attract a college branch campus to stimulate economic development. Like the other candidates, he is vague on the specifics of how these goals would be achieved. He is concerned about the potential impact on economic growth that the South King Fire and Rescue benefit charge might have. But also, like the other candidates, he shies away from being critical of the proposal.
Ferrell is concerned about the potential for a $5 million shortfall in the city budget. He might consider eliminating the city lobbyist position, which tries to attract federal dollars, or the community liaison positions. Neither of these options will save significant money. He might support cuts in capital programs, but doesn’t identify what he would cut. He does say he wouldn’t cut police, even though it is a significant part of the budget.
Ferrell is the only candidate to state he will not hire a professional city administrator if he is elected mayor.
Ferrell is a conservative Republican who will split some votes with fellow Republicans Linda Kochmar and Skip Priest. He expects some business support and also support from those who feel a distance from city government.
He admits he misjudged how the field of candidates would emerge, and has adjusted his strategy accordingly. He believes he is the strongest leader and is quick to note the other candidates opposed the change in form of government.
He has raised more than $30,000 and expects to spend $50,000. He will concentrate on doorbelling, signs, advertising and mailings.
On his efforts to establish the strong mayor system, some of his critics raise the old saying “be careful what you ask for, you might just get it.” The critics suggest that while Ferrell may have been successful in gaining voter support for the change in government, he may also have alienated enough people in the community that someone else may actually win the job.
Ferrell is aware of this possible outcome, but believes his connection with the voters will result in his election, and still feels it was the right thing to do.