While the aftermath of the presidential election, alternative facts and the never-ending chaos of the Trump White House has taken a toll, wary voters are still paying attention, even if it is with more trepidation.
This election for mayor and council may turn out to be more interesting than originally thought. It may force us to ask ourselves hard questions about the candidates and what they truly believe. Beneath this voter uncertainty lies an old saying, “Politics make strange bedfellows,” and it may contribute to voters’ questions as values and public policy become intertwined and potentially undermined by candidates’ relationships and their desire to win.
Several weeks ago, Mayor Jim Ferrell and Councilwoman Susan Honda cooperated to help a homeless woman get her dog back. And recently candidate Sharry Edwards and Councilman Martin Moore worked together to try and help a local high school student and his family return to the United States from Canada after they were detained at the border and threatened with deportation as their visas had expired.
Taken as acts of service to those in need, the four demonstrated compassion for their fellow residents that should be applauded. Were it not that they share a common denominator, that might have been the singular reaction. But all four are running for office this year, and any acts, no matter how thoughtful they may appear, receive a more cynical view when seen through the prism of mistrust in national politics and the local election season.
Even the Mirror Editorial Board recently questioned whether Ferrell and Honda would have acted in the same manner had they both not been running for mayor. Probably, but the comment was greeted with a mix of criticism and agreement.
Local city positions are non-partisan, but political affiliation is important as it alerts the public to a candidate’s general philosophy and provides a political base for voters, and political parties recruit future legislative candidates from the ranks of local elected officials.
Ferrell and Honda agreeing on something? Since they are not known to exchange birthday gifts, some skepticism is reasonable.
Edwards and Moore are not running against each other and, despite Moore’s party switch from Democrat to Republican, appear to have remained friends. Moore even attended Democrat Edwards’ kickoff. Some Democrats, however, thought his attendance, and role as informal greeter, might have more to do with undercutting his opponent, Democrat Roger Flygare, than with supporting Edwards.
Was the alliance of Edwards and Moore to help a local family a demonstration of caring or an action more in tune with election needs and potential favorable publicity?
Compassion was likely the primary motivation, but a press release describing their efforts tilted the question back toward politics.
Edwards is a nurse and first-time candidate, and her candidacy gives her a rare pulpit to talk about what is important to her. Her priorities for the homeless, and those of her friend Honda, have frequently put her at odds with Ferrell’s “run-them-out-of-town” approach. Edwards’ endorsement, however, of the heavily favored Ferrell over the more like-minded Honda, along with speaking at Ferrell’s kick off, raised many eyebrows.
Unlike the other three, this is her first chance to impress the voting public with how her values and words result in her policy view.
Ferrell, Honda and Moore have been in public office for several years, however, and had the levers of power readily available to them.
Ferrell’s decisions don’t mask his aspirations for higher office; they are tied to them. He needed visible monuments for future campaigns. He chose the Performing Arts and Event Center and the downtown park. But his platform when he ran for mayor four years ago reflected seven years of opposition to the PAEC and a demand for a public vote on the project. And while Ferrell did support the day center, it seemed to lack the enthusiasm he demonstrated for the PAEC. His financial support for residents in need has never included the most basic need, housing.
Honda has lowered her opposition to the PAEC as her voice has been muted by those cheering the added loans the city needed for construction. But she has also called for public meetings with no policy purpose or actionable council goal. That suggests a more political purpose of redirecting residents’ displeasure toward the administration and away from the council. Her opposition to the PAEC and support for the day center suggests her priorities might be more rooted in the cause of those less fortunate in our community. But tangible consistent proof in the form of programmatic accomplishment seems elusive. There is hope the Homeless Mothers and Children’s Initiative that she co-chairs with Edwards will lead to an actual facility, but we are still likely to go through another winter with no housing for the homeless, and Ferrell is still claiming city money woes for 2018.
In another unusual political twist, Democrat Ferrell is supporting the election of his campaign manager, appointed Councilman Bob Celski, who is a Republican, over Democrat newcomer Jesse Johnson. And he appears to share more policy views with Celski than Johnson — something noticed by some Democrats.
And Moore? A compelling personal story and hard work got him elected. And his own experiences of coming to America as a child likely contributed to his desire to help a young person and his family, which is laudable. But, like his colleagues, he has neither challenged Ferrell on the homeless topic, nor built support for his own ideas to improve the lives of Federal Way’s less fortunate. Moore has been the most likely to lead a council effort to challenge deportation rules and call for tolerance of different religious beliefs, along with inclusion of cultural differences. That has not happened as the council has been reluctant to engage on any of these significant issues. The school district has been the one to step up.
Are we getting overly cynical? Maybe, but when the candidate maneuvering is less about establishing a consistent policy approach to improve the lives of residents in need, and more about publicity and winning, some apprehension may be justified.
Federal Way is not a wealthy community. Many more residents need help than those who have the resources to provide help. Ask yourself, what could you accomplish for those in need during a four-year term on the City Council? What services or policies should be here now that are not? Then ask yourself what should be here in 2021? Then ask the candidates.
Federal Way resident Bob Roegner is a former Auburn mayor and retired public official. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.