While the tone had already been set a few weeks ago, those who wanted some sizzle added to the race for Federal Way mayor got it last week at the first public debate between candidates State Rep. Skip Priest and City Councilman Jim Ferrell.
Priest came out of the primary leading, and after several successful campaigns for office, he has good name recognition. As the front-runner, his strategy is to remind the voters of his accomplishments, political contacts and long history of community activities. At the same time, he needs to avoid campaign mistakes and getting drawn into confrontations where Ferrell can attack his record.
Ferrell as the “challenger” came out of the primary trailing. He has to make up ground by giving undecided voters a reason to vote for him rather than Priest. His strategy is to raise questions about Priest’s record in hopes of creating enough doubt to move voters into his column, while also highlighting his record.
Both strategies were plainly evident at last week’s debate sponsored by The Mirror and Federal Way Chamber of Commerce.
In Priest’s opening statement, he noted his background and highlighted what his priorities as mayor would be — education, public safety, economic development along with reaching out to the council, community and staff to work with them cooperatively, if he were elected. His remarks were delivered in a smooth and seasoned manner to try and provide the public reassurance that he is the right man for the job.
In contrast, prosecutors are by nature aggressive, and Ferrell’s experience showed through immediately as he described the mayor’s job as one of leadership. He highlighted his efforts in establishing the elected mayor position and his opposition to hiring a city administrator, while stating that Priest had shifted his position on the city administrator job four times. He also stated that he didn’t need a poll to decide whether to run. That was a subtle dig at Priest, who did run a poll to assess his chances. Later, Ferrell noted that Priest had opposed the change to strong mayor during the first election, and had taken no position in the second election, suggesting that Priest didn’t show leadership.
Both candidates agreed that the Federal Way City Council made an error in extending the agreement with the developers of the downtown high-rise towers, and that turning down the street widening project in front of Steel Lake Park to improve traffic flow was the correct decision.
Ferrell challenged the relevance of Priest’s experience to manage the city workforce of 300 employees, noting that it occurred prior to 1984. Ferrell does not have experience managing that many people either, but felt the King County prosecutor’s office had prepared him
for that level of responsibility.
Priest stated that when he was mayor, the city updated the sign code to improve it from county standards. Ferrell attacked the update as punitive and in need of work.
Priest did take Ferrell to task for his inability to gain support from other council members for his ombudsman proposal, and said he felt council members should act as an ombudsman and not have to hire one.
Priest also highlighted his ability to work with the city council, which seemed to be a subtle reference to Ferrell’s sometime strained relationships with some of his colleagues.
Both candidates said police officers shouldn’t be cut in the budget, although Priest questioned Ferrell’s proposal to shift money away from the street overlay program.
In an effort to demonstrate decisiveness, Ferrell said former city Manager Neal Beets wasn’t up to the job, so the council acted to get rid of him. In a veiled reference, Priest questioned whether some members the city council had ever actually allowed Beets to do his job the way he and the council had worked with former city manager Ken Nyberg.
Both candidates are good speakers and at least partially achieved their goals for the evening. Priest didn’t make any mistakes and conducted himself like the seasoned pro he is, while at the same time fending off most of Ferrell’s attacks and landing a couple of shots himself.
Ferrell held his own against one of Federal Way’s more well known politicians and a veteran campaigner. He didn’t land a knockout punch, but he did score points. Just having the debate at all is to Ferrell’s advantage.
Considering that there are almost 90,000 people in Federal Way, and only about 100 attended, I think it’s safe to say a whole bunch of you missed a good, mostly civil and very informative debate. If you are a member of the Chamber of Commerce, be sure and attend the Oct. 6 luncheon and hear the candidates. If not, watch your mailbox — it will be full of literature soon.