Federal Way Mayor Jim Ferrell switched to campaign mode a few weeks ago and has raised about $19,000 toward his re-election next year. Ferrell has been facing pressure for several months from people who haven’t historically had seats at the tables of power, such as people of color, LGBTQ residents and advocates for the homeless.
Ferrell is trying to court the support of people of color, apparently believing the rumors that a community leader from that group will run against him for mayor. By courting some Black community leaders, but opposing some of their requests such as flying the Black Lives Matter flag, getting body cameras for police and establishing independent oversite for “use of force,” Ferrell hopes to secure their political support without endangering support from conservatives or the police union.
His first move caused some chaos when he jumped in the middle of the council discussion and voted for Greg Baruso over Jack Dovey for a vacant Federal Way City Council seat. More recently, he showed some restraint, but still cast a tie-breaking vote for Leandra Craft, again over Jack Dovey, to replace Mark Koppang on the city council.
The council was split with Susan Honda, Martin Moore and Linda Kochmar supporting Dovey, and Hoang Tran, Greg Baruso and Lydia Assefa-Dawson supporting Craft. Kochmar and Moore had to stay with fellow Republican Dovey, but Honda, who has elevated her visibility, had a little more room and some think she might be giving thought to another run for mayor.
After two tie votes, I was surprised that Honda didn’t switch her vote to Craft. Moore couldn’t switch his vote because he is up for election next year to the city council. It would have been to Honda’s advantage to switch to Craft as it seemed obvious that Ferrell would support Craft to appease members of the minority community.
Both Baruso and Craft are people of color, and Ferrell’s votes were intended to send a message to Democrats and different cultures in Federal Way that Ferrell has been unwilling to send through policy initiatives.
In seven years as mayor, Ferrell has shown little interest in issues of importance to minorities or those in need. His budgets have never shown much interest their safety, affordable housing, or programs for minority youth championed previously by State Rep. Jesse Johnson. Ferrell’s priority has always been more police. Recall that the city lost the Josiah Hunter use of excessive police force case, appealed and lost again, with a record that looked like the officer should have been fired for “evil intent.” Hunter collected over $600,000.
People of color are justifiably fearful of police as their interactions sometimes result in the minority getting shot. It’s something we all witnessed several times over the summer on our evening news. And yet even with crime down, Ferrell always returns to his prosecutor roots — and more police. His budget makes note of a new high in police officers. To people of color, it feels like the police are being hired to arrest them, and some of the money he could have spent on issues of importance to people of color was already spent on a cops grant that will require significant city spending when the grant runs out.
When Ferrell refused to fly the Black Lives Matter flag, the message people of color received was that their lives don’t matter much to city leadership or are unimportant to whites who may want more police.
Ferrell’s fear of the BLM flag, and the unwillingness of the mayor and some councilmembers to embrace the phrase, is rooted in his desire to not offend conservatives or police.
Even though both new council members will likely do a good job, Ferrell may second guess himself for putting his short-term political needs above his longer term political interests — or Ferrell may have the opportunity for growth. The new council has a more inclusive view of the needs of the community and is more open to new ideas that serve Federal Way’s diversity.
The difference in viewpoints was on display at a recent council meeting over Ferrell’s proposed budget.
A majority of the council clearly want to put their own stamp on the city budget and their first choice is adding an inclusion, diversity and equity manager to enhance the culture in several city departments and help with recruitment of police officers of color. Another assignment could be to review police protocols and review city policies to avoid racism.
Ferrell didn’t seem warm to the idea any more than when it came up at a public meeting with the Federal Way Black Collective and his suggestion was that the city “crawl, walk then run” and use a consultant before committing to a staff person, which would have only delayed the improvement that is clearly needed. The new council is also interested in body cameras, downtown improvements and citywide computer enhancements.
This may be a good time for Ferrell to let the council members do their job as policy partners, as only some of those would Ferrell be likely to support. But the council can have the last word on the budget if they work as a team.
As the debate went on, the council added the inclusion, diversity and equity position as a part-time position over Ferrell’s suggestion that it could be a consultant. As predicted several weeks ago, the body cameras were added to the legislative request list. Unless the state makes a uniformed decision to help all cities with body cameras, this approach reduces the likelihood of Federal Way getting any support because several cities, including Seattle, Tacoma and Spokane, are spending money from their own budget to purchase body cameras.
The council also added a lobbyist at $60,000 to locate access to more money and added $82,000 for an assistant to the economic development program. They also set aside $100,000 for both 2021 and 2022 for a consultant to work on downtown planning. Looking to the future of computers, the council set $80,000 aside for an additional staff member to work citywide technical improvements.
This group shows signs of being a different council, a more inclusive one, with a recognition that Federal Way is a rapidly changing city with over 100 different languages being spoken and experiences that may be different from those who grew up here.
Even with some obvious differences they can be a very effective council, particularly if they continue working together on common themes. This is one of the few times the council has changed Ferrell’s budget and acted more like a check and balance on him. Worded correctly, Ferrell can now take credit for some changes he actually opposed. Ferrell appeared to show some growth as he didn’t try and dominate the council and win every disagreement. Veteran council members with years to reflect on wonder: Is Ferrell actually showing growth, or is he mindful that next year is an election year? Was his vote for Baruso and Craft thoughtful — or impulsive politics?
Federal Way resident Bob Roegner is a former mayor of Auburn. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.