Federal Way Mayor Jim Ferrell has been in re-election mode for several months.
Ferrell was a Republican who switched to Democrat so he wouldn’t have to split the Republican vote with former Mayor Skip Priest back in the 2013 election. He is potentially vulnerable from the political left to either a candidate of color with management skills or someone who has the ability to unite different cultures along with residents who feel marginalized politically.
So far only perennial candidate Clifford Mark Greene has filed with the Public Disclosure Commission. However, as a former King County prosecutor with a law and order philosophy and political ties to the police guild, Ferrell is likely not vulnerable from the political right.
Recently examples of his strategy for re-election have come into view with staff changes in the mayor’s office. Departing was his communications coordinator — and returning is Steve McNey, who will have responsibility for communications, but will add some intergovernmental responsibilities by working with state legislators, city council members and community leaders.
Ferrell’s strategy is to neutralize the left and win the conservative right. McNey knows community politics and his job is to get Ferrell re-elected by helping Ferrell make better political decisions with groups on the political left. McNey teamed with Ferrell in the campaign about a decade ago to change Federal Way’s form of government from city manager to strong mayor, and joined the city after Ferrell was elected mayor. He is returning after a three-year hiatus.
During his time in office, Ferrell has not placed a high priority on social issues for those in need and still doesn’t have a plan to end homelessness in the city, as we lag behind other cities in our efforts. Ferrell was one of the few mayors to say no to flying the Pride Flag, though he did put it up later after some pressure.
Federal Way is a diverse community, but despite their requests for inclusion and their concern about the police department, Federal Way remains behind other cities that have moved to listen to and support their diverse populations. Ferrell twice appealed the “use of force” in the Josiah Hunter case, losing both times. The officer in that case remained on the police force despite a questionable record and court documents that racism may have played a role.
Ferrell has also opposed having an independent community accountability board to review police cases of “use of force,” and has opposed flying the Black Lives Matter flag, as it represents a political statement. His budgets have not included body cameras for police or the addition of an equity and inclusion staff member as other cities have sought to ensure equal treatment. Even the Seattle Seahawks and King County Library System have added similar positions.
The Federal Way City Council provided the leadership to add the equity and inclusion position, but Ferrell only supported it as a part-time position. Ferrell thought the body cameras were too expensive, so he added them to the legislative wish list, which suggests he views body cameras as a lower level of priority.
How many times this past summer did we witness police cause the death of a Black person, and the only way the public knew what had actually happened was because of a police body camera? All cities will have body cameras in the future. Ferrell wants the Legislature to fund a pilot program for $350,000, but if he truly supported it, he could have include that amount in the city budget. Even with crime down, he continues to support hiring more police officers as a priority, even though their salaries will be included in the city budget after the grant expires. Body cameras would be a better long-term investment and provide more transparency, and could open the door to earning the trust of people of color.
Federal Way has the same challenges as many cities throughout the country, including shootings of minorities and poor choices in the use of force by police. Some of our residents are afraid to have their children go to the store for fear of them becoming the next Josiah Hunter.
So why would Ferrell make changes in his office staff when he is up for election this year ? Because he needs to repair some political errors he has made. McNey will help him make more balanced decisions, given his vulnerability is from the political left.
Two notable changes. Recently Ferrell authored a proclamation on Black Lives Matter and a call to action for changes. Ferrell needed the political credit for the proclamation and did not circulate the document for council members to sign, which has been the custom. Some council members noted the omission and were not pleased. They wanted to support the proclamation as well. The equity and inclusion staff position job description has been upgraded and Ferrell may be open to elevate the title to manager level, raise the salary, and make the position full-time. Those changes would significantly elevate the candidate pool.
The proclamation and the equity and inclusion staff position could have been implemented by Ferrell anytime in the seven years he has been mayor, as could some of the ideas he has turned down. But it took the pressure of an election year for Ferrell to look seriously at some of the challenges faced by other communities and elevate the priority.
Is this a new Mayor Ferrell, or will his interest in working with our diverse populations only last through the election? He did agree to meet quarterly at the request of leaders of the Federal Way Black Collective, which gave him a list of requests several months ago. As one person close to the situation asked, “is the change in Ferrell sincere or just election year politics?” We will know more as the year unfolds and we see how his strategy works.
Federal Way resident Bob Roegner is a former mayor of Auburn. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.