In my last column, I made a reference that several local residents might see themselves as a future mayor. Parallel to that, some residents were surprised by the appointment of Bob Celski to the vacant City Council position and thought there may have been some questionable actions by the council. Running for office, be it for mayor or council, is a political process. Appointing a council member is also a political process. It just isn’t as obvious, but the end game is the same — get a majority of the votes.
Here is how it plays out. The general view is that Mayor Jim Ferrell is too ambitious to serve beyond two terms. A close look at how he has planned the city priorities would suggest a limited horizon and only one more city election — the one this year. That is why City Hall watchers have had their eye on Susan Honda and Mark Koppang as candidates for mayor in 2021.
But now we have a little twist in the plan.
Bob Celski is back in the arena, the implications of which only Honda appeared to recognize. Celski has been the front runner for the appointment from the beginning. No skulduggery was involved because it wasn’t necessary. There were two primary reasons for the council to appoint him. A majority of council members worked with him before and like him because he is on the same conservative page as they are, and he favors the Performing Arts and Events Center. He is a known quantity to them. Of equal importance in the maneuvering behind the scenes, Democrat Ferrell also wanted Republican Celski to get the appointment. Why? Because Celski and his wife, Sue, are co-chairs for Ferrell’s re-election campaign as mayor!
Ferrell says he is a Democrat but, to the consternation of many Democrats, doesn’t act like it. Republicans are still unhappy with him for the party switch and have been looking for a candidate to run against him. Ferrell believes he can keep most of the Democrats in line to support his re-election. Appointing Celski to chair his campaign didn’t help with Democrats, but it does help him protect his right flank from Republicans, which is where most of his own campaign money for re-election will come from. He wants to tie up Republican money so it is not available to Republican candidates. Ferrell likely believes the winning formula is getting Democrat votes and putting Republican money in his pocket, keeping it out of the pocket of an opponent.
Moving to the nuanced manner of how it works. It is likely that a conversation regarding Celski’s political interest and needs this year and in the future occurred with the Ferrell camp many months ago. Remember, the Ferrell birthday fundraising letter was signed by Celski and his wife along with Susan Streifel? Ferrell does not have a vote in the appointment process, but he can influence it, to some degree. He supported someone he knew the council couldn’t turn down. With Celski in his camp, it makes it harder for Republicans to support an opponent for Ferrell.
Honda voted Diana Noble-Gulliford for City Council rather that Celski. Both Honda and Sharry Edwards, who was also a council appointment candidate, have been at odds with Ferrell when it comes to the homeless. Honda and Edwards have been appointed by Ferrell to look at a new women’s and children’s homeless proposal. It gives the appearance that Ferrell is upgrading his position on the homeless problem, and after three years of “run the homeless out of town,” it was a smart election year move and even smarter to hand it to Honda and Edwards.
Ferrell can take credit for the committee, while appearing to have advanced a democratic concern, but refer questions and responsibility to Honda and Edwards.
That brings us back to Koppang, who voted for Celski. Koppang wants to be mayor and has been a good soldier for Ferrell and has been patient, waiting for his turn in 2021. By now he has figured out that Celski may have joined the same club as he and Honda as potential future mayors. Could that cause him to jump in this year or possibly find another candidate to support over Ferrell? Beating Ferrell now may be easier than trying to beat both Honda and Celski in 2021. In fact, Celski now goes into 2021 as the front runner for mayor. If you read Celski’s comments after the appointment he is already trying to insert himself into the negotiations with Industrial Realty Group over the future of the Weyerhaeuser property. That is the mayor’s job, not a council member’s.
There are other candidates to consider as well.
No one has eliminated Kelly Maloney or Linda Kochmar from running this year.
And what if Martin Moore is re-elected to the council this fall? Could he be interested in 2021? Probably. Notice Republican Moore voted for Democrat Edwards for the council appointment. Was that to try and keep her from running against him for the council, or was he looking ahead? Or both?
Even though Roger Flygare has run for local office several times and lost, he is running again this fall for the council. If he were to be elected, observers believe he would be a candidate for mayor as soon as possible. Others believe the same to be true of Anthony Murrietta, were he to be appointed or elected to the council.
But, there are two problems attached to this scenario. What if Ferrell is re-elected this year but then runs for higher office and loses? That would force him to run for a third term.
Is there another candidate who has the contacts, name familiarity and ability to raise enough money to run a good race who might not care about all the strategy for 2021 but believes Ferrell is vulnerable now?
There may be, but that’s another column.
Federal Way resident Bob Roegner is a former mayor of Auburn. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.