Councilwoman Susan Honda responded to community speculation last week when she announced she will run for mayor against incumbent Jim Ferrell. Honda believes the city is “going in the wrong direction” and is too focused on downtown at the expense of neighborhoods and business in other parts of the community. She believes the city needs to do a better job working with business on economic development through the Chamber of Commerce and partnering with the school district. Her theme, “leadership you can trust,” underlines her point.
In Honda’s view, Ferrell missed opportunities to build relationships with Weyerhaeuser management and the city was caught off guard by the sale of the company.
Honda supports the addition of police officers but feels other departments need more staffing as well. Funding for the nine new police officers in the 2017-18 budget has not been finalized and a tax increase is likely in 2019-20 to sustain them. Honda considers herself a fiscal conservative but wants to look at all financial options to meet the needs.
She and the council initially favored adding a transit benefit district but have since discarded that approach. Ferrell favors a utility tax on rate payers through Lakehaven Utility District. Neither Ferrell nor Honda have suggested significant budget cuts to offset the new police hires.
As a council member, Ferrell was against the Performing Arts and Events Center the first two times he ran for mayor. When Honda joined the council she frequently joined Ferrell in opposition. Both she and Ferrell ended up supporting it, however, but with different levels of enthusiasm.
There are differences between Honda and Ferrell, however. Honda would replace two mayoral advisers, hired by Ferrell, with a professional city administrator to manage the daily operations of City Hall.
Renton, Kent, and Auburn have a strong mayor form of government that provides a similar position to allow the mayor to focus on vision, policy and regional relationships. The city administrator would report to the mayor, as do all city employees in a strong-mayor system. Honda believes it would save money and provide more consistent management under her direction. Another place she feels the city could save money is having the PAEC staff take over operation of the Knutson Family Theater at Dumas Bay Centre. A similar idea was considered by Ferrell and dropped after significant controversy.
Honda also wants to explore taking over the senior center and providing more services to seniors.
Another area of difference that the two candidates will need to answer is how they would treat the growing problem of homelessness. Ferrell has had a ridged “get them out of town” program that was both expensive and questionable in its results. Honda has been more supportive of looking at options to provide homeless people assistance within the community. Recently, Ferrell asked Honda to get involved in preparing a solution. That will become an issue to watch. Now that winter is almost over and people are still sleeping in the forest, what will Honda propose, and will Ferrell support it? And how much will it cost? Or is this just election-year politics that will have us in the same place next winter?
This will be an uphill battle for Honda as Ferrell never really stopped running after his election three years ago.
He has held at least two fundraisers and has two more planned, including a kick-off in late March. He is prepared to spend two to three times the $40,000 Honda is planning as her budget.
A majority of the City Council seems likely to endorse Ferrell, and he has the advantage of being the incumbent. In a mayor’s race, the incumbent’s record is always the issue, and while Ferrell can point to several accomplishments, his record is open to challenge, and he has significant repair work to do in certain parts of the community. At the same time, Honda will also have to defend her record.
Unless perennial candidate Clifford Mark Greene drops out, there will be a primary. That will tell Honda and Ferrell where their strengths and weaknesses are and give them time to adjust going into November.
Ferrell is the early favorite, but it was an unexpected issue that propelled him into the mayor’s office almost four years ago. Another surprise, or simply a campaign that catches fire, can make a difference.
Federal Way resident Bob Roegner is a former mayor of Auburn and retired government official. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.