Who will be Federal Way’s first elected mayor? State Rep. Skip Priest? Federal Way City Councilmembers Mike Park or Jim Ferrell? Or Mayor Linda Kochmar?
Next week, we will have a much better idea as two of these candidates will have cobbled together enough votes in the Aug. 17 primary to advance to the November election. The other two candidates will be forever linked to Federal Way’s political history — but their most important immediate role will be who they endorse for mayor.
For now, we have four candidates to choose from, and all speculation suggests it will be a very close race where every vote is critical.
The Municipal League ratings and the newspaper endorsements were also indicators of the competitive nature this election has reached.
Councilmember Jim Ferrell led the campaign to change the form of government last year and just kept campaigning, forcing others to try and overcome his momentum. Ferrell’s Municipal League rating was “very good,” and he shared the Federal Way Mirror’s endorsement. He has run an aggressive campaign and retained many of his supporters from the initiative campaign.
Mike Park was the next to join the field, and is the city council’s longest serving member. Park has always been well respected and easily re-elected, but faced a challenge in broadening his support beyond his traditional base.
Park obtained the endorsement of the 30th District Democrats, which was essential to that goal, as the other three candidates will split Republican votes. His Municipal League rating was “very good,” and he has raised the most money.
Current Mayor Linda Kochmar was the third to announce in what was a bit of a surprise. Some thought she might forego the elected mayor race after her council appointment as mayor. But she has made good use of this title by urging voters to “retain” her. Kochmar’s Municipal League rating was “very good” and she shared the endorsement from the Tacoma News Tribune.
The last candidate to enter the race was State Rep. Skip Priest. Priest is probably the best known of the candidates. Many felt he would give up his state House seat, which looked like a safe re-election, for a gamble on the mayor’s race. Priest’s Municipal League rating was “outstanding,” and he shared both the Federal Way Mirror’s and the Tacoma News Tribune’s endorsements.
All the candidates have been working hard at doorbelling, getting out mailers and attending public events to make the personal contact that is so important in obtaining votes from Federal Way’s diverse voting blocks.
This is particularly important, given that this is likely to be a low turnout election. With the earlier primary and family vacations, many voters are not focused on the candidates running for office.
Speculation on who will advance to November has dominated the discussions of those who are engaged. All four candidates have similar policy positions on the issues, and all four have been purposely vague about specifics for fear of alienating key voters. They have learned the art of choosing their words carefully.
All have good political resumes, but none have the executive-type experience comparable to a city manager job description. Voters are left to look at the margins to differentiate the candidates. Words like “trust,” “integrity” and “vision” are scattered throughout debates among voters.
I’ve asked many expert political insiders and some average voters who they think will advance to November. Conventional wisdom seems to suggest that Skip Priest is acknowledged as the front-runner. But the race for the second position is almost too close to call. Linda Kochmar has emerged as many voters’ second choice, which suggests she could give Priest the most trouble in November — when some voters’ first choice may have been eliminated.
But with the expected low turnout, conventional wisdom suggests Jim Ferrell’s supporters may provide him just enough to edge Kochmar for the second position. Mike Park could get past both of them, but only if he broadens his base, and we don’t have a measurable gauge on whether he has accomplished that.
Voters, it’s all up to you. This is a historical election, so don’t miss the opportunity to help decide your community’s future.
Federal Way resident Bob Roegner, a former mayor of Auburn, can be reached at email@example.com.