Politics in suburban cities are never dull, and they won’t be this year.
In Federal Way, incumbent Mayor Jim Ferrell has not made a priority of solving the homeless challenge, but has only token opposition from perrenial candidate Mark Greene. Ferrell had appeared to be most vulnerable from the left, but his late election cycle opposition is coming from conservatives, who appear to have a plan to take over the Federal Way City Council, propose to change the form of government, and put Ferrell out of a job — rather than take him on directly with a candidate.
The “Stand Up Federal Way” group is supporting candidates against each council member who is up for election. Many in this group took the law in their own hands and filled shopping carts with belongings from a homeless camp and placed them on 320th Street, even though the city had already made arrangements with the property owner to clear the property.
The “Stand Up” group doesn’t want the homeless in the community, although they don’t seem to have constructive ideas on what to do with them. One of their members acknowledged visiting a homeless camp when armed, which caused City Hall to liken their behavior to vigilantes. Many community members were shocked when “Stand Up,” which sees itself as law and order proponents, were not required to pay the cost of the cleanup on a public street they had caused. They are supporting Daniel Miller, who is a mini-filer and limited on what he can raise and spend in the election, against Hoang Tran, who has loaned his campaign $2,500 and donated another $200. Miller had been involved in a family business until recently, and also delivers pizza. Tran is the manager of the local DSHS office and very knowledgable about government and is frequently the one asking difficult questions of city staff.
Federal Way businessman Jack Walsh has raised $17,822 against incumbent Leandra Craft, who has raised $41,595. Walsh said the city is going in the wrong direction, implying they are not spending enough on police. He ran for the state Legislature last year, and that may be where his real interest is. But nobody should think Craft is not supportive of police or public safety — to her, that comes first. She is a prosecuting attorney for King County.
The candidate running against Greg Baruso, who has raised $23,495, and is fireman at the port and past chair of the Diversity Commission, is Erica Norton, also a mini-filer and a small business owner. Baruso was endorsed by the police officers guild while Norton was endorsed by the lieutenants guild after a“cease and desist letter” regarding misrepresentation was sent to her from the police guild. Baruso is more engaged in Federal Way than Norton and is someone to watch as a future council leader.
It appears the Stand Up group may be funding some campaign materials for Norton, Miller and Walsh, including a truck driving around town with pictures on it. This makes it hard to track their public disclosure requirements and who is funding their campaigns, which is the point of the Public Disclosure Commission. But the rules for mini-filers are pretty clear.
For the seat vacated by Martin Moore, the group is supporting Jack Dovey, who has raised over $8,000, while opponent Renae Seam has raised $35,880. Even though Moore was a Republican, until recently, he probably didn’t take kindly to fellow Republican Dovey running against him in the primary and said he will endorse Seam. Seam could be the surprise, if elected to the council. She is bright and articulate, with experience in business and data analytics that the council needs. Seam wants to address the root causes of homelessness. Dovey has self-funded his campaign so far. Seam and Craft were the standouts at the Federal Way Chamber Of Commerce candidate forum.
The Federal Way school district is the most diverse district in the state, and may also be a target by the “Stand Up” group, in addition to the city council races. They are supporting Quentin Morris against Tiffany LaFontaine for the school board’s Position 1. Morris is retired from Boeing and has a degree in mechanical engineering. He supports preparation for life after high school and promotes goals even though the superintendent reports to the community on the district’s annual goals every year, with this year’s report scheduled for Nov. 3 with the Chamber of Commerce. LaFontaine is more active in the community, with PTSA and Girl Scouts, and has two children in local schools, which provides her a parent’s understanding. She believes the board needs to listen to different perspectives from families who feel marginalized. She also supports preparing students for life after high school, and favors building a strong STEM program and wants better access to technology for students.
In the other school board seat is incumbent Trudy Davis. Davis is part of the school board that has earned WSSDA Board of Distinction five consecutive years. Under former Superintendent Tammy Campbell, the district passed the biggest bond issue ever, and new schools are being built while graduation rates are climbing. The challenger in this race is Jim Storvick, a former school board member who would like to return and says he will work for safe, healthy, productive schools. He says “time for a change” even though Davis has only been on the board for three years. However, his spouse is a teacher in the district, and he will have to recuse himself on any issues that could affect his wife. The school board is a policy board and should let the superintendent, a trained educator, run the district. Both Morris and Storvick have raised questions, which suggest their goal is to divert attention away from the “student first” policy currently followed and more toward the board.
The “Stand Up” group is opposed to King County Executive Dow Constantine’s Health Through Housing program, although they lack constructive alternatives, nor an understanding that even if they win election to the city council, they won’t have the power to override county programs. They just want to say “no” to programs they don’t like and demand money for more police officers. But police officers are also the top priority of the current mayor and city council. When Ferrell recently proposed hiring 13 new officers, the “Stand Up” group complained it was too little too late.
In the recent Mirror-sponsored candidates forum, council candidate Miller wanted 20-25 officers and Norton said 50 officers are needed, even though neither knows the process involved with hiring that many officers of top caliber. Current council members know homelessness is a complex issue and have more depth of understanding in how to blend the different city and community resources to put a plan in place. They know it isn’t simple and that housing, treatment, counseling and help from the King County health department is crucial — and can’t be solved by taking the homeless residents’ belongings and putting them in shopping carts.
I have been critical of Ferrell for being too conservative about social needs and not providing a plan to solve the homeless challenge. Auburn has made progress each year toward that goal, and would be a model worth looking at. This is a good, well balanced city council in contrast to Stand Up’s one-dimensional opposition. Their recent references to “we don’t want to be Seattle” are examples of fear-mongering to scare the public. The Stand Up group’s only governing experience is limited to Dovey’s previous years on the council several years ago. Also, the misinformation they spread when doorbelling diminishes their case and undermines their lack of experience. They oppose HB 1220 (which supports emergency shelters and housing through local planning and development regulations) and have a tendency simplify complex problems. The group has made itself a political organization and has offered endorsements to their candidates of choice after a candidate event where only their candidates were appreantly invited. The Stand Up group uses a strategy of fear-mongering, but isn’t willing to listen to other points of view.
A similar group called “Tacoma Safe” has a strategy of collaboration with city government and wants to serve the community and demonstrates that by cleaning up trash and graffiti from local businesses. For the Federal Way Stand Up group to suggest that thousands of the people who will reside in county housing will be from Seattle or elsewhere is misleading. The city will need to negotiate the final percentage, but some council members want 40-50% or higher to be local homeless. Craft wants 85% to be local homeless. The Stand Up group thinks they can just say “no” to state law if they don’t like it, but the current council has the same reservations about HB 1220 and looks forward to the negotiations.
Even if the group gets the two seats they think they need to propose a change in Federal Way’s form of government, it would still require a public vote, and even then, they would have no power to stop county programs or HB 1220.
If Ferrell defeats Greene in the mayoral race as expected, Ferrell would still get to finish his four-year term, even though it could be very chaotic. The forecast is for a mid-40% turnout. You can make a difference by voting. This is a good city council and reflects the new and changing Federal Way. They are thoughtful and do their homework. They look difficult to beat even in this strange year. But that is why we have elections.
Federal Way resident Bob Roegner is a former mayor of Auburn. Contact email@example.com.