Elections are always about the incumbent, and in this year’s mayoral race that is Jim Ferrell. Has he accomplished enough during his term of office to have made a case for another four years? If yes, then it will be hard to unseat him. But if the public has questions, then they may look to see if the alternative is credible. That is most likely Councilwoman Susan Honda.
Honda is usually soft-spoken though direct in her meaning and prefers consensus, but isn’t reluctant to take an unpopular position to make her point. She is the council member most likely to speak for the less fortunate in the community, as that population segment has been a low priority with Ferrell and the majority of the council, whose focus has been the Performing Arts and Event Center. This has frequently put Honda in the minority. If elected mayor, she would likely present a budget with more emphasis on helping residents in need, though public safety would remain her top priority.
Honda helped organize residents to ask for city financial support for the Federal Way Public Health Center when it was threatened with closure. She also helped to restart the Youth Commission and establish training for board and commission members. If you want to complain to her about a city issue, she is usually at every event in town and was the only elected city official to attend Thomas Jefferson High School’s “Save our Streets” effort.
Honda is midway through her second term on the City Council. Six years ago she defeated two other candidates and was unopposed in her last election. In her first run for office she leaned Democrat, though she now leans Republican. Serving in city government has an interesting effect on people, as Ferrell is a former Republican who became a Democrat but still sounds like a Republican. Honda has won “Best Public Official” the last three years by voters in the Mirror’s annual “Best of Federal Way” contest.
Unlike Ferrell, political calculation is rarely a part of Honda’s thought process, but her sometimes-populist style did have her calling for public meetings on the Weyerhaeuser property and crime, even though the council did not have a direct policy role. Intended or not, it shifted political pressure from the council to Ferrell.
Prior to Ferrell’s election as mayor, he, Honda and former council member Kelly Maloney formed the minority on the council in raising fiscal questions about the PAEC . With Ferrell’s switch to supporter and Maloney’s departure from the council, Honda has been the lone voice of question, though she did cast some votes favorable to the PAEC. She remains concerned about the future financial challenges the PAEC will present to funding other needs, including police.
Honda opposes raising taxes through a utility increase and would prefer raising additional revenue through a transportation benefit district as the impact on Federal Way residents would be more equitable to the city’s lower-income demographic.
In addition to the PAEC, Honda also differs with Ferrell over how to handle the homeless challenge and would be more open to finding different housing options, including using tiny houses as a temporary home. A singular location would help with both social services and police assistance.
Like Ferrell, Honda is not a trained or experienced manager at the level City Hall needs. As a result she would change how the mayor’s office is structured and would replace two of Ferrell’s political appointees with a professional city administrator, as originally contemplated in the change to the strong-mayor system. Her view is that could save money and would allow her to devote more time to both local and regional policy issues affecting Federal Way, such as gangs and homelessness.
With two current officials running for the same position, some level of difficulty is unavoidable. Insiders say Ferrell has canceled his one-on-one meetings with her, and information flow has not been as consistent as with other council members.
On the surface, the Ferrell-Honda race would appear to be a mismatch, with Ferrell having all the advantages. Cervantes’ “Don Quixote” and Susan Honda would appear to have much in common as she seeks to tilt Federal Way’s windmills and pull off the big upset.
Certainly Ferrell’s record holds several questions. But can Honda raise enough money to connect with voters in a manner that opens the door for her? Can she articulate a new vision of inclusion and provide the strength of leadership for the public to have confidence that the alternative choice is credible enough to be the better choice?
If not, the race will have been only a quest, but if she can, then there could be a change at the top.
Federal Way resident Bob Roegner is a former Auburn mayor and retired public official. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.