The front runner so far in Koppang-Hiller race | Inside Politics

The race to replace departing Councilman Bob Celski has brought together two people who have much in common, but also some differences — Mark Koppang and Julie Hiller.

Bob Roegner

The race to replace departing Councilman Bob Celski has brought together two people who have much in common, but also some differences — Mark Koppang and Julie Hiller.

Both have a business background, Koppang as an accounts manager for AMPAC, a flexible packaging manufacturer in Auburn, while Hiller is operations manager at Coldwell Banker Danforth in Federal Way. Both are active in the community.

Koppang chairs three city boards: Parks and Recreation, Civil Service and the Salary Commission. He is a member of the Kiwanis Club and chaired the superintendent of schools search committee. Hiller is a member of the Federal Way Chamber of Commerce and the Rotary Club, is active in her church and serves as a board member for her daughter’s high school.

Both are genuinely nice people and their supporters bring a passionate belief in their candidate’s ability to represent the public interest. Koppang has been active in Republican politics and Hiller tends to also lean to the right on the political spectrum, but has not been as visible. Koppang has run for the City Council twice and has clearly learned from those experiences. He staked his claim to Celski’s open seat and was out early raising money and getting endorsements.

In fact, Koppang’s political involvement has paid dividends as he has been endorsed by Celski, Deputy Mayor Jeanne Burbidge and Councilman Martin Moore. He also received endorsements from Republican legislators, state Sen. Mark Miloscia and Rep. Linda Kochmar.

He has the endorsement of former Mayor Skip Priest and current Mayor Jim Ferrell, along with County Councilman Pete von Reichbauer. He also was able to reach across the spectrum and get some labor endorsements that usually don’t go to Republicans.

Hiller’s list of endorsers is not as broad, however, in talking to many public officials who endorsed Koppang, several said they wish they had known sooner of Hiller’s interest in running. Had she announced early, they might have endorsed her or given a dual endorsement. Some considered withdrawing their endorsement of Koppang or also endorsing Hiller. However, as of this writing none have changed position.

But Hiller’s late start speaks to a major difference in the candidates. Koppang, having been through the battle before, was more prepared this time. He improved his civic resume and got early endorsements. He knew how and when to approach political groups for interviews. And he has refined his statements and positions. By not making her interest known until just before filing, Hiller was forced to play catch-up on a playing field that isn’t always level. The advantage usually goes to the more experienced candidate.

As an example, one of the most important ratings candidates strive to obtain is from the nonpartisan Municipal League. The league doesn’t endorse but provides a rating based on the candidate’s background, skills and knowledge. Koppang got a “very good,” the league’s second-highest rating. Hiller’s rating was “adequate.” Part of that may have been a scheduling misunderstanding, but the league rating is critical for candidates to be aware of and prepare for. Hiller’s background could have garnered a higher rating had she been more aware.

On a policy level, both advocate for strong public safety, as you would expect. Also both have significant reservations about marijuana retail shops in town. Neither is particularly supportive of a $15 per hour minimum wage increase and Koppang believes government should stay out of the issue altogether. Both would have supported Interstate 5 as the preferred alternative for the city recommendation to Sound Transit. Both support Reach Out, and the need for a day shelter for the homeless, though Hiller’s commitment contains less strings and seems more certain.

But there are some differences. Koppang is a supporter of the Performing Arts and Events Center. While he is troubled by the loans and the uncertainty of the tax credits, he feels the project is too far along to stop now.

Hiller likes some of the positives the center could bring to downtown but she views the financing questions differently and does not think it is wise to move ahead until the money is more certain. She would also prefer a public vote if the financing continues to be unsettled.

The candidate’s themes reflect much of their philosophy and priorities. Koppang’s is “promoting opportunity for all,” through “great paying jobs and investment in downtown.” Hiller’s is “giving a voice to Federal Way’s diverse population” and “accessibility of government to all people.” Two candidates with similar backgrounds, views and support from the same pool of voters.

Given his campaign experience and higher name familiarity, Koppang has to be considered the front runner. Some Democrats are comfortable with Koppang, but others are leery of his Republican ties. If Hiller can articulate her strong views on social services, she might be able to move some voters her way. She needs to capture some momentum to close the gap. The Mirror endorsement and candidate debate in October will be very important for both candidates, but particularly for Hiller. She needs to make a move.

Federal Way resident Bob Roegner is a former mayor of Auburn:


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