What will elections mean to Federal Way mayor-council alignment?

Election revealed some relationships that will provide clues to new potential voting blocks.

Federal Way resident Bob Roegner is a former mayor of Auburn. Contact bjroegner@comcast.net.

Federal Way resident Bob Roegner is a former mayor of Auburn. Contact bjroegner@comcast.net.

Several residents have wondered how the new Federal Way City Council and Mayor Jim Ferrell will get along.

It is unlikely there will be a set slate that always vote together, as council members and Ferrell will always look for the impact on their own election as a guide on how to vote. But the election did reveal some relationships that will provide clues to new potential voting blocks.

During Democrat Ferrell’s first four years, he had a more conservative, Republican leaning council, which actually fit his conservative philosophy better. Ferrell had run against building the Performing Arts and Event Center, and didn’t follow through on putting an advisory ballot before the voters as promised. He simply changed sides. Now the PAEC has a debt and other needs may not get funded.

The last two years, the council has been more progressive in wanting to support social programs that benefit young people, those in need, and a more thoughtful solution to the homeless challenge. Those have not been Ferrell’s priorities, though they would fit a Democratic mayor. The more moderate council did force some funding over Ferrell’s objections including their opposition to using money obtained by our legislative delegation, for Federal Way, in Burien. And they temporarily moved a small amount of money from the police overtime budget to some youth programs.

Ferrell supported conservatives Bob Celski and Kelly Maloney in side-stepping the public’s will on making pot legal, by changing the question and setting in place a policy that no pot shops would be allowed in Federal Way despite their legality.

Two years ago, Maloney and Celski left the council and Hoang Tran and Jesse Johnson joined. Democrat Johnson teamed with Republican Martin Moore to put Initiative 19-001 on the ballot to help people stay in their homes, ensuring stable housing over landlord opposition. According to insiders, other council members and Ferrell did not appear to support the initiative.

Republican Moore has rarely disagreed with Ferrell and figures to retain that role. Democrat Johnson has been part of the council that wants to broaden the council’s support away from just cops and construction, into acknowledging other community social needs that should receive funding. Johnson will continue to push that direction against Ferrell, joining Susan Honda and occasionally council-elect Linda Kochmar. But Johnson’s attention will be divided as he campaigns for the state Legislature. He has Ferrell’s endorsement for that run. More on that story another time.

Mark Koppang was just reelected to his second term, and will continue to be an ally with Ferrell in hopes that Ferrell will run for something else and Koppang can run for mayor. Former Mayor and council member Linda Kochmar will rejoin the council, and despite similar policy views with Ferrell, she was not his choice to win Position 7. Kochmar is very displeased with city spending and will join re-elected council member Honda in asking questions about city priorities. Ferrell made no secret of his preference for Sharry Edwards over Honda in Position 3. Edwards received $100 donations from Ferrell and Tony Pagliocco, and $30 from Moore. Honda received $50 donations from Kochmar and Pagliocco. Pagliocco received donations from Koppang, Edwards and Moore. It appears that Ferrell was expecting Edwards, Moore, Koppang, Pagliocco and possibly Lydia Assefa-Dawson to be his votes.

Tran and Assefa-Dawson joined Johnson on the sidelines, as their positions are not up until 2021. Though a Democrat, and endorsed by progressive FUSE VOTES, Assefa-Dawson has supported both Honda and Kochmar previously, but council watchers note that she was unopposed for re-election after Ferrell supporters talked about running against her, then backed off. Which side will she choose? Is there a political debt?

Tran was caught in the middle of the vote for deputy mayor two years ago and could find himself in the middle of more votes in 2020.

Honda, Kochmar and Johnson could vote with each other on community social challenges, with occasional support from Moore or Tran. Moore will usually vote with Koppang to support Ferrell, and Assefa-Dawson could be in either camp. Financial conservative Tran could be with Honda and Kochmar on money issues. Most council members are afraid to not support police. But Tran, Assefa-Dawson and Johnson are aware that people of color in Federal Way have a different experience than whites when in contact with police. If there is another controversy, the community could pressure the council to establish an independent police oversight board when police use force. If the council regulary leans progressive, Ferrell could have a long year.

We will get an early look as behind the scenes maneuvering has already started for the deputy mayor position, with five council members who want the job. Only Tran and Johnson are not campaigning for the position. The job will be voted on in January, and will be a clue who is likely to side with who.

Federal Way resident Bob Roegner is a former mayor of Auburn. Contact bjroegner@comcast.net.

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