Federal Way Mayor Jim Ferrell has formally announced his intentions to run for King County Prosecutor. What happens if he wins?
The Federal Way City Council would appoint the new mayor. The qualifications are that the mayor must be a registered voter and have one year of residency — and the council is likely to urge residents to fill out an application and apply.
It is likely to be a very political process because many councilmembers would like to be the mayor. So far, most of the speculation involves Jack Dovey, Susan Honda (who previously ran against Ferrell) and Linda Kochmar. All three are on the conservative side.
In addition to the councilmembers’ internal relationships as each tries to count the four votes that would make them mayor, there are also the internal politics from unions, employees and active community members who have an interest in who is chosen mayor.
However, a big influence could be the two political parties. Ferrell started out as a Republican, but switched to Democrat a few years ago because he had split the Republican vote with then-incumbent Mayor Skip Priest and wanted his own power base. But Ferrell never fully left his conservative views and has had some challenges embracing Democratic issues. Ferrell always made sure to court the police guild by adding police officers, but was never able to solve the homeless challenge, which made some local Democrats question his commitment to Democratic values. Expect the two parties to play a meaningful role in the selection.
Ferrell will position himself as a candidate for prosecutor to the right of center. Councilmembers may spend a lot of time behind the scenes trying to get the four votes needed to get the mayor’s job — or, will a majority of the city council who favor a city manager form of government use the opening to try and convince Federal Way voters to change back to that form of government? If so, that way everyone would get a chance to be mayor for two years. Or they could consider the Tacoma concept where the mayor is separately elected, but is part of the city council, with a city manager to run daily operations while being overseen by the council.
When Federal Way switched to the current strong mayor form, the council put a city administrator in the budget to try and get Ferrell to follow Kent’s model. But Ferrell liked the power and didn’t want to share it.
But back to the question of the day: What happens if Ferrell is elected King County Prosecutor? The current council president is Linda Kochmar. But she doesn’t get to be “acting mayor” unless there is a vacancy in the mayor’s office and Ferrell leaves office early. Even though Election Day is in early November and Ferrell’s new job as county prosecutor, if he wins, would not start until Jan. 1, 2023, almost two months later. Ferrell professes to want a smooth transition, but seems more inclined to wait until Dec. 31, 2022, to resign if he were to win.
The city council would likely stretch out the process in their attempts to find four votes, although it would be smoother if the new mayor were identified as soon as possible because the new mayor would have to run for election in the fall of 2023, and it seems unlikely that the person would be unopposed. The winner of that election would serve the remainder of Ferrell’s term. Ferrell was reelected in 2021 for a term of 2022 through 2025. The council could unite behind the winner early.
Federal Way voters could be in for an exciting year. Citizens, remember to ask questions about everything because what you see is only the surface of what is really going on.
And what if Ferrell loses? He will still get to complete his mayoral term.
Federal Way resident Bob Roegner is a former mayor of Auburn. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.