Gadfly Soup: Baker's flaky recipe for defeat

If Will Baker writes a how-to book on his bid for mayor in the City of Destiny, might we suggest The Essential Guide to Losing. Chapter 1: Take on popular incumbent. Chapter 2: Don't talk to press. Chapter 3: Raise no money. Chapter 4: Get sentenced to jail. Chapter 5: Change name, move to Fife.

There's a subtext as well. Baker, 36, a civic gadfly and local flower vendor, is technically running against the formidable one-term Tacoma mayor Brian Ebersole, who is so uninspired he's filling his campaign brochures with the photos used in his last election. Even in a true race, Ebersole, 52, would be favored to remain as the blue-collar town's $64,000 (part-time) mayor. A place of great parks and sweeping boulevards, but also impoverished, high-crime inner neighborhoods, Tacoma has continued its downtown rebirth—new buildings, expanded art venues, and the Pacific Avenue gateway campus of UW-Tacoma—under the reign of the onetime state Speaker of the House.

But Baker is also running a shadow campaign against oddball (a compliment in Tacoma) Pierce County Auditor Cathy Pearsall-Stipek. He lost to her several years ago and continues to seek reforms, though he's not alone. Among the highlights, Pearsall-Stipek has been accused of counting absentee votes before election day and of once rigging races by somehow drawing the names of all 11 incumbents from a hat to give them favored top ballot positions. (One of her past opponents was so desperate to replace her, he vowed if elected to resign if 51 percent of the voters disapproved of his subsequent performance).

Since the auditor's not up for reelection, Baker chose the mayoral contest to air his gripes, and is doing so, ironically, by taking a cue from Pearsall-Stipek, giving local press the silent treatment.

Baker just shakes his head and walks away when a reporter seeks out his views. He won't respond to News Tribune requests for phone interviews or candidate position papers. He hasn't explained his silence other than to suggest he doesn't like the paper's coverage of his civic antics, which include a 20-day jail sentence (he's appealing) for disorderly outbursts and filibustering at the podium during County Council meetings.

Entertaining, perhaps, but he's no Red Kelley—the local jazzman and political prankster who, when he ran for Tacoma mayor in 1989, supported a needle exchange program because "one bad needle can wipe out an entire record collection." He vowed to end war, crime, drugs, back-in angle parking, and static cling. He also appointed Captain Joseph Hazelwood, the infamous pilot of the oil-disaster ship Exxon Valdez, as head of his steering committee.

He got 1,396 votes. Baker should be so funny.

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