I was doing the downtown holiday tourist thing with my daughter Wednesday and riding the Tacoma Link back north when I spotted Tacoma Mayor Bill Baarsma sitting across the aisle.
“Hey, Bill, how long are you still mayor?” I called out.
“One more day!” he responded, holding up one finger and grinning like he wasn’t at all sad about it.
I ended up snagging a car ride home with the lame-duck mayor (my daughter had other things to do), but first Baarsma needed to swing by his office in the Tacoma Municipal Bulding. When we got off the tram at Ninth and Commerce, he pointed at the Winthrop Apartments.
“My biggest disappointment,” he said. “Came just this close,” he added, holding a thumb and forefinger an inch apart. No one in Tacoma has more fervently hoped for restoration of the once-grand Winthrop Hotel.
Two or three years ago a private developer bought the building with plans to restore it as a vintage hotel and condos. Then the bottom fell out of the economy. Those plans are going nowhere for now.
Up in his office in the Muni Building, Baarsma showed me a framed collection of photos of Tacoma mayors since the first one, Theodore Hosmer, was elected in 1982. It will have to be updated to show Baarsma completing a second term this year and Marilyn Strickland as his successor.
In the corner stood a batch of commemorative groundbreaking shovels, including one for the beginning of construction on the second Narrows Bridge. Tools of the trade for a mayor.
No mayor has been a greater student of Tacoma’s political history. Baarsma’s Ph.D thesis at the University of Puget Sound, where he later served as a political science professor, was a detailed account of the city’s politics since the beginning. But Baarsma could make eyes roll by offering professorial historical notes during City Council meetings.
When Baarsma’s term officially ends at midnight tonight, he will have served 16 years on the council – first two terms as an ordinary councilman, followed by two years out of office, then two four-year terms as mayor. He couldn’t recall anyone else who served on the council as long – “in recent times, at least.”
The end of Baarsma’s tenure tonight will be another historical first. When the crowd counts out the old year at the downtown First Night celebration, Baarsma will present the mayor’s gavel to Strickland. It was his idea.
Give Baarsma this: Tacoma’s in his blood.