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Originally published Friday, February 9, 2007 at 12:00 AM

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Nicole Brodeur

Tacoma seen with fresh eyes

This was going to be The Moment. The day when the entire state would look at Tacoma with new eyes. Gov. Christine Gregoire was touring the...

Seattle Times staff columnist

This was going to be The Moment. The day when the entire state would look at Tacoma with new eyes.

Gov. Christine Gregoire was touring the new Salishan Neighborhood Revitalization Project last week with Mayor Bill Baarsma. She had just met with a single mother and two kids in their new, happy home. "It was a great opportunity for us, all the way around," Baarsma told me Wednesday.

Then someone heard shots coming from the nearby woods. Gregoire was whisked away. Along with her, Baarsma's hopes of changing the region's view of Tacoma to the City That Proved Us Wrong.

"The only public-housing project like it in the country," Baarsma said of Salishan. "But that wasn't the story on the news. It was that the governor had to be taken out because of some character out in the woods shooting at a tin can."

Just another one of the "body blows" that have marked Baarsma's tenure. They include the scandal involving Police Chief David Brame, who shot and killed his wife, Crystal, before killing himself in 2003; the 2005 Tacoma Mall shooting; and the Jan. 3 homicide at Foss High School.

Then came a new poll showing that while Tacoma residents are happy with most city services, their quality of life is in the tank — it ranked 187 out of 202 cities nationwide.

The city paid the National Research Center $58,654 to poll 9,727 households. Of those, only 2,667 bothered to respond. And they did with a vengeance.

Crime, potholes, rundown buildings. Only 33 percent of those surveyed felt their taxes were being well-spent — the Museum of Glass, (free) light-rail, the UW campus and downtown redevelopment be damned.

Even for those who bought in, Tacoma feels like a sweater that you just can't wear. It looks nice, with the water views and mountains. You got it far cheaper than you would pay in Seattle. But every time you put it on, you itch so much you can't wait to take if off.

Baarsma is taking it in stride, though. The responders, he noted, were "self-selected."

"The people who are upset," he said, "are the ones who tend to respond."

Baarsma said the City Council had already started making improvements before the poll results came in: $4 million in additional funding for street repairs, more funding of community-based services and hiring more police.

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For now, the city has residents like Benjamin "Pete" Lira, the owner of Thee Barber Shop and self-proclaimed "Mayor of Pacific Avenue."

Since moving his shop to this street-in-transition two years ago, Lira has made regular patrols, checking in with merchants and giving vagrants the once-over.

"The mayor? I don't know the mayor," Lira said. "I don't even need him. But he needs me."

He strode down the street the other day in a long, black leather coat, pointing out drug dens, a pay phone used only by dealers — and the new businesses that have the kind of faith other residents can't seem to muster.

"It's like a marriage: If you don't do something to solve it, it's going to fail."

Valentine's Day is just around the corner. Seems a fine time to show Tacoma a little much-needed love. Just no sweaters.

Nicole Brodeur's column

appears Tuesday and Friday.

Reach her at 206-464-2334 or nbrodeur@seattletimes.com.

Can she visit the new Paddy Coyne's?

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About Nicole Brodeur

My column is more a conversation with readers than a spouting of my own views. I like to think that, in writing, I lay down a bridge between readers and me. It is as much their space as mine. And it is a place to tell the stories that, otherwise, may not get into the paper.
nbrodeur@seattletimes.com | 206-464-2334

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