Pugilist-turned-preacher enters City Council political ring

EDITOR’S NOTE: This article is part of a series of interviews with candidates running for Tacoma City Council. For earlier interviews with contenders Marty Campbell, Jonathan Phillips, David Curry, Marilyn Strickland, Harold Moss, Donald Powell, Jack Pleasant, Lauren Walker, and incumbent Spiro Manthou, visit the Index archives online.

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The first thing Tacoma City Council candidate Reverend Ronnie Allen Warren mentions is we’ve met. Last March, in the Hilltop neighborhood, activists gathered at the corner of South 19th Street and Martin Luther King, Jr. Way to show their concerns over alleged criminal activity in the area. According to the Tacoma Police Department, last year more than 700 calls for service were logged near the location: 311 at a Conoco-Phillips 76 gas station and mini-mart; 215 at the intersection of 19th and MLK; and 175 on nearby 21st and MLK. In January of this year, 274 calls for service were made to the area.

Residents and community activists gathered outside the gas station to urge the station manager to beef up security. Rev. Warren — stocky and fit, he still maintains the build from his former career as a boxer — was a liaison between the gas station operators and Associated Ministries.

“That kind of stuff has always kept me busy,” said Rev. Warren over lunch at Capers restaurant downtown. Born and raised the Hilltop, Rev. Warren remembers living around the corner from a tavern rife with gangs. “That’s where all the shootings and stuff were going on. When we went on boxing trips, we would pass by the tavern, and everyone would say duck! because of the reputation.”

Today, Rev. Warren, 45, is running for the District 3 position (which includes the Hilltop) on Tacoma City Council. In April, incumbent Tacoma City Councilmember Tom Stenger announced he would not seek re-election, and a looming vacancy has drawn four candidates: fair housing advocate Lauren Walker; Hilltop activist Jack Pleasant; Tacoma attorney and former pro tem judge Donald Powell; and Rev. Warren.

“We need some new blood,” said Rev. Warren. “We need somebody that can bring some statesmanship. Somebody that can identify with Tacoma. I’m that person. I’m that spirit.”
Rev. Warren ministers at St. John Baptist Church, and turned his life over to God in 2003.

Though he hung up his boxing gloves six years, he has carried a focused, fighting spirit into his political campaign: posters and business cards depict red boxing gloves, and the slogan, “Ronnie Allen Warren: he will fight for us!” We met last week to discuss his campaign, lifelong connection to Tacoma, early boxing career, rich spirituality, and community service work.

TACOMA DAILY INDEX: Why have you decided to run for Tacoma City Council?

REV. RONNIE ALLEN WARREN: It’s a part of my make-up. It appeals to my personality. It’s a part of who I am. It’s something I have always wanted to do. My decision to run is timing. You really can’t find a politician that has integrity. Somebody that has principles and won’t sway away from them. That helps motivate me, as well as God. It’s a calling. He was calling me to run for this election. This election is about faith. I’m running this election all on faith. Faith is the substance that you hope for, and the evidence unseen. It’s the corresponding action. It’s part of the action that God has called me to represent and shine a light on so many different things. Those that are oppressed, they really don’t have the resources, and the City is not giving them the resources. Because of politicians, because of George W. Bush and his administration and their policies, the big picture is that they are taking all of the money out of the country and putting that into the war effort. Money has dried up. There’s not a lot of money for different programs. Our housing is at a crisis because our cost of housing is growing faster than people’s incomes. The answer is jobs. Give people access to jobs so they can pay their bills with these jobs, and create some kind of housing so that if they work and do certain things, they will receive a stipend for rent. They could use their money for other needs.

INDEX: Are there specific issues in District 3 that you would like to tackle as a councilmember?

REV. WARREN: The things in District 3 I would want to tackle right off the bat would be our share of social services [and Department of] Corrections [placement]. Our county is one of three counties that receives criminals that have created crimes in other areas. [Pierce County] Prosecutor [Gerald] Horne has stepped up, but there is talk that it isn’t ironing out because we’re still receiving more than our share. That would definitely be a concern of mine. And bring an end to the 10-year tax abatement. There are a lot of taxes we’re missing there that could be used.

INDEX: When did you become a minister?

WARREN: I accepted my calling Jan. 13, 2003. I got the calling on the 13th. With prayer and fasting, I accepted it on the 22nd. That was nine days of praying and fasting, and being totally concentrated on God. There were times I never left the house. I spent most of my time in the basement praying and fasting. It wasn’t an easy process. Everybody has to go through the flood and the fire and all those periods of their lives in order to understand God and trust Him for who He is.

TACOMA DAILY INDEX: Have you lived in Tacoma all your life?

REV. WARREN: I was born and raised in Tacoma. I am one of nine kids. Sixteen kids, actually, because my dad had seven kids, and I’m the only kid my mom and dad had together. I was born an uncle, and I was raised right there in the Hilltop community. My dad had a residence, and my mom had a residence. I was able to go between both houses. I started boxing when I was six years old. I got over 400 amateur fights, more than probably anyone ever in this area. I’ve been a national champion. Junior national champion, two-time Olympic hopeful, and West Coast kick-boxing champion.

INDEX: What interested you in boxing early on?

REV. WARREN: Some girl had beat me up. She bloodied my nose. I went home one day to my dad’s house. Instead of going to my mom’s house, I went to my dad’s house. I was waiting around for him to get home. He started me out boxing down at the downtown Tacoma Boy’s Club. When I first started boxing, it was in 1968 or so. I have trophies from 1968. I probably started before then, because two of my brothers had boxed — Wilbur and Don. I come from an athletic family, too. My brother was an All-American Academic at Wilson High School. I would go to different schools and they would introduce me because I was his brother. They still have a plaque of him at Truman Junior High School on their wall. He played basketball, went to University of Washington, and things like that. That got me in the door, and I started boxing. I was able to go to McDonald’s, hang out with the guys, and the music and everything. It was like a dream come true. It was a vehicle.

INDEX: Were you just boxing locally?

REV. WARREN: No. We went all over. We would go to Las Vegas because that was our region. I remember the first time we went to Las Vegas, it wasn’t so pleasant because we would drive. Eventually, we started flying down there. They started raising money, the LBC — Local Boxing Commission — they started raising money. We started flying everywhere. It was awesome. We would go to Las Vegas more than we would go anywhere. I won regional tournaments 20 times.

INDEX: How long did you box?

REV. WARREN: I just retired in 2001. I was starting to cut. I was cutting really easily. I would have to have my eye stitched up after all the fights because my skin wasn’t as elastic.

INDEX: Is your life different today than it was when you were a boxer?

REV. WARREN: It’s a big difference. The big difference is ‘self.’ I was self-absorbed. It was me. Everything was centered around me. There were women, Ferraris, Cadillacs, gambling houses, friends who weren’t really friends. Now everything around me is holy. It’s righteous. My relationships are different. I trust in God and Him only.

INDEX: What kind of outreach have you done in the community through your church?

REV. WARREN: I’ve done domestic violence outreach. I’ve done prison ministry outreach. We have a jail ministry. We have a homeless ministry. I’ve been an integral part of that — it’s called Jericho Road Ministries. There’s Jericho House, where we house six or seven men at a time, and we instill in them Christian values. We try to help them with their own wellness, individuality, and wholeness. I’ve been a part of that, and it’s given me an opportunity to be a part of the Tacoma-Pierce County Homeless Coalition. I’ve been involved in that for six or seven years now. I’ve invested so much time in those meetings where I feel I can now be a voice for those people that are in that system. At Jericho House, I was a case manager there. I’ve even lived there, because God told me to do this. You’ve got to go where God wants you to go. I’ve been really obedient when it comes to going where God wants me to go. It hasn’t been easy. But it’s only a season. There’s a time and season for everything, even with relationships.

INDEX: Is it possible for you to describe the calling that led you to turn your life over to God?

REV. WARREN: Well, God starting working in my life at a very young age. When I was seven years old, I used to look at Adam and Eve, and them eating apple, and me having to live in sin because of that. I became real rebellious because of that. It turned me into a rebel, basically. I was good at being a rebel. People knew me as a rebel. I used to fight from one block to the other block. I was more proficient at street fighting than boxing. It was a lifestyle. I used to go from one area of the neighborhood to another, fighting. I sort of changed, too, by a change in the environment — street gangs coming up from California and stuff like that. I figured I couldn’t survive anymore without God. Once I committed myself to God, it was only a matter of time before I gave Him my whole life. I sold myself out to Him. That work that He started in me has progressed from one level of glory to another level of glory. You can’t see that, but you can witness it because of the anointing God has entrusted in me to do His will.

INDEX: How closely do you follow activities at City Hall?

REV. WARREN: I was just at a city council meeting the other day. I do go to City Council meetings. I’ve been friends with different councilmembers over the years. I’ve always been aware of who is representing me and who is serving me.