By Morf Morford
Tacoma Daily Index
When I lived in China, I worked with someone who had lived there before and she had a simple stock phrase whenever she confronted a bureaucratic or cultural obstacle, (which was on a near constant basis).
She would just say (almost always with a tone of resignation) “This is China” or sometimes she would just say the letters – TIC. It was one way of expressing frustration, but there was also a sense that, at a deep level, there was nothing to be done, that we just had to cope with the situation as it was.
I have often thought that Tacoma needs just such a phrase to explain those strange (and seemingly infinite) actions and attitudes that seem to set us apart so distinctly even from our neighboring municipalities.
Tacoma is very different from Olympia and Seattle of course. But it is also very different from the outlying communities – in pace and personality – like those that border the city like Fircrest, University Place, Parkland and Puyallup – and of course, the city Tacoma almost entirely surrounds; Ruston.
By size, our most similar community within the state is Spokane. To put it simply, that’s just about all we have in common (besides claiming Bing Crosby, of course).
Tacoma, in many ways, is more like a small town than a city.
We are likely to know, or be just a person away from knowing just about anyone around (or across) the city.
Tacoma is small enough to allow almost every one of us, for example, to have some connection with our mayor or our city council.
Or even some linkage to our history.
One time in a class I was teaching on Tacoma’s history, the Top of the Ocean restaurant came up in conversation. One of my students chirped up; “That was my father-in-law!”
The Top of the Ocean was one of Tacoma’s premiere night spots on Tacoma’s waterfront.
It was the target of arson.
But it was arson with particular Tacoma spin; the arsonist took a taxi to the site, with a gas can in hand. On arrival, he told the taxi driver to wait, until he came back, emptied gas can in hand, for the ride home.
He was paid $400 to burn down one of Tacoma’s most memorable landmarks.
He was unwilling (for obvious reasons related to personal survival) to disclose who paid him.
Tacoma, oddly enough, has a long history of organized crime figures – and their influence on local politics and law enforcement.
But even without that nefarious (and some would say, unquenchable) influence, we have had mixed reviews of our local law enforcement and political leaders.
Many cities have bad cops.
Even in the world of bad cops, we do things in a peculiar Tacoma way.
Not too many years ago Tacoma had a police chief who murdered his wife in a grocery store parking lot in front of his own children.
Fast-forward several years and we have a sheriff who has a restraining order against him to prevent his harassment of a newspaper delivery man. As he delivers newspapers.
His defense was that it was suspicious to see a vehicle, night after night, stopping at home after home in his neighborhood on a regular basis.
Wait until he sees large trucks, also on a regular basis, during the day, leaving suspicious packages on the front steps of his neighbors. Some of these truck are brown, others have the word Amazon painted on them.
In local politics
In Pierce County, we have an active candidate for county council who, as a building contractor, was not satisfied with his payment and did what any contractor in an alternate universe would do; he altered the checks he was paid with. This is, of course, a felony.
He did some contracting work for a friend of ours. His work was so botched that our friends had to hire another contractor to fix and complete the project.
This person also applied to have a waiver from his felony for legal gun ownership.
He purchased a gun and used it to shoot at a suspected car thief near one of Tacoma’s homeless camps.
So if you think someone who lives by their own rules, thinks shooting at citizens is a good idea and leaves a job half-done, is a good candidate for county council, you know who to vote for.
When it comes to city council, we have a current council member who is leaving his term a year early to take a job with Comcast. He was on the council when they ruled to sell off the very-popular and profitable city-owned Click! Network – to the direct benefit of internet providers – like Comcast.
To put it mildly, this was a controversial decision.
He was elected for a full term – and, by not finishing, has a detour around the two-term limit for our city council – which allows him to run for another city office – like mayor.
Our current mayor resigned mid-way through her second term which allowed her to reset the clock in terms of term limits which opened the way for her to be in what is now her fourth term in city government.
Ethical conflicts, not finishing terms of office and putting personal interests ahead of professional obligations; that seems to be how we do things in Tacoma.