Local Election

Barker’s running for Bellingham mayor to impact climate, housing and social justice

She’s an introvert running for Bellingham mayor, one of the most visible elected positions in Whatcom County.

But friends and supporters say that’s what you’d expect from April Barker — a wife, a mom, a teacher, a neighborhood activist City Council member and hopeful optimist.

“When I think of April, I think it’s thoughtfulness,” said Kay Ingram of Bellingham, who met Barker at a social gathering five or six years ago.

She and Barker are kindred spirits, said Ingram, who’s retired from work in public television and lives on the edge of the Columbia neighborhood.

“She’s always thinking of the impacts that (policy) is going to have on people. She’s certainly done that on the council. She does her homework. She has a great investigative mind. She asks questions and is ready to seek another opinion.”

“She has a great sense of humor,” Ingram said in an interview with The Bellingham Herald. “It’s fun talking with her. She’s positive about things.”

That “positivity” is a trait that defines her, Barker said in an interview at The Herald’s office.

Bellingham mayoral candidate April Barker at Zuanich Point Park before a campaign event in Bellingham Sept. 17. Lacey Young The Bellingham Herald

Leaders should ‘inspire hope’

“One of our most important things as leaders is to inspire hope, but also to cultivate leadership,” Barker said. “I want to get into office because somebody wanted me in office — not because they didn’t want somebody else.”

Barker, 45, is married with two school-age children and lives in Birchwood, where she was neighborhood association president before she was elected to the City Council in 2015.

She’s running against Seth Fleetwood in the Nov. 5 general election after they were the finalists in the August primary, where the top two candidates advance. Fleetwood, a lawyer who served two terms each on the Whatcom County Council and the Bellingham City Council, edged Barker 29% to 27% in a four-way race.

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Mayor of Bellingham is a non-partisan, full-time administrative post, responsible for the city’s day-to-day operations and managing various city departments with about 900 total employees and a 2019-2020 budget of $637 million. It’s a four-year term with a 2019 annual salary of $165,600.

Ballots will be mailed to registered voters Oct. 16 and must be postmarked or in ballot drop boxes by 8 p.m. Nov. 5.

Barker’s campaign had raised $71,000 through Oct. 9, mostly through individual donations, and spent about $52,000, according to the state Public Disclosure Commission.

Housing, climate, social justice

She continues to emphasize three core topics: housing equity, climate action and social justice. Eliminating the wealth gap and addressing racial disparity are key parts of that effort, she said.

“I believe there will be no lasting climate solutions without justice,” Baker said in June, during a candidate forum hosted by the Downtown Bellingham Partnership.

“We’re going to talk about race. It’s not a ploy. We simply can’t not talk about it. It’s never as scary as people think it’s going to be,” she told The Herald.

“I’ll be bringing an intersectional group of folks together to talk about ways that we can not only work on our systems and our institutions, but also partner with our higher ed, as well as our schools,” she said in August at the Bellingham City Club forum.

“(But) housing is really at the root, that’s what people are telling us,” Barker said. “I thought it was going to be climate, but when folks can’t focus beyond making a house payment ... ,” she trails off.

As head of the council’s Planning and Community Development Committee, Barker is helping to develop a housing equity assessment to ensure there’s a mix of housing types throughout the city and that the housing remains affordable.

“We have to balance our commitment so that every socio-economic group has access to every neighborhood,” Barker told The Bellingham Herald in July.

“I’m not anti-single-family housing. I support single-family housing of all types, especially near schools, so that people of all socio-economic classes can have opportunities throughout Bellingham,” she said.

April Barker, who’s running for Bellingham mayor, speaks during a June 19 candidate forum sponsored by the Downtown Bellingham Partnership at the Whatcom Museum. Robert Mittendorf The Bellingham Herald

Lummi Nation, Tenants Union support

That commitment earned her the endorsement of the Bellingham Tenants Union, which advocates for renters, affordable housing and neighborhoods.

“She played a leadership role in passing the 2018 ordinances increasing tenant protections, such as banning source-of-income discrimination, the Tenants Union said in its endorsement. “She recently helped pass a moratorium on development in manufactured home parks to protect vulnerable residents. She wants to create a ‘state of the renters’ workgroup to advise City Council.”

Her other endorsements include the Lummi Nation, the Riveters Collective, NARAL Washington, Alliance for Gun Responsibility, Washington Conservation Voters, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and Washington Bikes.

“I’ve watched her really bravely step into issues that are difficult with humility, grace and dedication,” said Emily O’Connor, executive director of Lydia Place, which offers services for homeless people.

“She lives out the values that she supports,” especially in regard to marginalized people, O’Connor said in an interview. “I know that she cares about the future of my children as much as she does her own.”

Barker and her brother were raised by a single mother, who worked for the U.S. Forest Service, sometimes as a wildland firefighter.

“Her first purchase of a home was a trailer, and we moved that home from Arizona to Missouri,” Barker said. “My whole life was doing public service outside. We were always giving back. It was what you did.”

Mayoral candidate April Barker, left, reviews preliminary election numbers at Greene’s Corner in Bellingham Aug. 6. Lacey Young The Bellingham Herald

Athlete, mom, teacher

She played volleyball on a full scholarship for Kent State University and earned a bachelor’s degree from Fort Lewis College in Colorado. After moving to Bellingham, she earned a master’s degree in human movement and performance from Western Washington University.

She’s taught in Bellingham Public Schools — where her husband also is a teacher — and they used equity in their home to leverage the purchase of three rental properties that Barker remodeled, using the internet to learn the required skills.

It helped her be able to spend more time with her son and daughter while they were young, she said. It also informed her votes on the City Council for housing equity and tenants’ rights.

“I didn’t really understand the women’s wealth gap until I became a mother,” she said. “It’s hard to explain in a sound bite. (We were) trying to use the (financial) resources that we had.”

Barker said she moved to Birchwood because she was attracted to the diversity of the school and she and her husband wanted to raise their children in that environment.

“A leader who is bold’

Among the mayor’s primary duties are preparing an annual budget and hiring department heads — the city will be looking to name a parks and recreation director, fire chief and director of public works.

Barker compares her management style to that of a coach.

“Being a leader who is bold, I need to balance how far ahead I need to be. There always should be people on one side of you or the other,” she said.

She said she believes in motivating people to succeed.

“You really have to develop a deep bench. There are things (about sports) that really cross over into business and government in terms of peak performance and performance excellence. Are you putting people in a position where they are motivated to succeed and do they understand that failure is part of that process?”

Outside of government and politics, Barker said she spends time with her husband and children.

“Time with my family — being a working mom, that’s my priority,” she said. “Walking to the beach, working in the garden. I’m an introvert. I can flourish as a leader of big groups, but I need time to myself to recharge.”

Barker has a brother and three rental properties. Her sibilig’s gender the number of rental properties she owns were corrected Oct. 14, 2019.

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Robert Mittendorf covers civic issues, weather, traffic and how people are coping with the high cost of housing for The Bellingham Herald. A journalist since 1984, he’s also a volunteer firefighter for South Whatcom Fire Authority.