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Baker to challenge Pearman for City Council

By Ruth Longoria

Alaska Airlines pilot Capt. Robert ``Bob'' Baker is setting his sights on Mercer Island politics.

The 52-year-old father of two and step-father of four has announced that he'll run for City Council position No. 4 on the November ballot, which is currently held by Councilman Jim Pearman. Pearman declared his intention to retain the seat in April.

``There's a lot of people on the Island discouraged with how the current council handled the HOV/SOV issues relating to I-90, Jim Pearman's vote and his comments during all of that make him the one to run against,'' Baker said.

Other newcomers to the race include Mike Grady and Brenda Finkenbinder, both of whom are running for position No. 6, which will be vacant since Mayor Alan Merkle opted not to run again.

Councilman Dan Grausz has said he plans to retain his seat at Position No. 2. Lisa Belden, who organized a petition last year in an attempted to overturn the City Council's decision regarding I-90, announced Monday that she will run against Grausz.

The filing period for King County elections is July 25 to 29. No other Island council seats are up for reelection this year.

Although he's only been an Islander for two years, Baker has immersed himself in community service and activities since he married Islander Robin Melin in 2004. The couple met on an Internet dating service, Match.com, in 2002. Melin has four children from a previous marriage, the youngest two are students in Bellevue and at West Mercer Elementary School.

``One of my greatest joys is getting to be a parent again,'' Baker said of teaching 8-year-old stepdaughter, Kristine to ride a bicycle and being a parent volunteer at her school, West Mercer Elementary School.

Baker also enjoys outdoor activities such as skiing and hiking with his wife and their combined six children. Baker previously was a PTA president, girls' soccer and boys' basketball coach in Camarillo, Calif, while his two now-grown children were young. His son, David, 21, is a journalism student at Arizona State University. Baker's daughter, Jennifer, is married to an air traffic controller in Alabama, and mom to Baker's grandchild, 7-month-old Janie.

Baker was born in Chicago and moved to Hammond, Ind., as a child with his parents and four siblings. In addition to school activities, he was a Boy Scout and earned Life Scout, the highest leadership rank short of Eagle Scout.

``One of my biggest disappointments with myself is that I didn't go on to become an Eagle Scout, I was so close to achieving it, but I didn't understand the importance of that back then, and there was no one to beat me over the head and tell me to go on,'' he said.

In 1971, he graduated from Hammond's Gavit High School and went on to earn a bachelor's degree in computer science in 1975 from Purdue University.

On the day of his graduation, he was commissioned into the Navy. After graduating first in his class in Top Gun flight school, he was given his choice of planes and proudly flew F-14 fighter planes. He served in the military for the next 21 years.

Nine years ago, three days after retiring from the Navy, he began flying for Alaska Airlines. He currently works as a reserve pilot for the airline, and flies about a dozen days a month.

``People are always surprised when I tell them how little I work. But, this gives me more time with my wife and kids,'' he said.

Baker said his military service in Washington, D.C., was what gained him an interest in politics.

``Being immersed in the political climate, I saw the need to be involved -- and, what happens when you aren't involved.''

He also gained an appreciation for the blessings of this country, while serving overseas. ``I feel fortunate and feel like I have a need to give back,'' he said.

Giving back to the community is something Baker does well. In addition to his duties as a pilot and volunteer work with the elementary school, he is a Sunday school teacher and elder at Crossroads Bible Church in Bellevue, and he counsels inmates through Prison Fellowship, an outreach and visitation program for prisoners, ex-prisoners, crime victims, and their families. The program was set up in 1976 by Chuck Colson, former aide to President Nixon.

Baker enjoys being part of a program that offers a chance to make a real difference.

``I do the counseling for somewhat selfish reasons,'' he said. ``The recidivism rate is somewhere near 80 to 90 percent for prisoners, so if you can invest in their lives and help them get away from that lifestyle, and you help even one guy from doing what he's been doing, you help society and possibly keep more crime from happening.''

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