|Name||Bob Henry Baber|
|Address||526 Kanawha St. |
Glenville, West Virginia 26351, United States
Aug 21, 2011 03:44pm
|Info||Poet, former Professor. New York native. Elected Mayor of Richwood, WV in 2004. Currently, the only Mountain Party officeholder. |
Remember Bob Henry Baber? He was the smiling, Sonny Bono-looking fellow who tried a quixotic 1995 run for governor in West Virginia with the Mountain Party.
Still part of the state's most visible fringe party, Baber, a poet and teacher, is back in the political arena, albeit on a smaller scale.
As the only member of the Mountain Party to actually be elected to public office, Baber was elected mayor of this small Nicholas County town last September.
He said he had been toying with the idea of running for a while, but after leaving his job as an adjunct professor with New River Community and Technical College and working on a few volunteer committees for the city, he threw his hat in the ring.
"I just got out and walked the city like crazy. I went from door to door to door," Baber said of his campaign strategy. When the ballots were counted, he captured 65 percent of the vote.
The road to the highest office in a town most celebrated for ramps and timber has been a meandering path for the 54-year-old New York native.
There was the small, liberal arts college in Ohio, the cross-country treks, the bullet-ridden fight with the Los Angeles police and a state gubernatorial run that focused on increasing the coal and timber severance tax.
Now, he's trying to resurrect a town that, by his own admission, is a long way from its heyday as the social and economic center of Nicholas County.
Still, he sees potential among the empty storefronts and boarded-up houses.
"I think this town is developable," said Baber, who looks more like the scraggly college professor who taught his writing class outside on sunny days.
Growing up, Baber split time between his parents' home in a working-class section of Long Island and his grandparent's farm a few miles outside of Richwood.
"I'm a cultural hybrid," said the married father of four.
He later attended Antioch College in Ohio and traveled the county as much as he could. Before he graduated, he moved to Richwood with his family and actually completed his degree a branch campuses in Beckley.
Manifest destiny took over and he headed West. During a love-in on Easter Sunday at a Los Angeles city park in 1971, life for Baber took a nasty turn.
The city police caught wind of the event, and a battalion of officers in riot gear tried to break up the party.
Baber said some at the gathering were protesting the Vietnam War, but it was more just a bunch of long-haired friends getting together to enjoy a sunny afternoon.
It's not clear when the stand-off between the two groups turned into an altercation, but it did.
Baber ended up getting shot through the legs and was later charged with attempted murder for his role in the fight. The charges were later dropped, but he learned a very valuable lesson that day.
"This is one of the odd things about life. You know, those police, they had everything: Helicopters, riot gear, armored tanks, guns, billy clubs. There were probably 200 or 300 of them. There were maybe 50 young guys like us. And when we started fighting back, the police were terrified.
"It only was later that I pieced it all together. Always remember this: If you have the whole universe in your back pocket and someone is willing to fight you, you're up against a very formidable enemy. Because it means they're crazy. Crazy people do crazy things," Baber said.
Some might say Baber, who classifies himself as an Appalachian poet, is crazy for taking over a town that has seen its glory days chopped down and shredded like so many trees stripped from its hillsides.
Still, when he talks about bringing the town back to life, there's enough fire in his eye when he leans over the big desk in the wood-paneled walls of his city hall office to give his argument some spirit.
Damning one of the streams that form the Cherry River has been talked about in Richwood for years. The lake that would be formed would control water flow into the town and help a place that has been slammed by floods for decades.
It would also create a new recreational opportunity that Baber believes could draw people looking to get off the beaten path. Baber envisions a public/private partnership between Plum Creek Timber, the company that owns the land, and the city.
He believes one side of the lake could be public access for fishing, swimming and boating and the other side could be residential, lined with lake-front houses going for about $250,000 each.
Not many folks from Richwood would be able to afford those homes, but well-heeled retires looking for a country retreat could.
And even if Richwood folks could not pony up the cash to buy a pricey, shorefront lot, they could help build the houses.
Baber thinks construction jobs would be so plentiful that families would move to the town in search of work. They'd get here, find plenty of cheap housing on their own, and make a home.
They'd need places to eat and shop, which would bring the town's main street back to life.
It's a romantic notion, and Baber admits the plan is "a Hail Mary pass," but he says with the town's location between Snowshoe, Lewisburg, Summersville and the Monongahela National Forest, the idea is not as far-fetched as people might think.
"Tourism is swirling all around us and even through us, but there's no reason to stop. We need that anchor. That will be the lake," Baber said.
He said the town also needs to capitalize on the big events it already has, like the April ramp dinner and the Scenic Mountain Triathlon in July.
While Baber fights the good fight, he hasn't given up totally on getting back into the mix for the state's highest office.
"I might have an opportunity to run again in the future," he said.