With gospel music, prayer and allusions to Jesus and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., the passion and pageantry of Zeph Baker’s announcement today that he’s running for Columbus mayor was more like a church service than a political event.
“Everyone can be great because everyone can serve,” Baker quoted King to about 200 people who packed the Columbus Government Center plaza to support him. The Columbus native pledged he would bring to the mayor’s office “a perspective of inclusive prosperity,” adding, “I believe our best days are ahead of us.”
Baker, 33, is a 1994 Carver High School graduate who in 1999 got a bachelor’s degree in biology from Columbus State University. He said he’s a business owner and community leader, having worked in real estate since age 20 and directed programs for Spirit Filled Ministries, which is run by his father, the Rev. Wayne Baker. The candidate has three children, two sons ages 10 and 12 and a daughter, 9.
Former Columbus NAACP President Bill Madison told the crowd that he for years knew the younger Baker to be “a very good son,” and added, “But more important than that, he is a very good father…. He is a man of character.”
Zeph Baker spoke after supporters led the audience in singing “This Little Light of Mine,” the third church song chosen for the occasion.
He had a speech prepared, but added flourishes such as the geographic references in this line: “As I spoke to our neighbors about their families, their jobs, their challenges and most importantly their dreams, I realized that no matter in what area of the city we reside – be it the curbs of Cusseta Road or the grasses of Green Island Hills – we share a common interest for the economic vitality of this city, the safety of our communities, and the opportunity to pursue our American dreams.”
He proposed a five-point plan for his campaign, promising:
-- To bring Columbus well-paying jobs and “to encourage and support small business growth from within our own residents.
-- To ensure residents’ safety. “Feeling safe cannot be a reality that is determined by ZIP code,” he said.
-- To promote education and maintain a partnership between the city and the Muscogee school board.
-- To make sure the city is fiscally accountable and its government is transparent.
-- To “champion green technology” to protect the local environment.
Baker ran as an independent in 2008 against incumbent Democrat House District 129 Rep. Calvin Smyre of Columbus, who won with 8,749 votes to Baker’s 3,013. Smyre has represented Columbus in the Georgia General Assembly since 1974.
Other candidates vying to succeed Jim Wetherington as mayor include citywide Columbus Council representative Wayne Anthony, attorney and MidTown Inc. Executive Director Teresa Tomlinson and businessman Randall Eugene Bergman.