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Port board backs naming bridge for Oke

Local residents wanting to see the new Tacoma Narrows Bridge named after the late Sen. Bob Oke packed the Port of Bremerton’s Board of Commissioners’ meeting Tuesday to hear whether a resolution supporting the honor would be approved.

“Anyone who thinks his name should not be on the bridge — shame on you,” said Rick Flaherty, who told the commissioners that having a second bridge allowed him to keep his business, Leader International, in Port Orchard. “Had it not been for the bridge, we would not have stayed on that side of the water. It was a fantastic achievement.”

Flaherty said blocked traffic on the bridge most Thursday and Friday afternoons meant truck drivers often decided to just turn around instead of heading across, grinding his business to a halt.

“This is the right thing, and it would make me feel better,” said Manchester resident Bob Lamb, recalling that he first thought Oke was “out of his ever-loving mind” for wanting to build another bridge across the Narrows. “But now I realize the one of the two of us that was a damn fool was me.”

Describing how the bridge improved his life in very personal terms, Lamb said now that the second bridge is open, his children are much more willing to drive his grandchildren over from Renton so he can see them.

“I have seen my grandkids more in the past few months that the bridge has been open than in the four years (they were around) before it was built,” he said. “For that alone, it’s worth it.”

Commissioner Larry Stokes, however, brought up the question of whether Oke had even wanted his name on the bridge.

“Didn’t I read a quote somewhere where he said that he didn’t want the bridge named after him?” Stokes asked Oke’s widow Judy, who spoke at the meeting. “Why are we doing this?”

“Yes, he wanted it named ‘The Bridge of Faith,’” Judy Oke said, explaining that “his friends and family want the bridge named after him.”

Drake Evans, who described himself as a longtime tenant of the port as both a Port Orchard marina slip owner and a pilot, urged the port to “do the right thing” and name the second span after Oke.

“He had no interest in fanfare and getting the bridge named after him,” Evans said. “It is up to us to do it, because we are so indebted to him.”

Although more than 80 percent of voters in the 26th District Oke represented opposed building the bridge in a required advisory election, the senator eventually succeeded in pushing the project through the state Legislature and across the Narrows.

“Oke went completely sideways from his constituents because he believed that was what he was supposed to do. He never stopped,” Commissioner Cheryl Kincer said.

Flaherty also praised Oke’s tunnel vision.

“He had the courage to do what he knew was right, even if it was against his constituents,” he said. “And I would say that the majority of people who were against it and the tolls are not against it today.”

When the commissioners voted on the resolution, Stokes declared he was abstaining, while commissioners Kincer and Bill Mahan both voted “yes,” passing the resolution.

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