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Former Alexandria police chief, who retired after DUI arrest, weighs run for city council

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There was a time — after he had been arrested for drunken driving, left his job as Alexandria’s police chief and spent five days in jail — when a return to public life was the last thing on David P. Baker’s mind. Some days, he says, he was so ashamed he didn’t want to leave his house.

But Baker says he has been inspired by the response he has received from people who have heard him tell his story in and around Alexandria — so much so, that he’s contemplating a run for City Council.

“The easier thing to do is hide somewhere for a couple of years,” said Baker, 60. “The better way out is to face the circumstances head-on and be prepared to do the right thing, not be afraid to share my lessons with others.”

Three days after leaving jail in August 2009, Baker filmed a public service announcement titled “Even a Police Chief Can Get Nailed Drunk Driving.” He has since spoken at schools, the Alexandria jail and police roll calls. Unexpectedly, he said, people told him his story moved them.

“I was at once scared to death, then thrilled beyond description,” Baker said.

Baker, who spent 40 years in public service, found himself wondering whether he should try it again: “I was still looking for opportunities to serve.”

Baker said he will decide whether to run in September, after he graduates from a “candidate school” offered by the Alexandria Democratic Committee, a program for people who want to run for office or take part in a campaign.

Baker worked for the Alexandria Police Department for 19 years, three of them as chief. It was when he was the department’s second-in-command that he first had the idea of a run for City Council.

Before moving to the Alexandria department, he worked for D.C. police for 21 years. He now works in Alexandria as security director at Godwin House, a home for the aging.

People on the street sometimes encourage him to run, Baker said. There has been chatter on Facebook and in local media discussing a possible Baker run. And he has met with some of Alexandria’s political power brokers to discuss the idea of Baker running in 2012.

“I know how government works from the inside out,” Baker said. “I think I could bring a level of strength, courage, commitment and knowledge.”

Baker was a popular and well-respected chief in July 2009, when he was caught drunk behind the wheel of an unmarked city car after a fender-bender in Arlington County. His blood-alcohol level was more than twice Virginia’s legal limit.

“It is something nobody condones, especially him or me, but there comes a time you’ve paid the price for it, and it shouldn’t be held against you for the rest of your life,” said Dana Lawhorne, Alexandria’s sheriff and a friend of Baker’s.

Baker’s price included jail time, a fine, a DUI program and the loss of his license for a year. There were other consequences: Baker said he has felt uncomfortable among friends and community members who, he worries, associate him with his criminal record.

After his arrest, Baker and his wife divorced. He moved from Montgomery County to Alexandria, where he’d previously lived. He has two grown sons who are married with children and live in the area.

His lesson, as he tells it: “Stand up with a level of courage, take the full measure of punishment, admit and learn from your mistakes, and move on to create new opportunities in your life.”

If Baker runs, he would be on the ballot in November 2012. He would be running for an at-large seat — all seats on the Alexandria City Council are at large — a position that comes with a three-year term.

He considers himself mostly liberal on social matters, education, public safety and the environment. He said he learned to be fiscally responsible after running the police department, the city’s largest agency, with 480 employees and a $55 million annual budget.

Baker said he loves the city and wants to be involved in helping Alexandria navigate issues such as waterfront development and military base consolidation.

As police chief, he said he led the department as it lowered crime, and he was involved in community issues that intersect with law enforcement but are not typical police matters, including truancy, housing, traffic and public works.

For now, Baker said, he’s enjoying life in Alexandria and trying to gauge whether it’s a good idea to run for office.

“Most of what I’m doing is talking to people and listening to people,” Baker said. “I want people to think of me as a straight-talking, straight-shooting guy.”

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