Here’s how we’ll keep putting our values into action.
Let’s do this.
The COVID pandemic will look very different by the time the new mayor takes office in July 2021. But Anchorage will still be dealing with the economic fallout. After more than a year of high unemployment, low oil prices, a challenging state fiscal climate, traumatic restaurant and small-business closures, and a new work-from-home culture that will permanently change the commercial real-estate market, targeted support will be critical to getting our economy back to full strength, and preventing a hollowing out of downtown. We’ll encourage new development, a more vibrant downtown, and position Anchorage to thrive: in a post-COVID, Zoom-capable world, Anchorage’s comparative advantage is—as the world has increasingly discovered—that we’re community where workers and families want to be. Playing to our strengths as a headquarters city and a hub for tourism, we’ll remain the vibrant place we know and love—a city of unrivaled community, beauty and opportunity.
The Port of Alaska is a critical economic and national security lifeline. Much of what we eat, buy and wear, the vast majority of the cement used in Alaska’s construction projects, half of the jet fuel used at Ted Stevens International Airport, and substantially all of the fuel used by JBER comes across its docks. Replacement of the first facility is well underway – on time and on budget. But the work is not finished—and we’re racing against the clock. The main docks are over 50-years old, and are failing. To keep Alaska safe and in business, we can’t stop making progress—this one has to get done. I’ve worked intently over the past several years to get the Port rebuild underway; I know the ins and outs of the Port, and its stability and longevity are a top priority for me.
Anchorage will hopefully get a large recovery in the still on-going lawsuit against the federal government, but those funds will need to cover cleaning up the seismically unstable land at the “northern extension,” and won’t cover future construction costs.
Realistically, then, funds needed to complete the cargo docks can only plausibly come from: federal grants, a state general-obligation bond, or enterprise debt supported by tariff adjustments – meaning that it will cost a little more to import the things we wear, eat, drive, and use to build.
We can also explore public-private partnerships, but while those can shift risks, they often don’t materially change the finances of the project—project delivery may be slightly cheaper, but those possible efficiency savings can be offset by the fact that private capital will have to borrow at taxable rates and will want a market return on the invested equity, while government borrows tax-free and doesn’t need a “return.”
And so it is imperative that we design and build the most affordable right-sized port that serves our core needs, and not wants or dreams, and that we work as hard as possible to encourage federal investment in the project—which is entirely justified, as all of the railbelt military installations deploy through the Port.
But it will be critical to achieve good alignment and involvement of all the players: so can make a successful case for federal funding. And the moment is right: there is an emerging bipartisan consensus in DC that increased federal investment in infrastructure is both overdue, and a critical part of how we recover from COVID.
More resources need to go to early childhood education, easing the burden on working parents and leveling the playing field for all children from the very beginning. The hard numbers show pre-K makes good economic sense. Study after study show the long-term benefits: positive brain development in a child’s early years means a child is more likely to succeed in school, find steady, meaningful employment, enjoy better health, and stay out of the prison system. By not investing in our youngest, we’re 'saving ourselves poor.'
Quality childcare exists in Anchorage, but it’s wildly expensive. Because our university system is subsidized, it can cost more to send a 3-year old to preschool than it does to send a young adult to UAA. We’re still running a system that, for most families, all but forces one parent to drop out of the workforce.
An obvious place to start? The Anchorage School District currently uses federal funds to run pre-K programs in areas that are more socioeconomically challenged and where schools offer free or reduced lunches. About 700 kids are on the waitlist. We can get them into the classroom.
Public safety is the first responsibility of local government. As municipal manager, I strongly supported the Anchorage Police and Fire Departments. I worked to restore law enforcement to the Seward Highway, and to Girdwood, after the Alaska State Troopers left the municipality. I helped move the Police Department back downtown and supported commonsense, customer-service improvements—equipping officers with cell phones and turning on 311. I helped establish new ambulance service for the Anchorage Fire Department—which fights 900 fires a year, but which annually responds to 24,000 emergency medical calls—and outfitted the department with state-of-the-art EMS equipment and maximally COVID-protective PPE. As municipal attorney, when the city saw spikes in “spice” consumption and joyriding cases, we adopted innovative new local laws to combat each—and saw results: spice cases and vehicle thefts dropped significantly, and have continued to fall, year over year. As mayor, I'll continue to strongly support our first responders, and preserve our public safety gains.
Homelessness is a highly visible and growing problem.
In Anchorage, homelessness should be brief, one-time and rare—and no one should be sleeping on our street corners or in our greenbelts.
After years of largely leaving the issue to our local non-profit and religious organizations to solve, homelessness in the Municipality is now off the charts—we have nearly 400 people living in the Sullivan Arena; another nearly 50 in the Fairview Recreation Center; and more than 100 in other settings around town.
We need a comprehensive solution—one that reduces the inflow of people into homelessness; involves a safe and appropriately sized shelter system; a rapid, more effective camp-abatement program that connects people to services; and housing-first investments that get folks up and on their feet again.
Anchorage needs better quality, more affordable housing. We should incentivize both new construction and rehabilitation of our existing housing stock. Growth in affordable housing must be targeted and smart, with revitalized neighborhoods that are walkable and connect residents to transit and workplaces.
Adding solar power to Anchorage’s energy mix can save taxpayer dollars, makes critical services more resilient, and boosts energy security for all by conserving local natural gas.
Solar panels have made Fire Station 10 in Bear Valley completely self-sufficient for several hours a day. If the station loses power, rooftop solar will keep the backup generators running longer, ensuring that the station can function in an emergency. We’ve also installed the state’s largest rooftop solar array at the Egan Center downtown. The city has many more rooftops with the potential to host solar. We’ll find the projects that make sense and get them done.
Working with community partners, Anchorage has been laying the groundwork to deploy a crisis-intervention team to take the place of law enforcement when responding to individuals in mental-health crisis. Anchorage Police are highly effective at protecting our community, but responding to non-violent individuals in crisis shouldn't be their job. Anchorage needs to join communities across the nation by investing smarter, not just more, in public safety and community health.
We can improve quality of life for Anchorage residents and drive tourism dollars to our community by focusing on one of our city’s best features—our world-class parks and trails.
Anchorage’s trails connect our city, ease traffic congestion, and keep our minds and bodies healthy all year long. They’re a key part of what makes Anchorage a great place to live, work and play. Investments to ensure that our parks and trails remain clean, safe, and welcoming are critical.
With creative marketing, our parks and trails should also become signature attractions, unlocking additional tourism dollars by encouraging visitors to Alaska to stay an extra day or two in Anchorage.
Maintaining and spotlighting one of Anchorage’s best assets is an easy win to improve the mental, physical, and economic health of our community.
All thriving cities in America have at least one world-class university. We should foster greater innovation and stronger alliances between UAA, APU, and our city government.
UAA has been a key part of Anchorage’s COVID response. Our new and continuing partnerships with UAA are helping the municipality make smarter, better decisions. And the data we’re sharing with UAA is opening new research frontiers, while expanding opportunities for students.
Creating a permanent and more formal research and policy relationship with our local universities is an all-around win.
Smart financial-reserve policies and balanced budgets have earned Anchorage a AAA bond rating from Standard and Poor’s, and a AA+ rating from Fitch. Those ratings allow Anchorage to finance capital projects at the lowest possible rates—saving taxpayers money and making each tax dollar go further.
As mayor, I’ll insist on responsible budgeting and maintaining fiscal discipline.
BILL FALSEY | Occupation: Most recently Municipal Manager, Municipality of Anchorage (left service on Dec. 1, 2020) | Age: 41 | firstname.lastname@example.org
1. Why are you running for mayor?
I am running for mayor because I believe Anchorage’s best days are still ahead of us, and I’m invested in that future. This election is about who is best prepared to meet the current moment, and translate good intentions into real, meaningful action. I’ve helped Anchorage through some tough days before: the Nov. 2018 earthquake; the 2019 wildfire season; and as Incident Commander in 2020, overseeing our local, on-the-ground response to COVID-19. I’ve led the teams that delivered on highly complex projects like the ML&P sale and rebuilding the Port of Alaska. Now, we have to rebuild our economy, make real progress on homelessness, preserve our public safety gains and make the quality-of-life improvements that ensure Anchorage remains a world-class place to live, work and play.
2. What in your background or experience sets you apart from the other candidates and makes you suited to be an effective mayor of Anchorage?
I am the only candidate with significant executive management and local government experience. I most recently served as municipal manager, where I oversaw nine departments (police, fire, health, employee relations, traffic, transit, public works, maintenance and operations, project management and engineering); three utilities (AWWU, SWS, and ML&P); two enterprises (Port of Alaska and Merrill Field); and four offices (emergency management, transportation inspection, risk, and equal opportunity). My general-government reports comprised nearly 1500 FTEs. Before that, I was city attorney, where oversaw the civil law division, prosecutor’s office and administrative hearing office. I know the city; I know a how to build and lead successful teams; and I have a record of delivering real solutions.
3. What’s the biggest challenge facing city government and how would you address it?
The COVID pandemic will look very different by the time the new mayor takes office in July 2021. But Anchorage will still be dealing with the economic fallout. After more than a year of high unemployment, low oil prices, a challenging state fiscal climate, traumatic restaurant and small business closures and a new work-from-home culture that may permanently change the commercial real estate market, targeted support will be critical to getting our economy back to full strength and supporting our recovery. I’ll encourage new development, a more vibrant downtown and position Anchorage to thrive. Playing to our strengths as a headquarters city and a hub for tourism, we’ll remain the vibrant place we know and love — a city of unrivaled community, beauty and opportunity.
4. Describe how your administration would approach the coronavirus pandemic.
COVID is the story of two disasters: first, a public health disaster, and second, an economic disaster. In my time at the municipality, I was tasked with dealing with the first. As incident commander, my job was to make sure our local health care providers and first responders had adequate PPE, that we had adequate quarantine facilities and that the public had broad access to free COVID testing. By July, much of that work, hopefully, will be winding down, as case counts continue to fall and life gets closer to “normal.” But I will continue prioritize public health. Mass vaccination efforts will still be underway, and I will strongly support those efforts. The second disaster—the economic toll of COVID—will still be very much with us in July. As mayor, economic recovery will be my top priority.
5. What’s your assessment of how Anchorage’s city government has responded to the pandemic over the past year? What, if anything, would you have done differently? Be specific.
The city appropriately prioritized public health, kept our first responders and health care providers adequately supplied with PPE, slowed disease transmission and helped Alaska achieve best-in-the-nation levels of testing and vaccination, all while preventing our hospitals from being overwhelmed. Getting the virus under control is key to our economic recovery: until COVID levels are reduced, travel, in-person dining and general economic activity will not fully rebound. Our decisions should be based on the best available science, the lessons of history and news from the front. On those metrics, the best available information suggests that the paths that lead to the best economic outcomes are the more public health-protective paths. That said, I do think the municipality should have done a better job with affected industries. Several emergency orders were announced at Friday press conferences without much advanced warning or coordination; that would not have been my approach.
6. What role should city government play in repairing economic damage to individuals, businesses and community organizations from the pandemic?
Federal support will be key to the recovery and will likely involve a significant municipal workload. As mayor, I will stand ready to efficiently and transparently distribute whatever funds the city next receives from the federal government, on the terms required by the federal legislation. Beyond merely disbursing federal aid, the city should: first, support a robust infrastructure program to jump-start economic activity; second, spur new private sector development by assisting with necessary utility work, and incentivizing projects with positive community effects; third, process construction permits quickly and predictably; and fourth, make quality-of-life investments to reestablish and grow our tourism sector and make Anchorage a more attractive place from which to “work from anywhere.”
7. Downtown Anchorage has been hit especially hard by impacts from the pandemic, with tourism, gatherings and events greatly reduced and many businesses and organizations struggling as a result. Another difficult summer with greatly reduced tourism appears likely. What’s your vision for downtown, and what specifically are your short-term and long-term plans for repairing damage from the past year?
A vibrant, clean and safe downtown is critical to Anchorage’s success. Investments and partnerships that ensure downtown continues to thrive, and that make downtown more walkable and active will serve all of us well. Anchorage will need to assure that the local conditions needed for a robust return of tourism and a thriving restaurant and cultural scene are met. That will include everything from encouraging new construction, to using the mayor’s position to encourage residents to patronize recovering businesses, to working with the Anchorage Downtown Partnership and other organizations to engage in strong placemaking, space activation and other revitalization efforts. It can also include street configuration changes to support more open-air dining and pedestrian promenades.
8. Would you make changes to the Anchorage Police Department and policing policies? Why? Please describe in detail.
APD completed a comprehensive review of its policies and procedures manual last summer and, at my direction, posted the manual online for public review. Current policy forbids the kind of strangulation that was used to murder George Floyd, requires de-escalation and verbal warnings, prohibits warning shots, restricts shooting at moving vehicles, requires officers to minimize risks to bystanders and permits the least amount of force necessary to accomplish a lawful objective. The Department does not use no-knock warrants of the sort that resulted Breonna Taylor’s death. I support assigning mental health crisis calls out of APD. The Department of Justice is currently completing an assessment of APD, and I would use the results of that work to inform discussions about further policy changes.
9. Is the Anchorage Police Department adequately staffed?
In 2015, the Police Executive Research Forum reviewed Anchorage’s crime statistics and officers’ workloads, and concluded that Anchorage, which then had 369 sworn officers, should have 446. Today, we are much closer, at about 435. That’s a success story, which has led to real declines in crime across the board. It also allowed the department to extend service to the Turnagain Arm communities and the Seward Highway, after the Troopers left. The focus now should be on better criminal intelligence and investigatory capabilities, as well as improved customer service — activating 311 and outfitting officers with cellphones were commonsense first steps. In the near term, additional staffing should likely be on the non-sworn side — 911 dispatchers, records clerks, etc. — to improve response times.
10. Do you support the bond issue on this spring’s municipal ballot that would fund public-safety technology upgrades, including body-worn and in-vehicle cameras for police officers? Explain.
Yes — I drafted the proposition. In-car and body-worn cameras increase trust, accountability and officer safety, and the department has a critical need to update its dispatch and records management systems. APD’s in-car cameras were funded by one-time state grants received nearly a decade ago; they are nearing the end of their useful life. The dispatch system, which 911 operators use to assign officers to incidents, is at risk of critical failure and must be replaced; a new records-management system will help prosecutors efficiently process cases and improve the department’s public reporting of crime data. The proposition going to voters is nearly identical in form to Prop. 9, which voters approved to refresh the fire department’s medical equipment in 2020. I strongly support the measure.
11. Describe, with specifics, how you would expand and diversify Anchorage’s economy.
In my view, government does best, not when it makes direct investments in seafood processing plants or experimental barley farms, but when it ensures that the baseline conditions for economic growth are in place. Locally, that means: first, ensuring that local taxation and utility rates are reasonable; second, providing quality, reliable local infrastructure, such as roads and the Port of Alaska; third, supporting a strong housing market; fourth, maintaining quality public schools; fifth, investing in items, like parks, trails and the arts, that improve local quality-of-life; sixth, ensuring adequate public safety; and seventh, supporting state investments in our university system, which provides high economic returns and helps build a culture of innovation and entrepreneurialism. Anchorage can also help foster new industries by, for example, investing in new energy technologies at city buildings, marketing to new tourism segments, and supporting local startups though the 49th State Angel fund.
12. What’s your vision for Anchorage’s economy in the future?
My vision is of an Anchorage that has played to its strengths as a headquarters city, a health care stronghold, a logistics center, a hub for tourism and a university town, and that has continued to make the quality-of-life investments that attract and retain new talent in the post-COVID, work-from-anywhere, Zoom-enabled economy. Anchorage is a city of unrivaled community, beauty and opportunity; we should assume our position as world-class, premier City of the North. As the oil sector declines, we should be encouraging a culture of innovation and homegrown entrepreneurialism, in close collaboration with our local universities. There is no world-class city that is not also a “university town,” and the greatest economic returns will come from greater investments in our human capital.
13. Is taxation in Anchorage too high/about right/too low? Explain.
Anchorage’s taxation is about right for the level of service it currently provides. To put it in perspective, Anchorage is today one of the least-taxed large cities in America — and provisions of our local municipal charter mean local policy choices are unlikely to cause that to change. Voters adopted a tax cap in 1983 that limits and ties permissible increases in local taxes to changes in inflation, population and new construction. The tax cap has forced a fiscal discipline on the city and placed a premium on administrations finding new efficiencies; hiring 100 new officers, for instance, could not be accomplished without finding cuts elsewhere in the municipal budget.
14. Do you have ideas for alternative sources of city revenue? Explain.
Because of COVID, it will be another year before bed taxes fully recover, but it looks likely that Congress will provide targeted relief to ensure that cities across the nation do not have to make further cuts to essential services. (Of note, approximately 75 cents of every local tax dollar collected goes to police, fire, parks, roads or schools). Meanwhile, reductions in traditional city revenues may be partly offset by growth in the sustainable dividend that the municipality receives from the MOA Trust Fund (the local “permanent fund” into which the proceeds of the municipality’s sale of the Anchorage Telephone Utility and, more recently, ML&P were deposited); additional payments from Chugach Electric will be put into the fund each year for the next several decades, increasing the dividend.
15. Are there city programs or services you would cut? Explain.
Virtually every department other than police and fire has seen cuts over the last decade. Scroll through the list of municipal departments, and you will not find “optional” business lines: police, fire, parks, road maintenance and construction, traffic engineering, health, cemetery, public transit, libraries, building-development services, planning, real estate, treasury, finance, property appraisal, controller, purchasing, HR, facilities, fleet, internal audit, IT, municipal attorney, prosecutor, etc. That said, the municipality established a “film permit” process sometime in the Sullivan administration that I think merits a second-look; it’s not clear to me that the process is necessary.
16. Are there city programs or services you would expand? Explain.
As mayor, I would work to expand early childhood education offerings in the city. The hard numbers show pre-K makes good economic sense. Study after study shows long-term benefits: positive brain development in a child’s early years means a child is more likely to succeed in school, find steady, meaningful employment, enjoy better health and stay out of the prison system. By not investing in our youngest, we’re “saving ourselves poor.” Quality child care exists in Anchorage, but it’s wildly expensive. Because our university system is subsidized, it can cost more to send a 3-year-old to preschool than it does to send a young adult to UAA. We’re still running a system that, for most families, all but forces one parent to drop out of the workforce.
17. What’s your view of current Anchorage land-use plans? Would you push for changes?
Anchorage’s land-use plans were developed with robust community participation, and I generally support them. I am open to considering changes that advance community goals, such as greater availability of affordable and workforce housing, and quality options for seniors, such as broader availability “accessory dwelling units,” or ADUs.
18. Homelessness remains a persistent, significant problem in Anchorage. What specifically would you do differently from previous administrations?
Homelessness is a visible and growing problem in the community. It’s unsafe for those living outside, and it’s causing negative impacts to our greenbelts, neighborhoods, and business districts. There is a perception that the municipality has for years been spending a tremendous amount on homelessness. But that isn’t true. As a community, we’ve invested very little in direct homeless response. But homelessness is now off the charts—we have 200 more people in the shelters today that we’ve ever had in any prior year, we have nearly 400 people living in the Sullivan Arena and more than 150 in other settings around town. We need additional shelter capacity in new locations — selected through an open, transparent and community-driven process that involves credible business plans and no surprises, a rapid, more effective camp abatement program that connects people to services and better coordination with private partners to make more timely and effective use of philanthropic investments.
19. Name a program dealing with homelessness in Anchorage that you believe is working.
The “Home for Good,” housing-first pilot project is showing great promise. Enrollment began in July 2019. By June 30, 2020, of 21 people housed, 19 remained in stable housing. Individuals in the pilot experienced 85% fewer arrests, 85% fewer Safety Center intakes, 63% fewer stays in shelter and 44% fewer emergency medical service trips. The project was initially funded through a combination of federal, state, and philanthropic grants; a segment of the new alcohol tax is allocated to further expand the project. Meanwhile, we’ve learned through the COVID emergency response that placing people in individual units can be done successfully, and without negative community impacts. Together, the two suggest that continuing to invest in “housing first” solutions is a sensible path forward.
20. Please discuss your commitment to transparency and openness in Anchorage municipal government. Do you have suggestions for improving either?
I am fully committed to transparency and openness in municipal government. In my briefings after the Nov. 2018 earthquake, during the 2019 wildfire season and as incident commander overseeing the city’s on-the-ground response to COVID, I tried always to “tell the truth, and boldly” — good, bad or other. Doing so not only builds trust, it appropriately attends to the fact that municipal employees are paid by, and serve, the public. That said, the municipality’s public records process could certainly be improved. Collecting and producing records is no one person’s job in the city, because, historically, there hasn’t been the volume of work to justify a dedicated position. But the workload has steadily grown, and responses now come slower than they should.
21. What’s your assessment of Anchorage’s transportation infrastructure? Do you have a plan to improve it? How?
Despite improvements to the PeopleMover bus system and our trail network, Anchorage remains predominately a car city. For motorized traffic, our roads work pretty well. For non-motorized traffic, the city still has work to do — but it is moving in the right direction. Recent initiatives such as “vision zero,” which outlines a strategy to eliminate all traffic fatalities and severe injuries while increasing safe, healthy and equitable transportation for everyone, and the move to “complete streets,” like the rebuilt section of Spenard Road, that equally prioritize pedestrian and bicycle safety, show the way. As mayor, I would continue in those directions, improve trail connectivity, and ensure that federal funds received through the AMATS process are not used solely for highway mega-projects.
22. Are there specific transportation projects you would initiate in the municipality if elected? Explain.
The most critical transportation project is completing the Port of Alaska rebuild. Much of what we eat, buy and wear, the vast majority of the cement used in Alaska’s construction projects, half of the jet fuel used at Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport, and substantially all of the fuel used by JBER comes across its docks. Replacement of the first facility is well underway – on time and on budget. But the work is not finished — and we’re racing against the clock. The main docks are over 50-years old, and are failing. To keep Alaska safe and in business, we can’t stop making progress — this one has to get done. I’ve dedicated significant efforts to the project, built stronger relationships with companies that do business the port, and am committed to implementing an affordable solution.
23. The past year has been marked by increasing civic discord in Anchorage. What would you do to reduce frustration, distrust and anger that increasingly has characterized civic conversation?
The mayor has the opportunity, and responsibility, to set a tone of civility and respect. That means proactively reaching out to key stakeholders, welcoming everyone into a collaborative effort of joint problem-solving, really listening, and, after arriving at a decision, explaining candidly, not just what the decision is, but the reasoning behind it. It also means working to maintain a relentless focus, not on waging political battles, but on the essential business of the municipality: solving problems and delivering real, on-the-ground solutions for residents.
24. What other important issue would you like to discuss?
The summer of 2019 should serve as a wake-up call for Anchorage about the increasing risk of wildfire danger. Anchorage has work to do to ready itself for increasing climate disruption — including building new secondary access roads and improving fire breaks — and to better position the city for the inevitable energy policy changes coming from Washington, D.C. Increasing our investments in energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies will be key. As municipal manager, I increased the city’s use of rooftop solar arrays, hybrid vehicles, and supported a new “C-PACE” program to finance improvements at commercial properties. We should next investigate whether further legal changes can help independent power producers bring additional wind and solar power to the Railbelt energy grid.
Can you give me a short description of yourself?
Bill Falsey served as Anchorage municipal manager from 2017 to 2020, where he oversaw the police, fire, and health departments, among others. From 2015 to 2017, he was Anchorage’s municipal attorney. He is known to residents for his response to the Nov. 2018 earthquake, the 2019 wildfire season, and for serving in 2020 as incident commander responsible for overseeing Anchorage’s on-the-ground response to COVID-19. Mr. Falsey led teams that delivered on the sale of ML&P, which has lowered today’s electric bills; and successful reconstruction of the first piece of the Port of Alaska, the petroleum/cement terminal. He drafted ordinances that restored law enforcement to Girdwood and the Seward Highway; improved healthcare price transparency; and addressed nuisance properties, such as the former Northern Lights Inn. He is a graduate of Dimond and the proud father of two young kids, who he is raising with his wife of 11 years, Jeannette Lee.
How long have you lived in Alaska?
I moved here in 1993. I left for college and law school (1998-2005), and followed my wife out of state in 2008—but we moved back for good in 2013.
Why are you running for mayor?
I am running for mayor because I believe Anchorage’s best days are still ahead of us, and I’m invested in that future. This is my hometown—I graduated from central and Dimond; my parents retired here after careers in the air force, and teaching special education at Rabbit Creek Elementary. It’s where my wife and I are raising our two kids.
I’m looking ahead at the challenges and opportunities posed by post-COVID work-from-anywhere, Zoom-enabled world, and recognizing that it should play to our strength—we’re a place that people want to be. That the world has discovered.
But I also see that we have some tough days ahead of us. And I’ve helped Anchorage through some tough days before: the Nov. 2018 earthquake; the 2019 wildfire season; and in 2020, when I served as incident commander overseeing our local, on-the-ground response to the COVID-19 global pandemic, where my job was to collect and distribute PPE, establish adequate isolation and quarantine facilities, set up free, broadly available testing sites and, through it all, go on TV tell everyone what we were doing, and why.
We got through the past challenges, and we’re getting through this one, while also delivering on the sale of ML&P; completing the first piece of the reconstruction of the Port of Alaska; restoring law enforcement to Girdwood and the Seward highway; making public safety improvements, like establishing 311, that have led to reduced crime; and cleaning up nuisance properties, like the Northern Lights Inn.
From my record, residents know I’m not really about politics, I’m about getting things done.
What will be your focus while in office?
As mayor, my focus will be on: championing the Post-COVID economic recovery; making real progress on homelessness; completing the Port of Alaska rebuild; preserving our public safety gains; making smart energy investments; and investing in the quality-of-life improvements really take us to the next level—early childhood education, trails, and forging better partnership with the university; while also preserving our local financial health and bond rating.
What do you plan to do about the COVID-19 pandemic?
COVID is the story of two disasters: (1) a public health disaster, and (2) an economic disaster.
In my time at the municipality, I was tasked with dealing with the first. As Incident Commander, I oversaw our local on-the-ground response to the pandemic, and Anchorage’s emergency operations center. My job was to make sure our local healthcare providers and first responders had adequate PPE; that we had adequate isolation and quarantining facilities and a means to safely transport people to them; and that the public would be able to access broadly available, free community COVID testing. In both settings, I understood my fundamental task to be to communicate, openly, honestly and with humanity, about what the City was doing, and why. By the time the next mayor takes office much of that work, hopefully, should be concluding—though the new task of supporting mass vaccination efforts (“medical countermeasures,” in the jargon) will likely still be underway. I will strongly support those efforts.
The second disaster—the economic toll of COVID—will still be very much with us in July of 2021. Additional—and long-overdue—federal support will be key to the recovery, and will likely involve a significant municipal workload. As mayor, I will stand ready to efficiently and transparently distribute whatever funds the municipality next receives from the federal government, on the terms required by the federal legislation.
But the municipality also has a very significant role to play itself, beyond merely disbursing federal aid. That includes: (1) supporting a robust infrastructure program to get the city back up on its feet and working again; (2) spurring new private-sector development through more creative ways of financing on- and off-site improvements (such as through tax-increment financing-like arrangements, and targeted use of the municipality’s SB 100 ability to use its tax code to incentivize particular forms of development); (3) ensuring that the municipality processes construction permits quickly, and does not needlessly stall or block projects; and (4) making quality of life investments to re-establish and grow our tourism sector and make Anchorage a more attractive place from which to “work from anywhere.”
What is the largest issue outside of the pandemic facing the municipality and what do you intend to do about it?
Homelessness is a highly visible and growing problem.
In Anchorage, homelessness should be brief, one-time and rare—and no one should be sleeping on our street corners or in our greenbelts.
After years of largely leaving the issue to our local non-profit and religious organizations to solve, homelessness in the Municipality is now off the charts—we have 200 more people in the shelter system right now than we have ever had in prior years; we have nearly 400 people living in the Sullivan Arena, another nearly 50 in the Fairview Recreation Center, and more than 100 in other settings around town.
We need a comprehensive solution—one that reduces the inflow of people into homelessness; involves a safe and appropriately sized shelter system, established through an open, transparent and community-driven process that involves credible business plans and no surprises; a rapid, more effective camp-abatement program that connects people to services; and housing-first investments that get folks up and on their feet again.
There’s a lot of political division in our city. How can you bring people together?
Lead by example. The mayor has the opportunity, and responsibility, to set a tone of civility and respect. That means proactively reaching out to key stakeholders, welcoming everyone into a collaborative effort of joint problem-solving, really listening, and, after arriving at a decision, explaining candidly, not just what the decision is, but the reasoning behind it. It also means working to maintain a relentless focus, not on waging political battles, but on the essential business of the municipality: solving problems and delivering real, on-the-ground solutions for residents.
Do you think the state’s vaccine distribution has been fair for all?
Alaska has led the nation in effective vaccine distribution but, like elsewhere, has been forced to confront the unavoidably difficult choice of how to prioritize distribution when need outstrips supply. Priorities and distribution tiers have been by the state, and supplies have been disbursed by the federal government. For my part, I support the efforts made to date to prioritize those who are most put at risk by COVID, and who face the greatest risk of exposure.
That said, I would have preferred to see earlier eligibility for individuals with high-risk medical conditions, regardless of age, and a fairer system for allocating doses unexpectedly made available after clinics had “no shows”—allocating the doses by “last-minute, random phone calls,” as the newspaper characterized them, is certainly not fair or ideal.
People have been leaving Anchorage over the past few years. How can you make Anchorage a desirable place to live and do business?
Anchorage’s population has been on the decline since 2013. Stemming outmigration is an important economic, and quality-of-life objective for the city. The city should adopt several strategies. The city can directly support economic activity through smart infrastructure investments and appropriate business-fostering incentives that encourage or unlock new construction projects, and that involve the appropriate use of apprentices. The city can also, less directly, though still critically, make or encourage the kind quality-of-life investments that make Anchorage a world-class city in which to “live, work and play”—investing in and marketing our trails, expanding early-childhood education options, improving our housing stock (including expanded housing options for seniors), and by advocating for support to keep the university system strong.
Did you agree or disagree with the municipality’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic? If not, what would you have done differently
Generally, yes. The municipality appropriately prioritized public health, kept our first responders and health-care providers adequately supplied with appropriate PPE, slowed disease transmission, and helped Alaska achieve best-in-the-nation levels of testing and vaccination, all while preventing our hospitals from being overwhelmed. Getting the virus under control is key to our economic recovery: unless and until COVID is brought to heel, travel, in-person dining, and general economic activity, will not fully rebound.
As I said when I first appeared as incident commander for the local COVID-19 response in the March 2019 townhall I worked to organize at the Alaska Public Media studios, our decisions should be based on the best available science, the lessons of history, and news from the front.
On those metrics, two articles from the social science literature influenced my thinking, each of which I discussed with the community.
The first was an historical analysis of how the differing public health measures adopted by cities in the 1918 pandemic affected the cities’ ultimate recoveries. The paper concluded that the pandemic depressed the economy across the board–but that cities which adopted more public-health protective measures (masks, distancing, capacity restrictions) ultimately bounced back more quickly.
The second was an early economic analysis that attempted to quantify the cost-benefit trade-offs of public health interventions cities were adopting specifically for COVID-19. For the nation, that paper concluded that the interventions had net benefits for the country in the amount of multiple billions of dollars.
The best-available information suggests that the paths that lead to the best economic outcomes are the more public-health protective paths.
That said, I do think the municipality should have done a better job messaging to affected industries. My sense is that several emergency orders were announced at Friday press conferences without much advanced warning or coordination; that would not have been my approach.