May 1—Editor's note: In March, the ADN editorial board met with six of the most prominent candidates for mayor of Anchorage. In those on-the-record meetings, the candidates spoke frankly with the editorial board about their stances on issues facing the municipality. Rather than a traditional editorial this week, we felt this space would best serve voters if it were devoted to sharing some of the runoff candidates' views in their own words. For more direct-from-the-candidates content, you may also review the ADN's Q&A features and video interviews with Dave Bronson and Forrest Dunbar.
These answers have been selected as representative of the candidates' full answers, which were much longer. A full transcript of the questions and answers is available here.
Q: A couple decades ago, Anchorage's downtown was booming. How do we get back to that — and what actions would you take as mayor to help us get there?
Dave Bronson: I'm a commercial aviator, and there's kind of a rule in flying — in short, if you change something on the airplane and something really bad happens, immediately reverse what you just did. What we have to do is we have to reverse what we did in the shutdown. We've got to allow our entrepreneurs and our small-business men and women to run their businesses, free of encumbrances from the mayor's office, or in frankly as much of government as we can.
I'm a small-government guy, and, and, quite frankly, government, local government was overreaching far before COVID came on the scene. So open the city, get rid of the mandates, encourage those people with comorbidities to stay home until they get their second vaccine.
But anyways, to answer the economic question, yes, open up the city. And then find as much money as we can to stimulate these small businesses that are still in business. My plan is that the stimulus plan is based mathematically on the notion that, for that portion of that time you were shut down as a small business, your property taxes will be rebated or you'll get an abatement going forward on your next tax bill.
Forrest Dunbar: I think that you know you can look around to other parts of the country and see how other cities have done this. It's not rocket science. It's about having better pedestrian facilities; it's about making people feel safe, particularly at night.
Part of it is creating housing in your downtown core, and of course the Assembly passed a 12-year property tax abatement for people that build certain kinds of dense housing. And so I think the combination of having more housing downtown, better pedestrian facilities. Of course, we already moved the police department downtown, which we think has some positive effects too.
One thing I've talked a lot about is creating a sense of Indigenous place. I think if you look at the surveys from visitors, that's the No. 1 thing they asked for, and there are things we could do with signage and partnering with organizations like the Heritage Center and the museum to really create that sense of place and culture. So it's true that things are looking pretty rough right now, but I think there's just a ton of potential there.
Q: How do we make progress on dealing with homelessness in Anchorage?
Forrest Dunbar: I've always been sort of skeptical of the idea of new large-scale homeless shelters. I prefer a distributed housing model that uses more voucher programs, and right now, we have about 500 of these active around the city, where people are renting hotel rooms or renting apartments.
We have additional federal funds on the way; we have alcohol tax funds now for the first time ever. This is the first time the Municipality has actually spent any of its own money. And then we have this additional private investment. So I think that there are real opportunities to gradually step down the Sullivan Arena and get people placed in transitional and permanent supportive housing, and that really is the solution over the long term. It's not large shelters. It's a process by which we quickly give you adequate shelter and into housing — and that distinction between shelter and housing is really important.
Dave Bronson: How do we intervene and help these people? I'm not going to be a mayor who's going to sit here and have people freeze to death on the street, get frostbite on the street, get hit by cars. That's a failed methodology. It has terrible results, and I'm not going to be part of it. I don't need this job bad enough.
Reinvestment in downtown is tied directly to our vagrancy issue. Let's fix it. Let's just fix the problem, and how we've been doing it the last several years isn't working. Let's not deny the fact that it's just not working. So let's get these people off the street.
I have a plan; it's unfortunately for a very, very small part of this overall homeless problem, we'll call them the vagrants. Law enforcement has to engage; they have to. Unless you've got another plan, if there's volunteer groups or community patrol, something like that, I'm open to listen to anything. But people dying on the streets, that's going to end. It's just going to end.
Q: The city feels divided, and the rhetoric at Assembly meetings is out of hand. How do we lower the temperature?
Dave Bronson: First and foremost, we do have to work together, but we've got to end the policies that triggered the emotion. So we open up the city. Guess what: Now these people, these restaurant owners that are down there complaining, they're, they're back to their shops, getting things going and trying to find their employees and and getting back to full business. And there's a pent-up desire for people to go out, unencumbered, and go to restaurants again.
That's, that's in our nature, it's in our DNA, we want to be together, we want to drink coffee, tea or beer in a public place and, and with our friends. People thrive on that and it's not just our culture, I spent a lot of time in a lot of cities throughout this world, that's a universal, and we need to get, we need to get back to that. So a lot of this negative energy is going to dissipate as soon as we open up these small businesses and just get back to work.
Forrest Dunbar: I'll be the mayor for everyone in Anchorage, not just for the people who voted for me. And during my time on the Assembly I've worked with people with very different views than me, particularly on neighborhood issues — you know, parks, trails, roads. I had a friend of mine told me once there's nothing partisan about a pothole.
And I think that we can find those kind of places to work together. And that's the vast majority of people, I think, even people who disagree with me strongly.
My record is that I've worked a lot with the building community, with the business community. I've been the representative of the Assembly to the Anchorage Chamber of Commerce and to the Anchorage Economic Development Corporation, and the things I really care about, like revitalizing downtown, are not seen as partisan issues — and shouldn't be. And that's one of the great things about local politics.