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Talkeetna's feline mayor weathers floods to preside over recovery

Laurel Andrews,Scott Woodham
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During a time of crisis, elected officials are a beacon of hope for community members looking for assurance, leadership, advice and guidance. Leaders who don't deliver can face serious consequences. After Hurricane Katrina swept through New Orleans, the mayor was raked over the coals for his lackluster performance.

In Talkeetna, Alaska, as recent flood warnings turned to evacuations and the city found itself in the path of quickly rising water, where was Mayor Stubbs? Gov. Sean Parnell has declared a state disaster for several Southcentral communities, including Talkeetna, pledging state assistance during recovery. When asked if Gov. Parnell was able to meet with Talkeetna's mayor during the governor's visit there in the wake of the storm, Parnell spokeswoman Sharon Leighow said, "No, no meetings with Mr. Stubbs took place."

So as the Talkeetna River levee broke and water started pouring in, where was Mayor Stubbs?

Stubbs is not your average mayor. For starters, he's a cat. Second, while he is mayor only unofficially, his name and position have traveled the world and he is now without a doubt the most famous feline in Alaska -- and perhaps even the state's most famous mayor. Even folks in Australia know him as the Mayor of Talkeetna.

Only one breed of cats, the Turkish Van, is known for its zeal for water, and Stubbs is not one of them. When the floods arrived, did he disappear? Or did he rise to the challenge and get his paws wet (then quickly flick each of them dry)?

How did Stubbs handle things when disaster hit and his community needed him? Did all that fame go to his head?

As the best-known feline mayor in the world, Stubbs's behavior carries implications for ambitious cats everywhere. The campaigns of Tuxedo Stan, running for Mayor of Halifax, Nova Scotia, and of Hank, running to represent Virginia in the U.S. Senate, could rise and fall with Stubbs. A Stubbs miscue would certainly have the members of an anti-Hank Super PAC, backed by a collection of dogs, licking their chops as November draws near.

When the heavy storm threatened his town earlier this month, the 15-year-old feline at first braved the storm like the rest of the community. But when “things got a little scary,” Lori Stec, general manager at Stubbs's main roost, Nagley’s General Store, took steps to protect him. She ran him back to the house connected to Nagley’s, where she locked him up for the day. He wasn’t happy, Stec said, though he wasn’t frightened by the commotion, either. “He’s still Stubbs,” she said.

Although the world is returning to normal after the fray, Stubbs seems a little different. While he’s still “doing his thing” around the store, Stubbs is sticking close to home instead of making his usual rounds. He’ll venture outside but quickly return to his safe haven at Nagley’s.

In the post-flood aftermath, Talkeetna is “a mess,” said Stec. Nagley’s General Store is still pumping water from its basement. Fresh water shipments are being hauled in because it's not clear if the drinking water is safe. A town meeting was called Tuesday to discuss the next steps in the clean-up, which is going to take “a while,” Stec said.

But life is still good for Stubbs, even while the rest of Talkeetna struggles to get back on its feet. When Stec talked to Alaska Dispatch, Stubbs was sitting high and dry in Nagley's, lying on a caribou-fur rug draped across a dog sled, his favorite spot.

Contact Laurel Andrews at laurel(at)alaskadispatch.com and Scott Woodham at swoodham(at)alaskadispatch.com.

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