One in a series of articles about candidates in the April 6 Anchorage municipal election.
Bill Falsey for years worked in Anchorage’s municipal government, first as municipal attorney and later as municipal manager.
Falsey now wants to become the city’s next mayor. He is one of 15 candidates in the upcoming nonpartisan election on April 6. The crowded election will likely end in a runoff on May 11 between two candidates.
Falsey said that unlike the other candidates, “I can credibly say that I have seen the job up close. I know what works and what doesn’t.”
He is hoping that experience sets him apart from the competition and wins him enough votes to advance to the second ballot.
Falsey’s opponents are attempting to target him for his involvement with the current and previous mayoral administrations.
And several of the more conservative candidates, Dave Bronson, Mike Robbins and Bill Evans, say they expect one of them will face Assembly member Forrest Dunbar, not Falsey, in a runoff.
Dunbar and Bronson largely focus on each other in their messaging, believing themselves to be the top two candidates, and criticizing each other over their opposite views of how the city should handle the COVID-19 pandemic and LGBTQ rights.
Support from several local unions and Anchorage Democrats has mounted behind Dunbar’s campaign for mayor, and Dunbar has raised more than twice the amount as Falsey for his campaign.
Falsey worked under former Mayor Ethan Berkowitz and then Acting Mayor Austin Quinn-Davidson after Berkowitz resigned. Berkowitz was a prominent Democratic politician in the state before becoming mayor. Quinn-Davidson has also been viewed as more left-leaning, supporting the city’s health mandates and its ban of “conversion therapy” in Anchorage last summer.
Falsey, though, said he is running “not as a partisan warrior but just as somebody who wants to get down to business and get things done and make the city really work.”
Most municipal work isn’t about partisan issues — it’s about things like roads, schools, police, parks and trails, zoning and the economy, he said.
For now, he is trying to reach voters outside the noise of partisan politics by offering them plans for solving the city’s problems, he said.
“I get to tell my story and let the chips fall where they may,” he said.
Falsey has received endorsements from Planned Parenthood and Assembly member and business owner John Weddleton, and from the the Anchorage Police Department Employees Association, which has endorsed more than one candidate.
Because there are so many candidates and a runoff is likely, voters should choose the person who they believe is best for the job, Falsey argued.
“Right now there isn’t a one-to-one trade off between anybody. All we’re doing is advancing the to the final round,” Falsey said.
Experience as leverage or an obstacle?
Falsey began working for the city as its attorney and in 2017 was promoted to city manager under Berkowitz.
As manager, he oversaw nine city departments, three utilities and the city-managed port and airport.
Berkowitz resigned as mayor in October amid a scandal after admitting to an inappropriate relationship with a local news anchor.
Falsey was the one who delivered the message to the Assembly that top staff members independently decided that Berkowitz couldn’t continue in his job.
Falsey is not the only candidate with experience in city government. Candidate George Martinez worked as a special assistant to Berkowitz, focusing on education, youth development, diversity and economic development.
Dunbar is currently serving his second term as an Assembly member for East Anchorage. And candidate Bill Evans is a former Assembly member.
Falsey and other candidates with city government experience are sometimes targeted by other candidates for their recent roles in the municipal government.
“Many of these candidates have participated in our city’s decline,” Robbins said during a forum in March. “And now they’re asking you for three more years to fix what they broke.”
Some candidates are challenging Falsey as a progressive-leaning candidate who would lead the city similarly to Berkowitz.
Falsey argues that as city manager he set the stage for positive work that he could continue as mayor -- albeit not in the exact same direction as Berkowitz, he said.
“I was a grateful and willing participant in prior administrations and did what I could to make our beloved little corner of the world a better place,” Falsey said.
Working under Berkowitz, Falsey led the city’s response to the 2018 earthquake. He said he organized city firefighting resources during the following wildfire season. Then last year, he helped deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, heading the city’s immediate response as incident commander.
Falsey said that meant standing up free COVID-19 testing for Anchorage residents, trying to get first responders and health care providers enough personal protective equipment like masks and standing up quarantine facilities in the city.
“I’m not running just on good intentions, but really with the record of the ability to actually deliver,” he said.
Falsey also points to his experience also helping organize the sale of Municipal Light & Power, dealing with ongoing issues at the Port of Alaska, including a new petroleum and cement terminal, and addressing police presence along the Seward Highway and in Girdwood following an exodus of state troopers from the area.
For Falsey, the past is a preview but not a roadmap
The past is a preview of how he would govern, Falsey said, but there are some things he would change.
“I didn’t have direct responsibility for the homeless issues or for the economic development issues,” he said, speaking of his time as city manager. “So there I think there are more things that I would do and there are things that I would do differently.”
Falsey has criticized the city’s past response to cleaning up homeless camps. He said he wants to pair rapid camp abatement, including quickly storing the belongings of individuals in the camps at a facility, and then connecting them with services at shelters.
He also said that the city’s rollout of its controversial plan to pursue the purchase of buildings for homeless and treatment services was “wildly suboptimal.” He said as municipal manager he did not oversee the the forming of the plan or the selection of potential properties, two of which the city later determined to need too much work. He said he did help with the effort after the Assembly gave the plan the go-ahead.
The city last year purchased the Best Western Golden Lion Hotel in Midtown with $9.3 million from the ML&P sale. The hotel is slated to become an alcohol and drug treatment center.
Falsey said he didn’t directly oversee that purchase.
As the risks of wildfire grow with climate change, Falsey said he also wants to prioritize making sure that there are enough life access roads to all areas of the municipality.
Reinvigorating the city’s economy is also vital to its future, and Falsey hopes to take advantage of the “post-COVID, work from anywhere, Zoom-enabled world,” he said.
Clarification: The article has been updated to note that the Anchorage Police Department Employees Association has endorsed more than one candidate, including Falsey.