Anchorage Mayor Dave Bronson launched his first term in public office Thursday by issuing a series of mayoral directives within hours of being sworn in, signaling his intent to lead the city in a more conservative direction.
The retired commercial and military pilot takes office as the city faces economic challenges and a homelessness crisis, both exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Bronson made criticizing the city’s handling of those issues central to his campaign. So far, he’s focusing his administration’s efforts primarily on homelessness and economic recovery.
He was sworn in by the municipal clerk during a breakfast and benefit for local homeless service provider Bean’s Cafe, to a standing ovation from the crowd of about 500 at the Marriott Anchorage Downtown.
“We’re here with the mission to serve the residents of Anchorage with integrity, a vision toward the future and a sincere motivation for the community we all love, and to do so with an open door and an open mind, working together across all walks of life, creeds, cultures, backgrounds and political affiliations to accomplish the goals of the city,” Bronson said at the ceremony.
Two hours after his inauguration, Bronson announced a set of four mayoral directives further outlining his priorities: economic recovery, streamlining city services, easing COVID-19 restrictions and declaring the city a “Second Amendment sanctuary municipality.”
He also said he’ll soon request $15 million from the Assembly to build his proposed 400-person homeless shelter and “navigation center” in East Anchorage.
“Our agenda will focus on the big things, the big things that are facing the city — homelessness, safe streets, the Port (of Alaska) in particular,” Bronson said at a press conference announcing the directives.
The directives follow Bronson’s Monday announcement appointing well-known local conservative leaders to key roles in his administration, including former Lt. Gov. Craig Campbell as his chief of staff and former Anchorage Assembly member Amy Demboski as city manager.
• The first directive is focused on protecting “the rights of all citizens to keep and bear arms.” The directive says that Anchorage “shall stand as a Sanctuary jurisdiction.”
• The second directive is focused on Anchorage’s economy. It declares that the city “shall aggressively pursue economic revitalization, expansion and diversification.” The directive outlines the establishment of an advisory committee appointed by Bronson and chaired by the newly appointed executive director of the Anchorage Community Development Authority, Mike Robbins, to “develop a blueprint to achieve a vibrant local economy.”
• A third directive lays out the framework for the creation of a “blue ribbon task force on efficiencies and regulatory reform.” It will investigate areas within the city government where “improved services and cost saving could be achieved.” According to the directive, that means the “elimination, consolidation or revision of MOA laws, policies, regulation, instructions or practices.”
• In a fourth directive, Bronson announced that the city will not require municipal employees to be vaccinated and he rescinded any remaining mask mandates in buildings owned, leased or used by the city. “People get to make their own choice on what they’re going to do,” Bronson said of the directive.
Bronson has the power to issue directives that relate to the internal operations of municipal agencies, according to city code.
Anchorage Assembly Chair Suzanne LaFrance said the directives do not influence the city’s charter or code and are an exercise of the mayor’s executive powers, essentially a statement of policy and intent.
The Second Amendment sanctuary and mask directives will likely have little immediate impact in Anchorage.
The Assembly had rescinded the city’s mask mandate in May, though a few city locations had implemented their own internal mask policies. Municipal employees had also not been required to be vaccinated and there have been no efforts to implement a requirement.
Bronson’s “Second Amendment sanctuary municipality” declaration comes after a string of communities nationwide have passed resolutions opposing enforcement of state and federal gun laws. At least nine states have also passed legislation discouraging or prohibiting state and local agents and officers from enforcing federal gun laws. Gov. Mike Dunleavy in April announced that Alaska joined in a legal challenge to a California gun control law, calling Alaska a “Second Amendment sanctuary state.”
Bronson’s directive cites an Alaska state law that prohibits municipal agencies, including the police department, from using its assets to implement a federal law or presidential order that “infringes on a person’s right to under the Second Amendment” to keep and bear arms.
The directive resulted from conversations he had with police officers who harbor safety concerns if a new federal law were passed that would require them to go door-to-door and “confiscate, tax or register firearms,” Bronson said. He did not reference any particular impending federal gun control legislation.
“We’re just trying to get ahead of something that might be pretty bad for our police officers,” Bronson said.
President Joe Biden in April issued a series of gun control orders, and has called on Congress to pass more expansive gun control legislation. Still, it’s unlikely that any will soon pass with an evenly divided Senate.
“Let’s be real. Second Amendment rights are not at risk in Anchorage. This is Alaska,” LaFrance said.
A spokesman for Bronson’s transition team said the directive is “a strong signal that the Second Amendment is valuable, that it would not change existing relationships between federal and local law enforcement and that it would not have any immediate impacts.”
Another of Bronson’s directives issued Thursday renews his focus on shrinking Anchorage’s government. During his campaign, he had said he would look for cuts in all city departments except public safety.
That includes the Anchorage School District. The task force outlined in Thursday’s directive will examine how the Anchorage School District’s administration and operations could merge or share functions with the city, the directive says.
“There’s things like snow removal, maintenance, janitorial service — we’re just looking for efficiencies at every level of government,” Bronson said. “The public school system is a level of government. It’s a huge portion of our budget overall. And a big portion that falls on the property taxpayers.”
He has also said he would institute a municipal hiring freeze.
Bronson takes elected office from former Acting Mayor Austin Quinn-Davidson, who stepped in after the October resignation of then-Mayor Ethan Berkowitz. Quinn-Davidson is returning to her role as Assembly member.
Bronson at his inauguration emphasized reinvigorating the city’s economy and bringing new jobs, projects and residents to the city and said that his team is already working to create a plan.
“In the coming days and weeks, my administration will work hand-in-hand with the community and the Assembly to outline a broader vision for the future,” he said.
Later Thursday evening, Bronson held a ceremonial inauguration and celebration at the Delaney Park Strip downtown, billed as “an event to bring the city together,“ with live music, food trucks and other entertainment.
Rick Green — also known as Rick Rydell, a former Anchorage talk radio host — emceed both the morning inaugural breakfast and the evening celebration. Green is special assistant to the state Department of Fish and Game commissioner.
Anchorage District Court Judge David Wallace performed Bronson’s ceremonial swearing-in.