The Anchorage Daily News asked candidates for Anchorage Assembly to answer a series of issue questions. Read all of them here.
Kameron Perez-Verdia | District: 3 | Age: 50 | Occupation: President/CEO, Alaska Humanities Forum | kameronforassembly.com
What is a short summary of your background?
I’m a lifelong Alaskan who grew up in Utqiaġvik. My father is a former U.S. Marine, and my mother is the former President of Ilisagvik College and Commissioner of Education for Alaska. My wife, Monica, works as a nurse practitioner for a local health clinic. Together we have two daughters, Isabel and Mariela. I earned my bachelor’s degree in communications from the University of Puget Sound and an MBA from the University of Denver. For more than 25 years I’ve worked in senior leadership positions for Alaska-based organizations, including United Way of Anchorage, Cook Inlet Tribal Council, Catholic Social Services and APU. I served on the Anchorage School Board for 4 years. I currently serve as president and CEO of Alaska Humanities Forum, working to strengthen communities across Alaska.
Why are you running?
Since 2019 I have been honored to represent West Anchorage on the Assembly. During my time on the Assembly, I have prioritized public health and safety, education, economic development, and addressing the complex issues related to homelessness in Anchorage. We have made a lot of progress since I was elected, but there is still more work to be done. At the same time, missteps we have seen from the new administration present a real threat to those gains we have made. I am running for reelection because now, more than ever, we need experienced and thoughtful leaders on the Assembly who will stand up for West Anchorage and make the right decisions to build a better and brighter future for everyone in our city.
What makes you qualified to serve on the Anchorage Assembly?
I have spent the last 25 years leading nonprofit organizations: building teams, balancing budgets, resolving conflict and finding innovative solutions to complex challenges. My work has strengthened communities by addressing some of our most difficult challenges including homelessness, mental health, addiction, poverty and public education. The strengths I bring to this office are my open mind, desire to listen and find solutions, practical problem solving, and commitment to the people of Anchorage. Since I joined the Assembly in 2019, my colleagues and I have made tough decisions as we navigated a global pandemic and worked to do more with less without the financial support our city historically received from the state. The experience I have gained in these roles, my commitment to solving complex problems in my community, and my approach of listening intently to all perspectives in making important decisions for our city make me qualified to serve another term on the Assembly.
What is the most important problem facing Anchorage? How would you address it?
Public safety is the No. 1 concern in our city. During my time on the Assembly I have fought to fully fund the Anchorage Police Department and hire additional police officers and firefighters. I believe we are on the right track to addressing crime in Anchorage, but as important as increasing the numbers of police and firefighters are, it won’t alone solve our public safety problems. Crime is interrelated with homelessness, mental health, prison reentry, poverty, and addiction, among other issues. And we cannot address one without addressing the whole — we need a comprehensive strategy that tackles multiple social and systematic issues. That is why I have strongly advocated for the new mobile crisis team. By having mental health first responders handle moments of crisis, we can keep folks out of the criminal justice system and free up our police and firefighters to tackle the issues they are uniquely trained to address.
What is the most important problem facing your district? How would you address it?
The No. 1 issue I am hearing about when knocking on doors is theft and petty crime. In addition to my answer above, I have been advocating for improved community policing through better coordination and support of neighborhood watch programs. I would also reiterate how much of a game changer this mobile crisis team could be for our city. Though the program is only one year old, it has already shown potential to significantly decrease costs related to public safety and overtime worked by our police officers and firefighters. This is also an example of an area where I have stood up for the interests of my constituents. The mayor’s budget proposal would have eliminated this program, but I fought to maintain its funding to keep residents safe and efficiently use the resources we have to continue addressing crime and issues of safety in our city.
What is your vision of the role of local government in Anchorage?
The primary role of local government in Anchorage is providing core services for the city’s residents. That includes ensuring public safety through the employment of police officers and firefighters, maintaining core infrastructure like roads and bridges, and providing a forum where community members can voice their concerns and seek collective action to address local issues. There are other more niche roles which our local government fills which include zoning and local policy aimed at making our city a great place to live, work, and play.
Rate Dave Bronson’s performance as mayor. Explain, with specific examples.
The mayor and his administration had a rocky start, but I am heartened by recent cooperation with the Assembly on working to solve critical issues in our city such as homelessness.
Rate the performance of the current Assembly. Explain, with specific examples.
The past few years have been tough for everyone, and it was incredibly challenging to lead our city through a global pandemic with a continually shifting landscape of guidance and information. I am proud of what we’ve accomplished as a body — both on issues that predate the pandemic and in the domain of keeping Anchorage residents safe while offering rent relief and financial assistance to local businesses. I am running for reelection because we still have much to do in order to build a better and brighter future for our city, but I know that this group is more than capable of learning from our mistakes and building on our many achievements to achieve that lofty goal together.
What’s your vision for improving and diversifying Anchorage’s economy?
During my time on the Anchorage Assembly, we worked hard to provide immediate relief to businesses during and after the COVID-19 pandemic through our appropriations of CARES Act and American Rescue Plan Act funds to relief programs for small businesses, nonprofits, arts and culture organizations, and targeted relief to the tourism and hospitality sectors. Looking ahead, my vision is to move beyond the relief phase of economic recovery by working with my colleagues on the Assembly and our local economic leaders to: deploy the next rounds of federal relief dollars in workforce training and development that ensures job opportunities that are coming to our community through the federal infrastructure bill are filled by locals; further improve and streamline the bureaucratic processes that small business, entrepreneurs, and developers must go through; and supporting the efforts of my colleagues in seeing the “A New Day for Anchorage” jobs plan succeeds.
What do you see as the most effective strategies to address homelessness in Anchorage going forward?
Anchorage has a strategic roadmap to ensuring homelessness is rare, brief and one-time (“Anchored Home”), which emphasizes four pillars: 1) prevention and diversion, 2) housing and support systems, 3) public health and safety, and 4) advocacy and funding. During my time on the Assembly, I’ve supported policy and fiscal choices that will fund the acquisition of hotels for conversion to needed shelter for the medically fragile and transitional housing, I have increased municipal support for social service providers, and I helped allocate funding for the critical mobile crisis team. Now I’m working on a day center that will provide the services folks need to find jobs, secure long-term housing, and break the cycle of homelessness. As the former director of program services at Catholic Social Services, where I focused on this issue, I am excited about the real progress we’re making. So too is the private sector, where $10 million in funding has been made available due to confidence in our plan.
What’s your assessment of Anchorage’s transportation infrastructure? How would you improve it?
Alaska’s infrastructure regularly receives a C- grade from the American Society of Civil Engineers, and Anchorage is no different. Anchorage needs infrastructure that better serves the existing needs of all transportation modes, whether that’s cars, public transit, bikes or walking. I’ve supported expanding the annual capital improvement budgets with much-needed projects such as the 32nd Avenue Upgrade (providing infrastructure for multiple modes of transportation), the Campbell Woods road and drainage improvements, the 58th/59th Avenues Reconstruction, the Ticia and Ashley Circles road and drainage improvements, and the Tasha Drive reconstruction. I supported adding construction and maintenance of secondary life/safety access roads as an areawide obligation. And I will continue to support our critical public transportation system by expanding the service to new lines like the popular Route 36 that provides service to the city’s Loussac Library.
Does the city do a good job of running municipal elections? Would you push for changes? Explain.
Anchorage does a great job of running municipal elections. I served on the MOA’s Vote by Mail Stakeholder Group, tasked with developing and leading Anchorage’s Vote By Mail initiative. I was so proud to see Vote By Mail pass, and even more encouraged by the increased voter turnout we saw in the first election after its adoption. Our local elections are safe and secure and make it much easier for Anchorage residents to have a say in how they are represented in our municipal government.
The past two years have been marked by increased civic discord in Anchorage. How would you improve the quality of civic discourse in the city?
We need to have more open dialogues as a community and listen to one another about what we believe and how those beliefs overlap. I’ve worked hard to listen to my constituents and consider every viewpoint in making important decisions during my time on the Assembly. I’m also the President and CEO of the Alaska Humanities Forum, where we work to host those very dialogues and explore the reasons for our current polarity. Campaigns are a unique opportunity to get out and talk with residents before they make a decision for the future. I’ve enjoyed knocking doors over the past several months and talking with folks of all different backgrounds and beliefs about what they hope to see the city moving forward. Given the current media environment, I think folks would be surprised by how much we really have in common. At the end of the day, local government should be a mundane way of bringing community members together, and I think when we give each other a chance we can do so civilly and productively.
Do you acknowledge the results of the 2020 presidential election? Also, what are your thoughts on what took place on Jan. 6, 2021 in the U.S. Capitol?
Yes, Joe Biden won the 2020 presidential election. The insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, was a violent and deadly attack on our democracy.
What’s one thing that makes you hopeful about Anchorage’s future?
Our youth. I’ve spent a large portion of my career working in education-centered organizations that engage young people, including APU, Cook Inlet Tribal Council, and as the senior director of education at the United Way of Anchorage. We need youth from across Alaska to represent their communities and inspire change. In my current position as head of the Alaska Humanities Forum, we engage youth through multiple programs, which all share the common goal of inspiring youth to recognize themselves as leaders. One program that’s particularly notable is our Youth Advisory Council, which gives our organization feedback on programming, so we can make sure that we’re hearing directly from youth about how they would like to be engaged. In order for young people feel inspired and involved in politics, they must feel represented and heard. That’s part of why I’ve made listening such a big theme in my campaign, and I will continue to do the same on the Assembly.
What other important issue would you like to discuss?
One thing I haven’t touched on that is a priority of mine is recovering from this economic downturn. So much of what we work on as an Assembly contributes to improving the quality of life in Anchorage and positioning our city as a place where business owners and workers want to live, work and play. Improving public safety, addressing homelessness, supporting our schools, and improving our city’s infrastructure (including parks and trails) all make Anchorage a more attractive business environment. On top of all that, we have worked very hard to promote housing development and provide incentives for entrepreneurs to start and grow their businesses here in Anchorage. We are now poised to receive another round of federal COVID relief funding and viable funds has been identified to help complete much-needed revitalization at the Port. Now is the time to invest in our city to reinvigorate our economy and build a better future for all Anchorage residents.