Anchorage Assembly candidate Q&As: What’s your vision for improving and diversifying Anchorage’s economy?

In advance of the April 5 Anchorage municipal election, the Anchorage Daily News asked candidates running for Assembly and Anchorage School Board a series of issue questions. Read all the Assembly and school board candidates’ responses here.

Q: What’s your vision for improving and diversifying Anchorage’s economy?

District 2 - Seat A - Eagle River/Chugiak

Kevin Cross

Allow business to do business. We lost many businesses because the Assembly and former mayor chose to allow some to prosper and forced others out of business based on fear. Equal protection under the law was ignored. Our mouths were covered while their ears were closed. FEMA funds should not have been used for sheltering homeless but should have been directed to small businesses that were devastated by these mandates. Property tax credits should be offered to business who were shut down, or we should be looking to help with the burden of employment by offsetting the cost of workman’s comp. insurance, which has skyrocketed. With so many businesses needing employees, it should be more difficult to obtain unemployment compensation and less expensive for employers. Finally, we should get off the backs of our contractors and simplify and streamline the planning and permitting departments. We are nearly as difficult to build in as California.

Vanessa Stephens

Diversifying will take time and hard work. Oil and tourism are what visitors and businesses want more of. We have a beautiful state and, in all honesty, Anchorage seems like a big metropolis dropped in the middle if it. When the Port eventually gets upgraded and finished there will be more options. Expanding the airport may help too. But my feeling, for now, is to maximize and promote our highlights. Even fishing and hunting should resurge now that COVID is receding.

Gretchen Wehmhoff


It’s important to evaluate why people are not returning to work. With the omicron variant infecting thousands a day, businesses, school, hospitals and public safety entities were working short-handed. Now we have to determine if child care, concern for family members or relocation has impacted return to work. It’s not just an Anchorage issue. Tourism businesses around the state are struggling to hire seasonal workers. We need to make sure we have affordable housing, substantial child care and effective public transportation.

District 3 - Seat D - West Anchorage

Kameron Perez-Verdia

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.

Liz Vazquez

For the Assembly to encourage and support the following: economic prosperity to include good jobs, good infrastructure and good educational results for our children. In addition, the Assembly needs to be transparent, accountable, and be civil and polite with each other and the public.

Nial Sherwood Williams

There is uncertainty in the Anchorage economy. Constantly changing sets of goals and ambitions by special interests that have hijacked the needs of the people of Anchorage. This comes in the form of quid-pro-quo political payback to donors. Special interest money laundering and conspiracy must be cleaned up in the city before we can have any business growth opportunities.

District 4 - Seat F - Midtown

Kathy Henslee

Anchorage needs to be open for business. That means a reasonable and consistent tax structure, incentives for growth and innovation, streamlining the development process and improving the quality of life in Anchorage so employees will want to live here with their families.

Meg Zaletel

Right now is not a good time to increase or diversify our tax base. A lot of residents are still struggling financially from the economic impacts of COVID-19, so I don’t believe it time to put new burdens on our families and our businesses.

We do need to look at ways to make Anchorage a place where people can afford to live, work, and play. That means tackling the big issues of affordable housing and child care, supporting our local businesses, and attracting and retaining a strong workforce.

District 5 - Seat H - East Anchorage

Forrest Dunbar

Anchorage can and should be a vibrant city that attracts and retains a trained and talented workforce, with world-class outdoor recreation opportunities and walkable, bikeable neighborhoods where our cultural diversity is on full display, where child care is accessible and housing is affordable. Anchorage can be a city where students get a top-tier education, starting with pre-K. We can be a city that exports value-added products, while importing visitors who will add hundreds of millions of dollars by staying longer. As we compete with the rest of the country for workers, we need to make Anchorage the obvious choice. That means incentivizing and removing barriers to affordable housing, investing in and marketing our world-class trail and parks system, cultivating the independent visitor economy, revitalizing our downtown, fostering a sense of Indigenous place, partnering with the university, and going to bat for every opportunity that will bring jobs to Anchorage.


Christopher Hall

We have got to get rent inside the Anchorage bowl down to a level where a family can survive.

Stephanie Taylor

Reducing homelessness and mitigating crime will go a long way toward improving Anchorage’s economy. People will be drawn to shopping and visiting the downtown area when they can do so without the risk of encountering potentially dangerous situations. It will also improve tourism and traffic. As businesses reopen and recover from the lockdowns, people will begin patronizing shops and restaurants again. We need to attract new entrepreneurs to our city, but they must not be burdened with unnecessary taxes or heavy regulations.

District 6 - Seat J - South Anchorage

Darin Colbry

We need to use our resources in the growth of jobs and more vocational training schools and in tourism, which is where we get our money.

Randy Sulte


I would start with changes to Title 21 and the Building Safety Office to encourage and streamline development in Anchorage, thereby reducing development cost, and the loss of housing and business to the Valley. I would work to clean up our downtown by improving public safety and promoting the tourism industry. Current leadership had created a loss of our talented workforce that no longer wishes to call Anchorage their home. I would look to capitalize on Anchorage International Airport’s global draw in freight and passengers air travel, as well as look to the future of a potential northwest passage through the Arctic where Anchorage could play a significant role.

John Weddleton

Economic improvements and diversification will come from creative people building and growing their businesses. The MOA can help by removing barriers. Those include working to get more housing, increasing child care capacity and playing to our strength as a great place to live in Alaska. I’m a member of the Anchorage Economic Development Corporation’s board (AEDC) and share their vision of a movement called “Live. Work. Play.” This goes beyond the traditional economic development model and responds to a shift in paradigm — people are no longer forced to go where the jobs are, instead they are choosing places based on where they want to live and the jobs are following them. The pandemic increased the truth in this concept. A particularly interesting, and cheap, toehold for business is the proposed “Long Trail.” Connecting Seward to Fairbanks, it would be like the Pacific Crest and Appalachian Trails that attract millions.

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Read more Q&As with Anchorage Assembly candidates:

What is a short summary of your background?

Why are you running?

What makes you qualified to serve on the Anchorage Assembly?

What is the most important problem facing Anchorage? How would you address it?

What is the most important problem facing your district? How would you address it?

What is your vision of the role of local government in Anchorage?

Rate Dave Bronson’s performance as mayor. Explain, with specific examples.

Rate the performance of the current Assembly. Explain, with specific examples.


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?

What’s your vision for improving and diversifying Anchorage’s economy?

What do you see as the most effective strategies to address homelessness in Anchorage going forward?

What’s your assessment of Anchorage’s transportation infrastructure? How would you improve it?

Does the city do a good job of running municipal elections? Would you push for changes? Explain.

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?


What’s one thing that makes you hopeful about Anchorage’s future?

What other important issue would you like to discuss?