Assembly members call for resignation of Anchorage commission member for ‘appalling and racist’ comment

Jim Crawford speaks at a Housing, Homelessness and Neighborhood Development Commission on March 1, 2023. (Screenshot)

Anchorage Assembly members are calling for the resignation of a city commissioner after he made a comment about Native communities, mental health and homelessness during a meeting earlier this week.

Jim Crawford was appointed to the Housing, Homelessness and Neighborhood Development Commission by Mayor Dave Bronson last year. During a Wednesday meeting, Crawford said:

“We’ve had Mental Health before us a couple of times and they acknowledged in Alaska, that 40% of the homeless problem was mentally disabled people. Well, that says funding source to me. In the event that homelessness is caused by mental deficiency in our Native communities, then that should establish the priorities of where to get the money.”

At the start of a Thursday meeting of the Assembly’s Committee on Housing and Homelessness, its chair, member Felix Rivera, said he thought it was a “very appalling and racist statement.”

“This statement has no place in our discourse around homelessness. For my part, I am sick and tired of how the Alaska Native community is treated as a punching bag on this topic,” Rivera said. “I demand that the administration look into this issue, and that the commissioner that made this statement is asked to resign from their seat on the commission.”

Crawford is a former Alaska Republican Party chairman, and served as campaign chair for former President Donald Trump in Alaska, as well as a delegate to the 2016 Republican National Convention.

Reached by phone and asked what he meant by “in the event that homelessness is caused by mental deficiency in our Native communities,” Crawford said he didn’t remember making the comment. He declined to listen to a recording of him making the comment, when offered, saying he’d already clarified what he meant.


“It was not my intent to cast aspersions in any way upon the Native community. I work with the Native community all the time,” Crawford said.

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Crawford said he had been speaking about a presentation from the Alaska Mental Health Trust saying a high percentage of people experiencing homelessness also suffer from mental health issues. He said he was speaking about the Mental Health Trust as a potential funding source for homelessness and housing-related projects.

“... I didn’t have any reason to, nor do I have any reason to pick out the Native community for mental health problems. They’ve got mental health problems just like everybody else has got mental health problems,” Crawford said.

The mayor’s office didn’t answer a question about whether Bronson would ask Crawford to resign from the commission.

In an emailed response to questions from the Daily News, the mayor’s office said, “Mayor Bronson disagrees with Mr. Crawford’s statement. Mental illness crosses all boundaries of race, ethnicities and economic status.”

Assembly Vice Chair Chris Constant also condemned Crawford’s comment.

“Racism has no place in government, especially racism towards Indigenous communities,” he said in an emailed statement.

Assembly Chair Suzanne LaFrance on Thursday said she hadn’t yet watched the recording.

But LaFrance said Crawford’s comment “definitely sounds to me like the same kinds of racist statements and views that we often hear expressed in our community when we talk about homelessness.”

A man’s racist statement about Alaska Natives and homelessness during public testimony at an Assembly meeting last year drew widespread condemnation and calls for changes at meetings.

In Alaska, the largest share of people who have interacted with homelessness services over the last year identify as white — about 47%, statewide data from the Anchorage Coalition to End Homelessness shows. About 43% identify as American Indian, Indigenous or Alaska Native. Indigenous people are overrepresented in the state’s homeless population when compared to the state’s overall demographics, a result of numerous factors, including the history of violence, racism and oppression toward Alaska Natives in the state.

The Housing, Homelessness and Neighborhood Development commission advises the mayor and Assembly on matters such as long- and short-term housing, homeless and community development needs, and revitalizing lower-income and at-risk neighborhoods.

Rivera said in an interview that the commission needs people who understand the issues, and Crawford should step down and apologize.

“I watched that thing multiple times. And what I saw was a man that jumped right from point A to point B without any split second or thought. To him, it was Alaska Natives. It was homelessness. It was mental health,” Rivera said.

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Emily Goodykoontz

Emily Goodykoontz is a reporter covering Anchorage local government and general assignments. She previously covered breaking news at The Oregonian in Portland before joining ADN in 2020. Contact her at