Snow removal becomes big issue in Anchorage mayor’s race

It’s not even December yet, but already the major mayoral candidates in Anchorage are talking about the same thing: snow.

In ads, on billboards, during public forums and in social media jabs, snowplowing has lately become the predominant issue in the city’s mayoral election, set for next April, when voters will cast ballots just as the big berms currently calcifying along roadways will be melting into great gray mud puddles.

“I have never seen this many angry neighbors everywhere,” said Bill Popp, former director of the Anchorage Economic Development Corp. and one of the four primary candidates for mayor. “This is something new.”

Most mayoral elections have an issue that rises to the fore and becomes the different candidates’ main policy focus. In 2015, it was public safety and policing. In 2021, with COVID-19 still a severe threat, it was pandemic-related lockdown measures, anger about which propelled Mayor Dave Bronson’s successful insurgent campaign.

After last week, that issue for the 2024 Anchorage mayoral race right now is snow — its management, plowing, grading, removal, and plans for mitigating its impacts on daily life.

“It’s hard to imagine the issue going away after what the community has been through,” said candidate Suzanne LaFrance, a former Assembly chair.

The LaFrance campaign seized on this month’s snow problems by putting out a stream of messages framing her as a more competent manager of government resources than Bronson, and releasing a set of policy proposals to improve winter maintenance. Her campaign posted a photo of LaFrance digging out her driveway with a snow shovel to social media.


“We’re a winter city, we know it’s going to snow ... and we need to plan for it. And I think that’s what’s so maddening,” LaFrance said in an interview. “It doesn’t have to be this hard.”

LaFrance, who grew up in Palmer, said one of the reasons snow management quickly gets political is that for Anchorage residents, it is very much a kitchen table issue, an essential part of transit infrastructure that touches just about everyone in town.

“The bottom line is, not only does it grind our economy to a halt ... it grinds our lives to a halt. Instead of getting out and enjoying the snow, I read the stories of people having damage to their vehicles. It’s stressful and expensive, and really impacts our daily lives,” LaFrance said.

Bronson’s reelection campaign manager did not respond to multiple messages seeking comment.

Even local sourdoughs quick to dismiss complaints about winter weather are wondering if something essential to life in Alaska’s largest city might have changed.

Rick Mystrom, who served as mayor from 1994 to 2000, said that during his time in office, snow removal was a non-issue, politically speaking. Voters were preoccupied with bigger campaign and policy debates over things like crime and city beautification.

“We had some big snows when I was mayor, but I don’t really don’t recall too many complaints,” he said. “If it had been a big issue … I’d remember it.”

[After snow-clogged roads stranded employees and customers, Anchorage businesses hope for better solutions]

Former state House Majority Leader Chris Tuck, another mayoral candidate, made a low-budget video ad that shows him in the cab of a truck plowing out part of the residential cul-de-sac where Bronson lives.

“Well, we gotta make sure the mayor can get into his office, so we can get the rest of the streets done,” Tuck said in the ad, grinning as the windshield wipers squeak back and forth.

The idea of clearing Bronson’s street for the ad came to him “organically,” he said.

“That wasn’t the only road I was doing,” Tuck said. “I also filmed myself getting someone unstuck. It’s campaign season.”

A second video on his YouTube page opens with a slide reading, “Don’t get stuck. Vote Chris Tuck!” and shows the candidate dashing out of lunch with a large square shovel to help extricate a Honda Civic mired in an unplowed intersection.

Popp, who grew up in Anchorage, said snow has never been this big of a campaign issue, in part because it was viewed as a core government service that elected officials handled perfunctorily in the course of normal city business, like issuing building permits, filling potholes or collecting garbage. He believes some of the residents’ frustration with the snow response this month is part of a larger sense of pessimism about the state of the city.

“They are tired of this constant inability to get anything done. They want to see our city getting back on track,” Popp said.

On his campaign’s Facebook page last week, Popp apologized for having to cancel a meet-and-greet event because his street was impassible, including a short video of several vehicles marooned on a snowy residential road.

“The only thing great coming out of this hot mess are the Alaskan Samaritans that are coming to the rescue,” Popp wrote. “I promise you, when elected your next Mayor, we will have a plan in place before the next snowfall.”


On Saturday, Bronson participated in a forum hosted by the Alaska Landmine blog.

The mayor sat beside two current Assembly members, as well as state Sen. Forrest Dunbar, whom he narrowly beat in the 2021 mayoral runoff. The three were unsparing in connecting the recent snow woes to the administration’s management of municipal budgets and personnel.

[‘Strategic failure’: Anchorage superintendent blames school closures on city and state snowplowing delays]

“There’s gonna be a new mayor next year, partly because of this. The people of Anchorage are furious about this,” Dunbar said.

Bronson defended his record.

“We were adequately staffed and we had the adequate equipment,” Bronson said.

During the forum, and in numerous other appearances, Bronson has stressed that the city received a lot of snow in a short amount of time: more than half the average winter accumulation in under a week, making for the snowiest November on record — similar to what came from the administration last year, when three December storms landed in quick succession and snarled municipal function for days. Bronson also said he diverted city equipment to help clear Anchorage’s state-owned roads after the state’s own equipment fell short of the task.

The 907 Initiative, a nonprofit government watchdog group that has vocally criticized the Bronson administration, set up six billboards around Anchorage, each bearing the slogan “Incompetence has a price tag” beside Bronson’s face. Executive director Aubrey Wieber said the signs were originally part of a broader campaign about the mayor’s record, but their installation coincided with the month’s heavy snows. Pictures of one half-buried by a berm quickly circulated on social media, which the group reshared. It also plans to release digital and radio ads focused on snow removal, Wieber said.


Two other candidates have filed for mayor, Darin Colbry and Dustin Darden, both of whom have run small, unsuccessful campaigns for office in the past.

Ballots in the mayoral election will be mailed to voters in March, and are due back by April 2. If no candidate receives more than 45% support in the first round, then the top two vote-getters will face off in a May runoff.

Zachariah Hughes

Zachariah Hughes covers Anchorage government, the military, dog mushing, subsistence issues and general assignments for the Anchorage Daily News. He also helps produce the ADN's weekly politics podcast. Prior to joining the ADN, he worked in Alaska’s public radio network, and got his start in journalism at KNOM in Nome.