Anchorage Assembly rejects renaming Port of Alaska after late U.S. Rep. Don Young

The Anchorage Assembly on Tuesday rejected a recommendation from a citizen naming panel to rename the Port of Alaska as the Don Young Port of Anchorage, after the late U.S. representative.

Young was a sometimes-polarizing political figure, and divisions over his legacy came to the fore of the Assembly’s debate. After a lengthy back-and-forth, members indefinitely postponed the measure in an 8-4 vote Tuesday. They also rejected a proposed version that would have renamed the port’s cargo docks after Young, and another that would have renamed the port as the Don Young Port of Alaska instead.

But then on Wednesday, member Felix Rivera called for the Assembly to reconsider renaming the port, with support from Chair Christopher Constant. Members will again take up the decision at the next meeting on Jan. 9, Rivera said.

Aside from the name recommended by the citizen panel, Assembly members had two viable alternatives to choose Tuesday, Rivera said, referring to the cargo dock proposal and the expanded Port of Alaska moniker.

“I think both of those options were well thought out and deserving of consideration,” Rivera said Wednesday. “And I feel like we just got a little bit wrapped around the axle, and I myself would like to see this issue resolved sooner rather than later.”

The cargo dock version was proposed as a compromise by Vice Chair Meg Zaletel, who said that ports in the U.S. are traditionally named after their body of water or their point of terminus, such as a city or county.

But Zaletel later moved to postpone it indefinitely. The city has a new public naming commission, and Tuesday’s vote now allows the administration or the Assembly to send the matter to that body, she said.


If it does go to the commission, it’s unclear how long that process could take. Assembly legislation in September created the public naming commission of nine voting members, but its seats are not yet filled. That would likely take quite some time, Rivera said.

“If we can’t support one of those two options, then I want us to be realistic and be blunt about, ‘Are we going to name anything after Don Young or not?’ Because I know that there’s a part of our community that is waiting for that,” he said.

Mayor Dave Bronson initially proposed renaming the port in remembrance of Young after the longtime Alaska congressman died last year during a flight to Seattle, on his way home.

Bronson and former Assembly Chair Suzanne LaFrance then each appointed two members to a naming panel. In June, the panel recommended renaming the port as the Don Young Port of Anchorage. When the Assembly took up the matter in September, they postponed their vote and directed the panel to again hold a public hearing and vote on their recommendation, because it had failed to give proper public notice to gather input.

The panel reconvened and returned with the same name recommendation.

“Congressman Young tirelessly served Alaska for 49 years. He was the only licensed mariner in the U.S. Congress,” said Jim Jansen, a member of the panel. “With the Anchorage International Airport named after Sen. Ted Stevens, it is appropriate Alaska’s largest port is named after Congressman Don Young.”

Bronson was not present during Tuesday’s meeting, but his chief of staff, Mario Bird, advocated for the panel’s recommendation.

All of Alaska’s congressional delegation — Republican Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan and Democratic Rep. Mary Peltola — signed a letter that called on the Assembly to rename the port after Young, Bird said.

“We should not simply disregard the support and the time that they have lended to this, especially because they are now fulfilling many of the same roles that Don Young fulfilled for many years,” Bird said. “Love him or hate him, Don Young achieved an order of magnitude as a statesman in Alaska that should be recognized.”

Young, who died at age 88, was the longest-serving member of the Congress at the time. When Bronson called for the name change in March, he said that Young, the former chair of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, “was instrumental in bringing federal dollars to the Port of Alaska.”

Assembly members on Tuesday night acknowledged Young’s work for the port and his impact on Alaska, while simultaneously opposing or questioning the renaming, and criticizing the late congressman.

“Don Young had his day for Alaska, but he aged into someone who was insensitive, a bully and disrespected women. Rewarding a public figure for this bad behavior because he brought the state money is not in the best interest of our city,” member Karen Bronga said, adding that she liked the idea to rename the cargo docks instead.

Assembly member Kevin Cross urged other members to honor the recommendation of the naming panel and approve the measure.

“Why are we putting these commissions together? And why are we doing panels who go through months of work, a stack of documents and massive conversations with attorneys to come up with a name they all unanimously approved? So at the last minute, we go, ‘I got a better idea.’ That just seemed like a huge, colossal waste of all these people’s time,” Cross said.

However, Cross later indicated he is amenable to sending the matter to the new commission.

[Anchorage Assembly member Kevin Cross announces resignation]

Some Assembly members on Tuesday said they were frustrated, and felt pressured and left with little choice in the matter, referencing the Alaska delegation’s letter and the specificity of Bronson’s proposal to rename the port. Still, they voted it down.


“It doesn’t look like at any point other names were even really considered,” member Zac Johnson said. “As far as I can tell, this decision was made long before any of us were on the body. And now we’ve just been expected to endorse it.”

Member Kameron Perez-Verdia said that normally, naming panels are responsible for renaming less significant infrastructure, like parks or buildings, while the port is critical statewide.

“The decision to name that should not be with the hands of four citizens,” he said, adding that they’d done their job well but that there should be a “robust public process to determine whether this is what Alaskans want.”

Member George Martinez expressed that he felt conflicted over the decision and the duality of Young’s actions.

The panel’s unanimous recommendation included a vote from Aaron Leggett, president of Native Village of Eklutna, Martinez said, and the late congressman had a history of personal advocacy for Alaskans. But Young had also used racial slurs in the past, Martinez said.

“If you find folks out in the community who met and know Don Young, he’s helped them. And he helped those folks. So there’s that relationship. And then there’s also when Don Young in 2013 called Latinos ‘wetbacks.’ And it’s a parallel with what member Bronga described,” Martinez said. “There has been a history of championing against people who look like me, who have who come from backgrounds where I come from. So I was struggling with the totality of it in the first place.”

Members also argued over whether the city should return the port, in part, to its original namesake as the Port of Anchorage.

In 2017, the Assembly changed the port’s name from the Port of Anchorage to the Port of Alaska, in part to send a message to state leaders that the port is a statewide asset.

[Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect that the Anchorage Assembly will reconsider renaming the port at its next meeting in January.]

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