The Anchorage Assembly has renamed the Port of Alaska after late U.S. Rep. Don Young. Members on Tuesday voted on a new name — the Don Young Port of Alaska — after a monthslong back-and-forth.
Before members ultimately approved the new name in a 10-2 vote, Tuesday night’s debate devolved into a procedural mess.
Some members wanted to postpone a decision until February or March. That drew the ire of Mayor Dave Bronson, who at one point during the meeting vetoed an amendment by some Assembly members that would have postponed a vote until March.
Bronson proposed renaming the port after Young in March 2022, soon after the longtime Alaska congressman died during a flight to Seattle while on his way home. Young was the longest-serving member of the Congress when he died at age 88.
“This has been going on for almost two years now. This process started March 18. Two years — nearly two years ago. Why we need more work session, I have no idea. Get it figured out,” Bronson said.
Young was a sometimes polarizing figure in politics. He’s known for numerous legislative wins that brought big federal dollars to local projects — including the port — and a capacity for bipartisanship that stood out in a divided Congress in the latter years of his career. He was also known for inflammatory comments and an ethics scandal.
Member Karen Bronga on Tuesday voted against the measure, saying Young has already been honored in several ways, including the naming of a federal building in Fairbanks, a Job Corps Center in Palmer and a volcano in the Aleutian Islands.
Many others have advocated for naming the port in Young’s remembrance, including several Assembly members and Alaska’s congressional delegation.
Other members said they felt frustrated and pressured into a decision by state and federal leaders.
“I’m disappointed because it feels like we’re being being bullied into a decision that’s not a very well thought out decision,” member Kameron Perez-Verdia said.
The debate about renaming the port after Young was “mischaracterized as a debate between people who respect him and people who don’t respect him, and that is just completely false,” he said.
“This is about this is about making a good decision,” he said.
The process to rename the port has been complex, with a few hiccups and sometimes prickly debates among Assembly members and the administration.
In December, the Assembly rejected the idea entirely, voting down a recommendation from a citizen naming panel to rename the Port of Alaska as the Don Young Port of Anchorage. (They had also nixed two other options suggested by Assembly members: naming it after Young but retaining “Alaska” in the name, or to rename the cargo docks after Young, rather than the whole port.)
But the following day, member Felix Rivera called for the members to reconsider the matter in January.
“I do tend to think that we got a little bit wrapped around the process axle with this item,” Rivera said during Tuesday’s meeting. The two alternatives to the panel’s recommendation were realistic and “stand scrutiny,” he said.
After Bronson called for the port’s renaming last year, he and former Assembly Chair Suzanne LaFrance chose the citizen naming panel, each appointing two members.
The citizen panel in June recommended renaming the port as the Don Young Port of Anchorage. When the Assembly members 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 returned with the same unanimous recommendation in December.
Young’s wife, Anne Garland Young, spoke at Tuesday’s meeting and voiced frustration over the long process. She urged the Assembly to change the name immediately and said watching the matter be “kicked down the road like a kick-the-can game is quite frustrating and very confusing and disappointing.”
“My husband was the epitome of an Alaskan. There never was and there never will be anyone any more committed to this state than he is,” she said.
On Tuesday, the Assembly also rejected naming the port’s cargo docks after Young. That option was proposed as a compromise by Vice Chair Meg Zaletel, who voted against the final measure Tuesday night. They also rejected part of the panel’s recommendation to include “Anchorage” in the port’s name.
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. Several Assembly members have been leery about returning the name to “Anchorage” as the citizen panel recommended, preferring to keep “Alaska” in the name.
Some members had misgivings over the entire renaming process, and in September the Assembly passed legislation changing how that process will work in the future.
The legislation sought to broaden the public process, creating a new naming commission of nine voting members, though its seats are not yet filled.