In latest Anchorage mayoral candidate forum, Bronson opponents lean into their differences

Three major mayoral candidates opposing Mayor Dave Bronson in Anchorage’s April election sought to highlight the differences among their visions and policies during a Wednesday forum held by the Chugach Electric Association.

Suzanne LaFrance, former Assembly chair and two-term member; Bill Popp, former Anchorage Economic Development Corp. president; and former Alaska House Majority Leader and longtime state lawmaker Chris Tuck answered questions on a range of topics, from homelessness to the natural gas shortage and the electric utility’s draft plan to mitigate fish and wildlife impacts of the Eklutna dam and hydroelectric project. The debate was not open to the public and was held by the utility for its employees.

Bronson, who did not attend, canceled on Tuesday just ahead of the debate, according to a spokeswoman for the electric utility. At the time of the forum, Bronson instead hosted the Black History Month Entrepreneur Roundtable lunch, according to the mayor’s office.

During a similar forum last week, Bronson and his opponents sparred over his record as mayor, clashing over key city issues and controversies that took place during his administration. Bronson’s absence at Chugach’s forum Wednesday left the three opponents with a chance to distinguish the nuances between their campaign platforms, priorities and visions for the city, but the forum also showed areas where the candidates are aligned.

The candidates differed in their stances on an ongoing, legally required, historic effort to mitigate the impacts of the Eklutna dam. Chugach Electric, Matanuska Electric Association and the Anchorage Hydropower Utility have released a draft program that, if implemented, would replenish water flow to 11 of 12 miles of the Eklutna River. The Native Village of Eklutna, the Anchorage Assembly and several conservation organizations want to see the river fully restored and have opposed the utilities’ plan.

[Utilities reject Anchorage Assembly’s call for a 2-year pause on Eklutna dam mitigation]

During the forum, LaFrance and Popp both said they want to see the river fully restored, while Tuck instead supported the utilities’ plan.


“One of the cheapest methods of providing power is hydro, renewable, it’s reliable. It’s something you can count on,” Tuck said. The utilities came together with engineers to “come up with the best methods possible, for the time being, so they make sure that we can restore what we can while maintaining reliable energy and fresh drinking water,” he said.

Given the looming natural gas shortage facing Anchorage and other Railbelt communities in Southcentral, LaFrance agreed that “full restoration is not feasible at this juncture.”

“However, there’s no reason why we shouldn’t be looking toward that vision for the future and working toward full restoration of the river,” she said.

Popp emphasized the changed landscape of the community and local governments since 1991, when the agreement to replenish the river was signed. At that time, the Native Village of Eklutna, which has since established government-to-government relationships with the city and state, was left out, he said.

“They truly feel that they are on the outside looking in, in this process,” Popp said. The utilities should pause the process, he said. “I think there are alternatives that we should be discussing about how to take into account our government-to-government relationship with the Eklutna tribe, as well as what we can do to look at a more phased approach, for getting the ultimate solutions that we all want.”

Bronson is supporting the utilities’ plan to partially restore the river.

When asked about policies and initiatives they would promote to address problems related to homelessness, LaFrance, Popp and Tuck acknowledged that the issue is complex, but the candidates took slightly different tacks on solutions.

Tuck would focus on increasing availability of drug and alcohol treatment, he said.

“There’s many reasons why people end up homeless,” he said. But drug and alcohol issues are draining resources, he said.

LaFrance criticized the city’s current approach to homelessness and said that “we have got to get out of crisis mode.”

“We’re a winter city. It gets cold. We know we need to have shelter. We can’t have folks sleeping out on the trails, on the sidewalks. We need to ensure that folks have a place to go. It’s a public safety issue,” she said. The municipality can be a convening force to bring outside organizations, nonprofits and the faith community together to work on homelessness and housing initiatives, she said.

Similar to LaFrance, Popp said the mayor should convene social service providers and other organizations, and state and federal agencies to “bring together a unified plan for addressing this problem.”

“Those that are on the street come with a complexity of problems, mental health issues, substance abuse issues, behavioral health, you know, and an incredibly large and growing number of seniors, many of them with wheelchairs or walkers,” he said. Many others who are homeless are less visible, couch surfing and living in vehicles, he said.

“Government is a really great hammer and nail strategy,” Popp said, but “government is the worst possible solution for delivering services to the homeless.”

All three candidates agreed that the city needs to take steps to stop the outmigration of residents and businesses, but homed in on varying strategies the city could take.

Anchorage is facing a “substantial headwind” as it competes for nationally for workforce, and frequently loses skilled workers recruited to other cities, Popp said. He suggested looking to other cities that have used successful economic development strategies, pointing out that it has been decades since the city launched its last major citywide community investment and infrastructure projects, when it built Sullivan Arena, Loussac Library and other major structures, and improved schools, parks and trails.

Anchorage needs “a reinvestment strategy in our community to make sure that we’ve got the best schools, the best downtown we could possibly have, great community amenities, walkable neighborhoods,” Popp said.


Tuck stressed the importance of education and job opportunities, saying, “The key to a strong economy is education.”

“We have seen that people are leaving Anchorage because we simply do not offer enough education or job opportunities. We want to make Anchorage a place where ideas and innovation flourish, education is the highest quality, and as a result, the economy thrives,” Tuck said.

Also, ensuring the municipality has affordable, reliable power is critical to attracting and retaining businesses, he said, and suggested improving the Don Young Port of Alaska into an industrial park to enable manufacturing and a “goods economy.”

LaFrance emphasized a need for the city to increase housing availability by incentivizing building, reducing red tape and convening other organizations to bring on more “public-private partnerships” as part of the solution.

“Growing up here, this was a place of opportunity. And I want that same opportunity and potential for this next generation,” LaFrance said. “My 17-year-old daughter likes to tell me, ‘Mom, we need a new vibe. It’s not affordable, there aren’t the opportunities for breaking into the housing market that you had.’”

The city should look for ways to reinvest in the community, such as the recently voter-approved proposition that redirected cannabis sales tax to early childhood education and child care, she said.

“But really, you know, it comes down to having a livable community,” LaFrance said. “And it starts with the basics — competent leadership, and ensuring that the snow is cleared in the streets, and that those basic services are provided. That’s how we can go on to do the really big things in our community that we need to do.”

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