Berkowitz names 3 to chair Anchorage mayoral transition team

Anchorage Mayor-elect Ethan Berkowitz said Tuesday he had reached out to organized labor, Anchorage's leading Alaska Native corporation and his former political opponent to find people to lead the transition to his new administration.

At a news conference Tuesday, Berkowitz said Andrew Halcro, Joelle Hall and Ethan Schutt would be the co-chairs of his transition team. Such teams usually help chart initial policies and recommend political appointments for an incoming administration. Berkowitz takes office July 1.

Halcro was president of the Anchorage Chamber of Commerce when he decided to run for mayor himself. He lost by a few percentage points to Amy Demboski in the first round of the mayoral election April 7. Two days before the May 5 runoff, Halcro endorsed Berkowitz.

Hall, the director of operations for the Alaska AFL-CIO, helped organize an internal union effort to support Berkowitz during the election. She lives in Peters Creek, part of the northern area of the municipality that was a stronghold of Demboski, Berkowitz's opponent in the May 5 runoff election. Demboski is from Eagle River.

Schutt is a senior vice president of Cook Inlet Region Inc., the regional Native corporation for the area that includes Anchorage.

All three have longstanding relationships with Berkowitz, a former Democratic state representative. Speaking at a podium in his nearly-empty campaign headquarters, his right arm in a sling after shoulder surgery a week ago, Berkowitz noted that he and Halcro had shared many ideas on the campaign trail. Berkowitz called Hall "wicked smart."

Berkowitz also announced the creation of five subcommittees, with topics drawn from major "areas of concern" during the mayoral campaign -- economy and jobs, homelessness, public safety, administration and a topic he's calling "Live, Work, Play," echoing the city initiative spearheaded by the Anchorage Economic Development Corp.


Ten Anchorage residents were named Tuesday as chairs of the subcommittees, including two associated with the Anchorage Economic Development Corp: Bill Popp, its CEO and president, and Mike Prozeralik, its board chair.

Berkowitz said he was aiming for a "cross-section" of Anchorage residents in putting together the transition group.

"I've assembled this tremendous group of Anchorage residents with the idea that if we put together the right ideas at the right time, we can have a profound impact on what happens to our city moving ahead," Berkowitz said.

Members of the subcommittees will be announced later this week, Berkowitz said. He said he envisions a "series of public meetings" for the sub-committees. He also said town halls will be scheduled in four Anchorage neighborhoods.

Committee work and public comment will be incorporated into a transition report that will provide a blueprint for the new administration, Berkowitz said.

Halcro, who attended Tuesday's event, served at the same time as Berkowitz in the state House of Representatives -- Berkowitz was a Democrat, Halcro a Republican. Halcro said he was "honored" when Berkowitz asked him to help with the transition. He said the biggest question he received on the campaign trail was, "What's the difference between you two?"

He also said that mayoral candidates, regardless of their ideology, were generally aligned on areas of public concern.

"We've identified those now. The question is, through the transition process, what are the steps to solutions?" Halcro said. He added that his goal will be to help translate the transition report into an economic plan.

Hall, who was also present, met Berkowitz during his first run for the Legislature in 1996, when she was executive director of the Alaska Democratic Party. She spent a decade running a consulting firm and in 2009 joined the Alaska AFL-CIO, the state's umbrella labor organization.

Individual labor unions strongly supported Berkowitz, both politically and financially, during the mayoral race, spending close to $200,000 on his behalf. Hall personally contributed $75 to a small independent expenditure group called "United Against Amy," which spent several hundred dollars on stickers and a website to oppose Demboski, campaign finance records show.

Hall said Tuesday the labor community is one of many that were active in the campaign. She also said that both business and labor are represented on the transition team.

"Why am I here? Because I think people that work for this city are part of the solution, not part of the problem," Hall said. "And Ethan shares that view."

Conservatives have questioned the connection between labor -- in particular union members who work for the government -- and Berkowitz, wondering whether he will give in to demands too easily. After the news conference, Berkowitz declined to directly respond to the criticism, saying he was "not going to pander to that stereotype."

"I'm asking people to rise above those perceptions and see individuals in the totality of who they are," Berkowitz said in reference to Hall, noting that she is an Army veteran who lives in Peters Creek.

As Berkowitz prepares to convene the transition team for its first meetings, some of the attention may turn away from Anchorage to the state's dire fiscal situation. Popp, who has directed AEDC for the last eight years and has been involved in other transitions, said he expects that uncertainty around oil prices, the state budget and the tourism industry will create challenges for the transition team.

"We're going to have to be thinking about what is realistic in our approach for our recommendations to the mayor on policy decisions," Popp said.

Here are the five subcommittees in the Berkowitz transition team and the chairs of each committee:


Economy and jobs

• Bill Popp, president and CEO of the Anchorage Economic Development Corp.

• Robbie Graham, former deputy commissioner of the state Department of Commerce and former executive vice president of advertising at Alaska Dispatch News


• Hilary Morgan, executive director, YWCA

• Celeste Hodge Growden, executive director, Shiloh Community Development Inc.

Public safety

• Carmen Gutierrez, former deputy commissioner of the Department of Corrections

• Craig Goodrich, former Anchorage Fire Department chief


• Shauna Hegna, chief administrations officer, Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium

• Denis LeBlanc, director of maintenance and operations at CH2M Hill, former municipal manager for Mayor Mark Begich and former director of Office of Management and Budget for Mayor George Wuerch


Live, Work, Play

• Michael King, Anchorage real estate agent

• Mike Prozeralik, president, KPB Architects and chair of the board of directors for the Anchorage Economic Development Corp.

Correction: This article originally incorrectly identified Shauna Hegna as Shawna Hegna.

Devin Kelly

Devin Kelly was an ADN staff reporter.