In 2007, while serving as a Peace Corps volunteer in Kazakhstan, I sent an email to an aspiring Alaskan candidate for statewide office. Last week, I went back through my inbox to find that eight-year old message, sent from an anonymous, 23-year-old version of myself to Ethan Berkowitz.
Ethan was then in the midst of his run for Congress. Today he is running for mayor of Anchorage, and I am supporting him now for the same reasons I supported him then: because he's smart, he's hardworking, and above all because he listens.
I like and respect some of the other mayoral candidates, but Ethan has the energy and experience to lead our community during what will be a challenging period. We've all heard about the falling oil prices and tightening state budgets, and we know that those budgetary challenges are going to trickle down to the municipalities. It will take innovation and leadership to get us through.
Looking back on that old email exchange with Ethan, it's amazing how open and responsive he was to me. I had donated a whopping $25 to his campaign, and yet he engaged with me as if I had a real role in his effort.
Apparently I was a bit cynical at 23, because the first time he wrote me I responded: "Thanks for the message Ethan (or one of Ethan's interns)." I then described a policy reform I had dreamed up in college, and finally suggested that his campaign check out this newfangled thing called "facebook."
Ethan, obviously a little hurt that I thought he'd delegate his supporter outreach to an intern, started his next message with, "Thanks, it's Ethan personally again." He mentioned that his campaign was working on their Facebook page (which he calls "the facebook"), and then substantively engaged with my policy idea, mentioning a specific challenge Alaska then faced, and still faces, regarding LNG shipping.
Now it is eight years later, and LNG might finally be going forward. Though the recent drop in oil price is worrisome, there are also reasons to be hopeful about our state and our city. A fall in the price of consumer energy is a huge economic stimulus to the rest of the country, and means that the middle class in the Lower 48 is going to feel more economically secure. We have a chance to develop and diversify Anchorage's economy, to expand our tourism, services and high-tech sectors, while preserving the traditional industries that have made us strong.
That won't happen if we aren't forward-looking in our policies, if we don't invest in our education system, and most of all if we do not make a commitment to keep our streets and our community safe.
I live in East Anchorage, which has been the epicenter of a recent cluster of violent crime. As much as I am hopeful about the future, those dreams can be derailed if the city does not overcome our public safety problems. No young person is going to want to start their family or raise their children in a city that doesn't feel safe. Ethan understands that reality, and will tackle it head-on.
As a former prosecutor and member of statewide crime prevention efforts, Ethan brings unique experience to the slate of mayoral candidates this year. He knows we have to link prevention, policing and prosecution to tackle Anchorage's crime rates. As a small business owner, he knows we have to address problems at bar break downtown and bring back community policing to keep our neighborhoods safe. He also recognizes that if you want more policing, you need more police officers. Anchorage's police force has fallen dangerously behind in staffing, a trend he will seek to reverse.
Since his days in the Alaska Legislature, Ethan has invested in Anchorage, whether it's to champion new sources of energy, expand telecommunications or partner in some great restaurants around town. He's also been a strong advocate for Anchorage's public schools, because he understands that education is the foundation of a strong economy for the future.
Ethan listened to me when I was a young teacher using a dial-up modem to throw ideas at him all the way from Kazakhstan. If you have an idea on how to make Anchorage a safer, stronger, better place, I urge you to reach out to his campaign. He listened to me then, he'll listen to you now, and he'll keep listening once he's the mayor of Anchorage.
Forrest Dunbar was Alaska's Democratic candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives in 2014.