A new direction for Anchorage

Local elections are pivot points for cities. Who is in charge of deciding our laws, how we implement those laws, and where we put our resources makes a big difference in how our community grows, changes, and adapts to larger social and economic changes. A classic planning metaphor: If our city is a boat on a constantly-flowing river, then we make plans — and we elect our leaders — to steer the boat on a course we choose, and away from peril and dead ends. Who’s steering, and what direction they aim for, matters greatly in how we navigate challenging waters ahead.

This year’s mayoral race is crowded. The candidates with the most funds, name recognition and signs around town fall into two broad categories: progressive and conservative. The first group wants to broadly build on the priorities of the Assembly and mayor’s administration, which has focused on protecting our community from the many terrible impacts of COVID-19; innovations in energy and climate resilience; addressing the needs of everyone in our community, especially those who are vulnerable; and the “nuts and bolts” of how a city works, shoring up operations so the Municipality of Anchorage can serve residents better. The second group believes we need a “new direction.”

I humbly suggest that the real “new direction” for Anchorage is actually the path we are already on. We are in the midst of a big generational shift in our city, shaped by demographics and economic change. We were forced into self-reliance, as state leaders continue to offer no coherent plan for our future and cut the funding cities used to receive. We had to quickly respond to multiple crises such as the 2018 earthquake, 2019 state budget cuts, and COVID-19 pandemic. However, the Berkowitz administration inherited many neglected problems from the Sullivan administration: no coordinated homeless response; falling police recruitment at the worst possible time, just before an opioid crisis and recession; no plan to incentivize new housing and development to ensure our city continues to grow; and multiple mismanaged and over-budget projects. All these issues are complex, and not the sole responsibility of the mayor. But managing and fixing problems requires a lot of effort that rarely gets recognized when things get better, and leaves precious little time to think long term. After six years, we can be proud that we’ve made a lot of progress and can look ahead to opportunities in post-COVID world, building a better, healthier, more prosperous community for everyone.

In contrast, the “new direction” from those opposing this course is a retreat disguised as a path forward. A denial that our city is changing, and must rise to meet big challenges. An assertion that we can return to a simpler past, when a few city fathers held power and many residents simply fell through the cracks. A false promise that hard realities like the COVID-19 pandemic can be imagined away because they bring suffering and loss. And, not coincidentally, these promises come from the same ones who benefit from the politics of grievance and division, which the rest of us are exhausted by after so many months.

The river will keep flowing, carrying our boat along its course. Let’s keep aiming forward.

Anna Brawley is an Anchorage resident who loves the city.

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