As one of Mayor Dave Bronson’s constituents, I wanted to take an opportunity to outline a few concerns that are most important to me and, perhaps, to the city.
Mayor Bronson stated in the Anchorage Daily News before the general election that “the business of Anchorage is business.” I’m not sure how literally he meant this, but I want to point out that if he meant what President Calvin Coolidge meant, then he must think that the businesses of Anchorage are its only business, and that the business of Anchorage is making money.
I hope he recognizes that Anchorage is a very complex organism that includes a multitude of interests, many or most of which are not done for profit. I offer one example — of many — that I am familiar with, the Nordic Skiing Association of Anchorage. For more than half a century, the ski association has managed to develop one of the best trail systems in North America. This magnificent accomplishment was the result of using municipal assets, state and federal funding, foundation and grant money, the support of local businesses, the support of larger international businesses and, above all, the work of many thousands of volunteers. The entire enterprise was fueled by volunteerism, and still is.
Our volunteerism provides the opportunity for tens of thousands of our citizens to engage in healthy activity all the year round; it provides the opportunity for at least 1,000 public school students each year to compete in a healthy environment; and we have even come to the point where our city and state are powers to be reckoned with in international cross-country ski competition. All of our events are staged by volunteers.
Because of the many events the ski association has sponsored, participants have come to Anchorage from around the state, from North America and from around the world, resulting in many millions of dollars entering our economy. Those people came here to ski, and hotels and restaurants were the beneficiaries. The ski association is not a business, though it has a small paid staff. But it has fueled many businesses, besides hotels and restaurants, such as ski shops and sporting goods stores. The ski trails now are overlapped by complementary trails, such as our paved bike trails, multi-use trails and soft-surface bike trails. No ski trails, no ski shops; no bike trails, no bike shops or bike rental businesses. In short, many businesses are the result of activity created by this non-profit driven by volunteerism.
This commentary isn’t just about skiing; let’s remember that community involvement is widespread. The contributions of the ski club are certainly replicated by many similar organizations throughout the city. And let’s remember the key role played by the Department of Parks and Recreation in maintaining the physical and mental health of our citizens, as well as making Anchorage a destination for tourists.
The University of Alaska Anchorage is a driver of the economy, and is not a business. Providence Health Services, Anchorage’s biggest employer, is a nonprofit organization. Teachers, nurses, EMTs, fire protection, police, Parks and Rec, are not businesses but provide essential services. All cities are the centers of commercial activity, but they are much more than that, and I encourage the mayor to see the city as a complex organism and not just the location of businesses. The “business” of Anchorage is many things, and it is a severe distortion to try to claim that it is one thing.
My second concern has to do with the harassment of election workers. I voted in my first election here in the fall of 1970. When I vote, I see familiar faces at work, and I see my neighbors, election after election. These are my fellow citizens, and I know they are honest and conscientious. The harassment of these people in May was shameful and disgusting and was one of the worst events to ever have occurred in Anchorage. I strongly suggest that he make it clear that in every future election — municipal, state or federal — he guarantee the protection of election workers, with uniformed officers if necessary. I also encourage him to present to the Assembly a proposed ordinance making it a criminal offense to harass election workers.
He recently declared Anchorage to be some kind of sanctuary for gun owners. This was empty symbolism that will have no effect on human behavior in the real world, and by itself is hardly worthy of comment, but when he views the vandalism of election signs by his supporters, and then the harassment of election workers by his supporters, I begin to fear that he is pushing Anchorage in a very unhealthy direction, toward right-wing extremism and lawlessness. I expect that he would insist he had nothing to do with the behavior of these people, but even so, there is some reason why they like him and would do these things in support of him. I encourage him to adhere to the idea that the best mayor is a realistic pragmatist, not an ideologue.
Anchorage is an exceptionally fine small city, in some ways unique in the world, and the direction it has followed has been upward toward what is better, driven by a complex of interests, not always by profit. Mayor Bronson has promised a “new direction,” but I hope he realizes that many very fine people have worked hard for decades to move Anchorage in a good direction, making it what it is, and that he stands on their broad shoulders. He has been granted temporary custodianship of our town, and I encourage him to be very careful that his “new direction” won’t make things worse. Leaving it better than he found it will be a very large challenge. In this, I wish him well.
Clarence Crawford is a longtime Anchorage resident who plans to live out his years here along with his wife. Their children and grandchildren were born Alaskan and live in Anchorage.
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