For those working tirelessly and with orgiastic fervor to run out of town on a rail the city’s current mayor and remold Anchorage as San Francisco North, last month’s record snow dump was manna from heaven. The first real, wintery blast beginning in mid-November left our fair burg buried beneath nearly 40 inches of wet snow, making the month the snowiest since 1953, when records of such things first were jotted down. It also provided a treasure trove of ammunition in the ongoing political war to send first-term Mayor Dave Bronson to the old mayor’s home.
For reasons ranging from the snow’s weight to a byzantine, frustrating city-state road plowing arrangement, the record snowfall — a snow emergency, Bronson called it — caused the city’s snow removal effort to tank. The state? It did no better with its roads in Anchorage and the city ended up saddled with its job, too. Many neighborhoods had to fend for themselves.
Given the invective and volume, newcomers could be forgiven for believing axle-bending, rutted roads, ice and a general, snowy mess have never happened before in Anchorage.
Who is to blame? In some quarters, the answer is clear: Bronson. Let us be clear, his administration has shown a level of ineptitude in some areas — department staffing, budgeting, homelessness, procurement — that is nothing short of breathtaking, but much of the criticism today, even some of the griping about snow, is a screen for something quite different.
There were — and still are — flurries of blustery letters to the newspaper, bellyaching blogs, folks kvetching about snow and the end of the world, not to mention blasts from the 907 Initiative, a newly formed Bronson-targeting political nonprofit run by Aubrey Wieber, a former aide to Assembly Chairman Chris Constant. Prior to that, Wieber also was a reporter at the Anchorage Daily News. You might be among the gentle souls wondering how the city managed to survive winters past, given the outcry of the past few weeks, but, by golly, it has snowed here before. A lot.
Many remember a mayor years ago inviting folks to grab a shovel and dig themselves out. On other occasions, with other mayors at the helm, city streets were so rutted they nearly were impassable. Then, there was former Mayor Ethan Berkowitz, who, facing a shortage of money for cops, cut back on snow plowing and a winter storm walloped the city. Lousy roads in Anchorage in winter are no surprise, no matter the mayor, and grousing about them is de rigueur.
For cynics, some of the fulminating over last month’s snow removal failure, as serious as it was, smacks of rank politics and, frankly, what we are seeing in Anchorage is as much about a continuation of the 2021 mayoral election as it is about snow removal. In a 15-candidate field, Bronson in 2021 unexpectedly beat the unions’ golden boy, former Assemblyman Forrest Dunbar, by a narrow margin in a runoff - 45,937 to 44,744.
Dunbar’s unexpected defeat left Democrats clutching their pearls and they did what they do when they lose: They refused to give up and moved to disrupt Bronson’s administration at every turn until the next election, when voters can redeem themselves by doing the “right” thing. The Bronson administration, to its detriment, seems determined to give Democrats and the city’s left-leaning Assembly ample ammunition.
Gov. Mike Dunleavy got a taste of the Left’s dogged perseverance following election losses. It launched a recall campaign almost immediately after he first was elected to the governorship. State law inexplicably allowed the charade to continue until it fizzled. Those bankrolling the effort — and the expenditure — never were made public.
It is all part of an effort to slowly turn the state from conservative to something more liberal by starting locally. School boards. Assemblies. Mayoral posts. A city such as Anchorage, with about 39% of Alaska’s population, is alluring to our betters. With something like only 32% of registered voters (26% of the city’s population) turning out for the last mayoral race, and 38% of registered voters (or 32% of the city’s population) turning out for the runoff, the political apathy is palpable.
Money for directed mail, attack ads and name recognition campaigns goes a long way toward overcoming apathy. It would be swell, of course, if voters knew who that money was coming from so they could make informed decisions. While the 907 Initiative says it supports increasing “public transparency” for state and local government, the identity of those underwriting its efforts vis-à-vis Bronson are unknown to voters. Shades of Dunleavy!
Until the organization reveals its backers and financing — although at this point it is not required to under election rules — it seems the 907 Initiative may amount to little more than a snow job.
Paul Jenkins is a former Associated Press reporter, managing editor of the Anchorage Times, an editor of the Voice of the Times and former editor of the Anchorage Daily Planet.
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