OPINION: It’s hard to get excited about Anchorage’s choice for mayor

Anchorage has a different feel nowadays. From shards and chunks of trashed cars in busy business parking lots to its meaner, dirtier, more dangerous streets, this city feels as if it is sliding inexorably downhill. Some blame Mayor Dave Bronson for the malaise and, in truth, he has done some boneheaded things over the past few years, even spurring this newspaper’s editorial board to declare his administration unworthy of public trust.

No doubt, the Bronson bunch has been less than transparent in its dealings on occasion. Its amateur-hour personnel picks, contracting decisions and actions left many scratching their heads. You might think, over time, the mayor would run out of ammunition to shoot himself in the feet, but you’d be wrong.

Others point to the mostly left-leaning, 12-member Anchorage Assembly, which seemingly refuses to acknowledge Bronson won the mayor’s race three years ago when he eked out a runoff-election victory over Forrest Dunbar. Since then, that body has spent three years scrapping with Bronson over almost anything and everything in a contentious bid to bog down the works and derail his administration.

So much for the notion of a loyal opposition.

It is almost as if the last election never ended. Over the past months, with his three-year term ending, Bronson has become a target of a “progressive” dark money group, the 907 Initiative, founded and run by executive director Aubrey Wieber, a former Daily News reporter. The group questioned everything but Bronson’s sock size in the months running up to the April 2 election and pegged him as incompetent. Bronson trailed former Assembly Chairwoman Suzanne LaFrance, the poster girl of Democrats and unions, by a few hundred votes out of the April 2 general election, and now the two are slated to face off in a May 14 runoff for the city’s top job.

Swell. If Bronson wins, will we be subjected to three more years of mayoral boobism, costly lawsuits and bitter Assembly recalcitrance on a grand scale? Will we embrace Seattle or Portland’s idea of civic bliss? What about LaFrance? Would her election bring us a liberal, one-party government nightmare, a rubber-stamp, we-know-best, run-amok Assembly when it comes to taxes and services and moving the homeless into our backyards?

The problem is they all — the mayor and Assembly members — are to blame for Anchorage’s plight today. All of them. We elected this bunch. They have screwed up. It is easier for them, they learned, to fight than to lead or govern. I’m not even sure they understand the breadth of the city’s problems. Take homelessness, for instance, something that has cost this city scores of millions of dollars — nobody seems quite sure of the total — to help maybe 3,000 people. You would think that kind of money would buy you progress.


Nope. City officials cleared Davis Park of homeless residents the other day after complaints from the Mountain View community, and what happened? Channel 2 News reported the city “offered shelter to all 20 people who were staying at the park. Everyone declined…”

Eons ago, on the night metro desk at the Orlando Sentinel, I worked for a guy named Charley Reese, a dyed-in-the-wool Libertarian, nice guy and decent chess player. I was a kid just out of the Army, complete with beard, long hair and a “Custer Had it Coming” T-shirt. I was enrolled in college, and a liberal, of course, because I simply did not know any better. He took me under his wing. We argued into the wee hours and I learned more from him than all my political science classes. He went on to become a syndicated columnist of note, distributed all over the country.

His final column for the Sentinel in 2001 is legendary and much recirculated. It lays blame for this nation’s woes exactly where it belongs: “One hundred senators, 435 congressmen, one president, and nine Supreme Court justices equates to 545 human beings out of the 300 million are directly, legally, morally, and individually responsible for the domestic problems that plague this country.”

This city’s problems can be laid at the feet of 13 politicians — our mayor and Assembly. They could decide to fix the mess tomorrow. They waste time and breath, instead, each blaming the other.

It would be nice to recapture the vibrant, bustling city Anchorage was two or three decades ago, without boarded-up businesses, people living on street corners or, God help us, in their cars in Assembly-designated parking lots, but I am not hopeful.

Maybe we should establish the Office of the Municipal Therapist — but these folks would just fight over that, too.

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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Paul Jenkins

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.