If all you had to go on was the past two weeks of marathon meetings on Anchorage’s proposed mask mandate, you would likely rate the chances that Mayor Dave Bronson and the Assembly could agree on any issue — let alone one as high-profile and divisive as homelessness — at near zero. For dozens of hours of public hearings, the deep mistrust between the mayor and Assembly has been on full display as administration officials have argued procedural points and the Assembly has heard from a ceaseless stream of public commenters — clearly aligned with Bronson’s no-mask stance, and receiving direction to drag out testimony and stall the potential adoption of a mandate. It’s hard to recall when, if ever, the Assembly and a new mayor have been so at odds this soon after the election.
And yet last week, between days of angry public testimony, a compromise plan on homelessness emerged after months of intense negotiation between Mayor Bronson’s team and members of the Assembly. While many details, particularly those relating to cost, have yet to be worked out, the plan looks so sensible at first glance that it feels like it somehow emerged from an alternate dimension where the municipality’s executive and legislative branches have a productive relationship, rather than one where they’re locked in an existential struggle over the balance of power.
We don’t have an alternate dimension to thank for the plan, of course. Although the negotiations related to homelessness have been conducted in private since the scuttling of the Bronson administration’s Tudor Road megashelter plan, it’s a safe bet that the discussion has been long, tough and at times daunting — yet all involved persevered until there was an end product. The fact that the administration and the Assembly have been so at odds on other issues — and, for that matter, on Bronson’s original plan — makes it all the more remarkable that the two sides managed to arrive at a reasonable compromise. Both deserve credit for laying aside their issues on other policy planks to find common cause on one of Anchorage’s most serious issues. And perhaps the heartiest kudos of all should go to negotiators Belinda Breaux and Tom Barrett, who put in long hours and helped define the problem in a way that helped both sides find rare common ground.
The devil is in the details, of course — it’s entirely possible that part or all of the new homeless plan will prove too costly or unsuitable to move forward. But those are concrete issues that can be addressed as they come; perhaps the hardest part of the work is the municipality’s overarching framework, making sure that gaps in the homeless safety net and aid system don’t emerge and lead to pitfalls for the people being served and stagnation for our community. That’s where previous efforts have been lacking, and it’s what the multi-facility compromise plan looks to address.
Now that so much hard work has been done and progress has been made, both the mayor’s office and the Assembly must take pains to keep their strong disagreements on other matters from sundering the homeless plan. When it comes to political hardball, opposing forces are often tempted to hold the other side’s priorities hostage in an attempt to wrest concessions in other areas. That can’t happen here. Anchorage has waited too long — and the Assembly and mayor have worked too hard — to lose those gains now. On the contrary, perhaps the progress on homelessness shows that, at the end of the day, an executive and legislative branch that are near-diametrically opposed can yet move our city forward. Progress across the board may be too much to ask for, but the homeless plan presents a glimpse of something that’s in awfully short supply these days, particularly where government is concerned: hope.