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Politics

Where they stand: Anchorage mayoral candidates Berkowitz and Demboski on the issues

  • Author: Alaska News
  • Updated: September 28, 2016
  • Published April 8, 2015

The two top finishers in the Anchorage mayoral race, Ethan Berkowitz and Amy Demboski, will face each other in a runoff on May 5. Here's how they responded to the 36-question survey we sent to all the candidates several weeks ago.

1. Why are you running for office?

Ethan Berkowitz: I want Anchorage to be a safe, secure and strong community for all residents. I believe I can provide the stable, experienced, and principled leadership to navigate these uncertain times, as well helping us realize the vision needed so that Anchorage is positioned to compete and succeed in the 21st Century global economy. That means safe homes and neighborhoods, a secure fiscal footing, and strong education and modernized infrastructure, especially for broadband and energy.

Amy Demboski: My campaign to be your next Mayor is motivated by a desire to bring conservative leadership that demonstrates true fiscal responsibility to the forefront and focus on the fundamentals: public safety, infrastructure, and education. I will proactively lead the fight to promote and protect the free market and private property rights with an unwavering commitment to ethical leadership and always mindful that I serve the people of Anchorage.

2. The biggest problem facing Anchorage that no one talks much about is:

Ethan Berkowitz: The state's fiscal deficit.

Amy Demboski: Public safety resources and deployment

3. What do you think of the job Mayor Dan Sullivan has done?

Ethan Berkowitz: The mayor should unite Anchorage, not divide it (as happened with AO 37 and the gay rights ordinance). The mayor should vigilantly guard our finances. We can't afford $30 million overruns like the SAP software fiasco, or the $350 million Port debacle, and we need to do more to protect ourselves from Juneau's fiscal meltdown. The mayor should lead in forging public-private partnerships, and support, not shrink, our police force.

Amy Demboski: Mayor Sullivan has done a good job with respect to overall financial management. There are areas where he has stumbled. Failure of leadership on the SAP project has led to multi-millions in cost overruns. Inadequate staffing and the deployment of public safety resources have led to high overtime costs, both at APD and AFD, and APD has virtually no, or limited, ability to respond to certain crimes (ie theft).

Crime & Security

1. Is the Anchorage Police Department adequately staffed?

Ethan Berkowitz: No, and consequently police are in a reactive rather than proactive mode. They're responding to crimes, rather than preventing them. Officer staffing is too thin and we're short on dispatchers, compromising both public and officer safety. Visibility is part of effective policing, and we're at the point where we need more cops in order to increase visibility.

Amy Demboski: No. Multiple police units (gang, traffic, theft) units have been absorbed into patrol. Thus, we are seeing fewer police attempting to serve a growing population. This leads to higher cost to the taxpayers in overtime expenses, high burnout rates, and higher attrition rates, all of which cost more and deliver less to the community they serve.

2. Would you make specific changes in the police department?

Ethan Berkowitz: Yes, I will add police officers. As a former prosecutor, I know that public safety improves when we have a comprehensive strategy linking prevention, policing and prosecution. Consequently, I will implement APD's Strategic Plan, including training academies, and focusing on community policing and proven tactics that increase protection for life, property and the benefits of law and order.

Amy Demboski: There is a need to augment staffing, to reestablish some of the specialty units, and the need for a retention plan for current officers. When millions are spent on overtime, it is often a symptom of a fundamental imbalance in staffing. By adequately staffing APD, it reduces overtime costs, limits burnout, and delivers a better service to the citizens of Anchorage.

3. What do you think has caused the upturn in homicides?

Ethan Berkowitz: There are many factors but the glaring one we can fix is too few officers, which led to dismantling the robbery, gang and drug units, and reductions to community policing.

Amy Demboski: Most incidents have been drug related. Additionally, many APD specialty units that have been eliminated which may have played a part in the uptick in violence in our community.

4. What would you do to make Anchorage a safer place to live?

Ethan Berkowitz: Hire more cops, restore community policing, and increase domestic violence programs. Partner with state and federal enforcement, and private and non-profit groups. Implement proven strategies for inebriates and bar break.

Amy Demboski: Anchorage is a great place to live, but we must adequately staff and deploy APD resources as a fundamental starting place.

Economy

1. Describe, with specific examples, how you would expand and diversify the city’s economy.

Ethan Berkowitz: Our economy prospers with cutting edge communication (faster broadband), stable energy costs (developing local resources like gas, wind, geothermal and tidal), robust transportation (modernizing the port and facilitating air cargo), and a skilled workforce (adding value to Alaska's resources, benefiting from the opening of the Arctic, and competing in the global knowledge economy, through both vocational and technical and university learning). It also means minimizing taxes and reducing the uncertainty born of Juneau's fiscal gap.

Amy Demboski: It is job of the Mayor to ensure we have a safe community, with adequate infrastructure, and we are giving kids the opportunity to have a quality education. The private sector will grow our economy if there is a stable tax structure, available land, adequate infrastructure, and a well trained workforce. We must limit overregulation and instead of the government being an inhibitor to the private sector I will be an ally.

2. Should the city encourage development in low-income areas like Mountain View and Fairview? What tools should it use, such as tax exemptions or tax holidays?

Ethan Berkowitz: Yes. A vibrant Anchorage depends on vital neighborhoods. The Mountain View renaissance has begun because innovators who believe in the neighborhood are bringing businesses and housing solutions to the area. Fairview's pilot tax abatement policy could be scaled citywide. We will also streamline permitting to make it faster and more predictable so developers can build denser, more affordable housing.

Amy Demboski: As an Assembly member, I supported the plan which gave incentives to redevelopment in the Fairview area. Without such a plan, current Municipal Code made many of these projects cost prohibitive. In this case, policy can spur economic development; therefore, I think it is wise to encourage it. Ultimately, it will lessen the burden on every other taxpayer in Anchorage.

3. What is your vision for a post-petroleum Anchorage?

Ethan Berkowitz: Diversifying our economy today will sustain us tomorrow. Diversification includes energy development, both hydrocarbon and renewables. It provides hospitality to visitors, and food and culture to residents, as well as adding value to Alaska's resources (like fish and minerals). It embraces our position as the "Gateway to the Arctic" and as "Air Crossroads of the World". It acknowledges the possibilities of the knowledge economy. It relies on the core strength that Native Corporations provide.

Amy Demboski: Alaska is a resource rich state; I think it is premature to count out the petroleum market, the gas market, or the mining industry. There is no question we are heavily dependent on petroleum, and I do not think that is going to change in my term if elected Mayor. We still need to allow opportunities for growth in healthcare, tourism, and resource development. Therefore, I will support initiatives to encourage businesses to prosper.

Municipal Revenue

1. Taxation in Anchorage is too high/about right/too low. Choose one, then explain:

Ethan Berkowitz: City revenues depend too much on on property taxes. Imminent reductions to the state budget make it imperative for us to reduce Anchorage's vulnerability to Juneau's appropriations. We do that by expanding our tax base, rationalizing municipal assets, and reducing expenses by basing budget decisions on results rather than costs.

Amy Demboski: Taxation reliant on property taxes so heavily is too high.

2. Would you support alternative means of city revenue?

Ethan Berkowitz: Before looking at new revenue we will find cost savings in our current budget, such as more energy efficient road lighting that could save $6 million a year. Treating marijuana like alcohol means that marijuana businesses will generate tax revenue.

Amy Demboski: I would support alternate mean of city revenue if that revenue was kept under the tax cap and offset property taxes dollar for dollar.

3. Is there a scenario in which you would support a city sales tax?

Ethan Berkowitz: Only if overwhelmingly approved by Anchorage voters, and only as part of a comprehensive fiscal plan. Until we know what the state government intends to do, we cannot craft a fiscal strategy for the city.

Amy Demboski: Like many Alaskans, I am leery of a sales tax unless it is passed by 60% of the voters, the revenue is kept under the tax cap, and the money raised dollar for dollar offsets property taxes.

4. Should laws be changed to do away with property tax exemptions for nonprofits and church property? (Yes or No)

Ethan Berkowitz: These laws definitely should be reviewed for fairness. Churches and non-profits deserve a reasonable tax exemption but these provisions have been stretched and abused.

Amy Demboski: I believe churches and some nonprofits should receive tax exemptions, but the questions should be whether all nonprofits are eligible or if they should be exempt from public safety and utilities charges as well.

5. How do you plan to confront what may be a dramatic downturn in state revenue sharing, given the state’s fiscal climate?

Ethan Berkowitz: Protect Anchorage as the state restructures, expand public-private partnerships, remove administrative and regulatory barriers impeding investment, explore bonding options while interest rates are historically low. I will not retreat from advancing Anchorage's goals simply because the state dug itself a hole.

Amy Demboski: I think the impact to Anchorage will be manageable. This year we will likely see a surplus of between $4 - $8 million on a local level (not counting any ASD surplus); thus, potential loss of revenue sharing between $6 - $10 million would be able to be mitigated internally within departments.

Social Issues & Civil Rights

1. How would you address Anchorage’s housing shortage?

Ethan Berkowitz: First, address chronically homeless through successful "housing first" programs. Second, work with state and federal agencies to expand housing vouchers for veterans and families, so they aren't constantly moving from shelter to shelter. Third, spearhead streamlined permitting and tax incentives to jumpstart new, denser housing developments.

Amy Demboski: We need to address issues within Title 21, which either unreasonably elevate the costs, or make construction cost prohibitive. Additionally, we need to leverage technology and efficiencies to get builders through the plan review and permitting process. Lastly, we need to get more government held land into the private sector.

2. Many of the people who end up homeless on the Anchorage streets are from villages. What would you do as mayor to help them?Answer (50 words or less):

Ethan Berkowitz: Anchorage is Alaska's largest village and should be a more welcoming place. I will appoint a Native/rural affairs coordinator and work with Alaska Native corporations, nonprofits and tribes to help ensure that village Alaskans in Anchorage have the resources they need.

Amy Demboski: Many who are homeless are also suffering from mental illness. Those individuals need to be identified and given the opportunity to have treatment.

3. Describe your approach to homelessness and chronic inebriates. How would it be different from previous mayors?

Ethan Berkowitz: Chronic inebriates use $2 million a year of public and emergency services. Compassion, common sense, and repeated studies all support the "Housing First" model, which is why I support Karluk Manor and other similar projects. We also need more detox and rehabilitation facilities to break this expensive, debilitating cycle.

Amy Demboski: Though a significant portion of the homeless population is Alaska Native, previous administrations have ignored asking tribes for help. Tribes have access to federal programs to help with mental illness and job training, yet they have not been engaged to help solve the issue. It is time to work together.

4. Do you support “Housing First” approaches for chronic inebriates such as Karluk Manor? (Yes or No)

Ethan Berkowitz: Yes.

Amy Demboski: Provided the funding is not from local tax dollars.

5. Did you support the sexual identity anti-discrimination measure in Anchorage? (Yes or No)

Ethan Berkowitz: Yes.

Amy Demboski: No

6. Do you believe same-sex marriage should be legal?

Ethan Berkowitz: Yes.

Amy Demboski: No

Transportation

1. Should the Knik Arm bridge be built? If so, how should it be financed?

Ethan Berkowitz: No. There is no demonstrated way to pay for construction, or for operation and maintenance. There are more cost effective ways to improve transportation between Anchorage and Mat-Su.

Amy Demboski: I believe the government's responsibility is to build and maintain infrastructure. Thus, I think the State should build the bridge similar to any other bridge project.

2. What is your plan for the Port of Anchorage modernization project? If moved forward, how should the project be financed?

Ethan Berkowitz: The port is critical infrastructure for Anchorage and all Alaska. I'm optimistic that state and federal funds, partnerships with shippers and other stakeholders, and various bonding opportunities will provide significant financing. Additionally, prognosis is good for successful resolution of claims in the port's favor, which will recapture some past expended money.

Amy Demboski: The Port project has to move forward, but there is no need for expansion; we simply need to fix what is there. The project should be funded through a public/private partnership, or through a revenue bond, which would be paid by the operational proceeds of the current Port operation.

3. What’s your assessment of Anchorage’s transportation system?

Ethan Berkowitz: Generally good, but it needs works. There are road bottlenecks and chokepoints, some of which require new road construction, and some of which can be alleviated with traffic management techniques like smart street signals. Parking is an issue downtown. Similarly, we face a challenge providing cost-effective public transportation.

Amy Demboski: The transportation system in outlying communities such as Girdwood, Chugiak, and Eagle River is virtually non-existent. We need to holistically address transportation in Anchorage, and that does require allowing for private sector solutions to enter the market.

4. What, if anything, would you do to facilitate non-car transportation (buses, bikes, pedestrians, other public transit)?

Ethan Berkowitz: We are a winter city and making our neighborhoods more walkable and accessible requires expanded transit options. It also will encourage denser housing close to Anchorage work centers.

Amy Demboski: This is not a priority, we need to focus on public safety, maintaining existing infrastructure and ensuring adequate educational opportunities for children all based on a sound fiscal policy.

5. Should there be a mass transit rail or bus system between Anchorage and the Valley? How could such a project be financed?

Ethan Berkowitz: Commuter light rail is an intriguing option to reduce congestion on the Glenn. Parking and feeder routes also require analysis, but I'm amenable if we can finance through federal funds, private investment and rider fees.

Amy Demboski: As a member of the Anchorage Assembly Transportation Committee this has been discussed, but it is not financially viable at this time.

Climate Change

1. Do you believe that the Earth’s climate is changing and getting warmer overall?

Ethan Berkowitz: Yes. Scientists overwhelmingly agree that retreating sea ice, coastal erosion, permafrost melt, changing migratory patterns, and extreme weather events all bear evidence to this fact.

Amy Demboski: Geologic history demonstrates it is natural for the Earth to go through periods of warming and cooling.

2. If you think that the climate is changing, how much of that change would you attribute to human activity (mostly caused by people; people play a minimal or no role)?

Ethan Berkowitz: Climatologists may argue over the extent to which human activity generates climate change, but the near universal scientific consensus is that anthropogenic factors cause and accelerate the rate of the change.

Amy Demboski: No answer

3. If you believe the climate is changing and humans have a role in causing the change, what can the mayor of Anchorage do to contribute to a reduction in the cause or effects? If you don’t believe the climate is changing or you believe that humans have no role in climate change, would you fight efforts by others to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases?

Ethan Berkowitz: As Mayor, I will implement a Climate Action Plan based on the one submitted to the city in 2009. That plan focuses on six key areas of concern: energy production and sources, energy efficiency, city planning, transportation, waste management, and education and outreach.

Amy Demboski: No answer

Quality of Life & Recreation

1. How important are parks and trails to the city of Anchorage?

Ethan Berkowitz: They're awesome! Parks and trails are one of Anchorage's best assets. They make our city unique and attractive and enhance our quality of life. Proximity to trails is highly valued and helps build strong neighborhoods.

Amy Demboski: It is important to maintain Municipal assets, not only for adequate stewardship of the taxpayer's investment, but for quality of life and tourism as well.

2. Is the level of public funds spent on parks and trails adequate? (Yes or No)

Ethan Berkowitz: No.

Amy Demboski: Yes

3. What’s your idea of balance between humans and wildlife living in the Anchorage bowl?

Ethan Berkowitz: Like most folks here, I love seeing moose and going fishing, but we face a challenge balancing these unique aspects of living in this place while protecting the safety of humans, who don't always appreciate the risks posed by and to wildlife.

Amy Demboski: Obviously we live in Alaska, so there will be interaction. But I have found it is minimal and not been a significant issue.

4. Are the city’s sports facilities adequate for softball, tennis, baseball, basketball, soccer, skiing, swimming, etc? (Yes or No). If not, how would you change them?

Ethan Berkowitz: No. And your question forgot hockey (among others) . . . Expansion of Anchorage's sport facilities hasn't kept pace with our growing population and demand. We should build on the successful Anchorage Park Foundation to attract private investment, and see to it that school facilities get more use.

Amy Demboski: Yes

Personal

1. What’s your favorite place to take a visiting friend or relative in Anchorage?

Ethan Berkowitz: The Coastal Trail.

Amy Demboski: Turnagain Arm

2. Do you regularly attend a religious institution? Which one? Should it matter in the mayor’s race?

Ethan Berkowitz: These questions are inappropriate. Freedom of religion is a constitutional right, and separation of church and state protects our right to worship as we chose.

Amy Demboski: I don't attend as regularly as I should, but I do attend Community Covenant Church.

3. Have you ever faced a significant personal danger in Alaska? Tell us the story.

Ethan Berkowitz: When I was fishing with a couple of buddies, we flipped a skiff off of Juneau. We stayed on the overturned boat until we drifted ashore on an island. The Coast Guard found us early the next morning.

Amy Demboski: Many years ago, I had a gun pulled on me from a distance. When I was 17, I worked at a downtown hotel and late one summer night I walked to my car. I noticed a man standing on top of a building near my car. He acted peculiar and kept jumping up to salute. Then he picked up what looked like a stick and aimed it at me. At the time I didn't realize the item being pointed at me was a rifle, had I known it I likely would have had been concerned. I simply went back to the hotel, had the front desk call APD, and the gentleman was arrested for terroristic threatening.

Biographical questions

Ethan Berkowitz

Age: 53

Date and place of birth: 1962, San Francisco

Marital status: Married

Spouse/Partner/Significant Other and occupation: Mara Kimmel, Professor (A.P.U.)

Children's ages and whether they attend public or private school: 11 and 14. Both attend public school.

Residence neighborhood: West Anchorage

Website, blog, Twitter handle, Facebook page: EthanForAnchorage.com; @ethan4Anchorage; EthanForAnchorage

Party registration: Democrat

Education (degrees, years awarded, institutions): A.B., 1983, Harvard College (Government and Economics); M.Phil. in Polar Studies, 1986, Cambridge University; J.D, 1990, University of California Hastings School of Law

Occupation(s): business owner, strategic consultant

Current employer: self, Strategies 360 (on leave)

Public sector work experience, including military: Alaska State Assistant District Attorney; Enforcement Officer, U.S. Antarctic Program

Private sector work experience: Senior Vice President, Strategies 360; radio talk show host, "Bernadette and Berkowitz"; Founder, Bortek, LLC (Alaska fiber optic development)

Elected office held, with dates: Alaska State Representative, 1997-2007

Previous unsuccessful runs for office, with dates: Lt Governor, 2006, U.S. Representative, 2008, Governor, 2010

Amy Demboski

Age: 38

Date & place of birth: Falmouth, Mass.

Marital status: Married

Spouse/Partner/Significant Other and occupation: Ben Demboski, Firefighter

Children (ages only and whether they attend public or private school): 18, UAA; 15, Chugiak

Residence neighborhood: Chugiak

Website, blog, Twitter handle, Facebook page: www.amyforanchorage.com;

Twitter: @amydemboski; Facebook: www.facebook.com/AmyForAnchorage

Party registration: Republican

Education (degrees, years awarded, institutions): Chugiak High School, 1994; UAA, Bachelor's Degrees, Justice & History; Columbia Southern University, MBA with an emphasis in finance

Occupation(s): Anchorage Assembly Member

Current employer: Anchorage Assembly

Public sector work experience, including military: Anchorage Assembly

Member; Alaska Commission on Judicial Conduct, Commissioner; Budget Advisory Commission, Past Chair; Chugiak-Eagle River Parks & Rec Board of Supervisors, Mayoral Appointee; Chugiak Community Council, Past President; USAF, Dental services

Private sector work experience: Business Development and Management: Built & Managed multi-million dollar businesses here in the Alaskan Healthcare Industry (17 years experience); Paralegal – worked in a law firm with a focus on businesses and estate planning (2 years).

Elected office held, with dates: Anchorage Assembly 2013- Present

Previous unsuccessful runs for office, with dates: N/A

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