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Dorm life works for conference attendees -- snoring and all

  • Author: Nathaniel Herz
  • Updated: September 28, 2016
  • Published June 6, 2015

FAIRBANKS -- Anchorage Mayor-elect Ethan Berkowitz said he slept well in his college dorm room Friday night -- in spite of the guy in the next room who was snoring "quite loudly," by Berkowitz's description.

The room, in the University of Alaska Fairbanks' 60-year-old Wickersham Hall, Berkowitz said, "was more comfortable than my college dorm bed." And his roommate never showed up.

At least 100 participants are staying in dorm rooms this weekend for Gov. Bill Walker's conference on the state's fiscal future. Members of the Walker administration and their staff are in dorms too.

Not to mention the governor of Alaska himself and his security detail. Walker said in an interview Saturday that he has his own single bed and is rooming with the first lady.

"I just wanted to be one of everybody else," said Walker, who overruled a move by schedulers to put him in a hotel room. "I said no."

The dorm room rentals -- at about $10,000 for two nights -- were a cost-saving measure but also a way to keep conference participants talking outside of the formal sessions.

One participant, Bob Williams, a Mat-Su teacher who ran for lieutenant governor as a Democrat last year, said he ended up in a conversation about education with another conference attendee he ran into while walking to the communal showers.

Williams noted, however, that it was a little unsettling to be sleeping in Wickersham Hall, which was an all-female dorm when he was a student at the university.

"I feel like I don't belong there," he said.

The dorms are far from luxurious, with thin blankets on the beds and empty vending machines in common spaces. The staffer who coordinated the conference for the governor's office said she brought her own pillow.

One of the dorms, Lathrop Hall, lost its hot water Saturday morning.

"I was swearing up and down," said Clare Ross, who's helping facilitate the conference. She nonetheless praised the dorm room setup as a "great thing."

Walker joked during his opening remarks Friday evening that he'd heard about a party in the dorm rooms. There was no news of that Saturday morning, or any obvious hangovers.

"I didn't witness any beers in the dorm," said Sheldon Fisher, Walker's commissioner of administration, who's staying next to Berkowitz in Wickersham Hall.

Berkowitz and Fisher have daughters who are friends.

"Now we can go back and tell our kids we had a sleepover, too," Berkowitz said.

But he pointed out that the dorm room interactions could serve as a blueprint for bipartisan or nonpartisan politics, given that Berkowitz is a Democrat and Fisher a Republican.

"I think the whole state can do that interaction if people put aside labels," Berkowitz said. "If my neighbor's house was on fire, I don't ask if he's Democrat or Republican. I come with the bucket brigade."

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