Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Anchorage Assembly Candidates Weigh In On Knik Arm Bridge At Chamber Of Commerce Forum

Anchorage Assembly candidates appeared at the "Make It Monday" forum hosted by the Anchorage Chamber of Commerce on Monday, March 5th, 2007. Among several issues discussed was whether or not the proposed Knik Arm Bridge should be included on a list of transportation projects for the Anchorage metro area. Full story published on March 6th in the Anchorage Daily News.

It depends on whether the public will have to pay any additional money for the bridge, whether the plan for private investors to pay for much of the project can work, and what kind of impact it would have on property values and on Government Hill, many of the candidates told a few dozen people at the Egan Center.

Still, the question drew a clear line between candidates in the East Anchorage race, where challenger Sheila Selkregg said the project has holes in its long-term funding and would undermine the local tax base, encouraging more people to live in the Valley and work in Anchorage. "We cannot build a bridge that serves the Mat-Su, when in fact it undermines our own property values," Selkregg said.

Her opponent, incumbent Ken Stout, said Anchorage needs a place to grow and that the project should continue moving along the planning process. "I believe the bridge is visionary," he said, adding that bridge supporters should have the chance to see if private investors will come to the table.

The third East Anchorage Assembly candidate, Libertarian Alex Crawford, did not attend. [Ed. Note: This was a BIG mistake on his part. All this does is continue to promote the marginalization and trivialization of libertarianism. If you're a candidate, you do NOT miss a "flagship" forum like this.]

When asked to raise their hands if they support adding the Knik Arm bridge to the city's long-range transportation plan -- which could help the project gain funding -- Chugiak-Eagle River incumbent Debbie Ossiander, Midtown incumbent Dan Coffey, Midtown challenger Jason Dowell, and Stout indicated that they did.

The event was one of the first candidate forums of the short campaign season. It paired Ossiander with her sole challenger, Jim Byrnes, in the race for Seat A and Coffey with challengers Dowell and Elvi Gray-Jackson.
Ossiander said she is generally supportive of the bridge project as long as certain conditions are met. Byrnes said he opposed the bridge project, saying the plan to pay for it doesn't make sense and that a better option would be light rail -- bringing people into town without their cars.

Janet Brand and Bob Lupo, who are running for Chugiak-Eagle River Seat C, attended. Bill Starr, who was appointed to the seat to replace Rep. Anna Fairclough and is running for election, did not. Lupo wore a red bandana and T-shirt that read "Save Pluto." He said he'd tried to get his nickname, "Joker," on the ballot, but didn't have any luck.

Only candidates for the two Eagle River seats, the East Anchorage seat, and the Midtown seat were invited to present themselves at this forum. South Anchorage candidate Jennifer Johnston also attended, but only as an observer. Her turn will come on the March 19th Make It Monday forum, when she, along with other three South Anchorage opponents Valerie Baffone, Gary Hovanec, and Ryan Stencel will appear, along with the four West Anchorage candidates Sherri Jackson, Matt Claman, Jim Bailey, and Zareena Tran Clendaniel. The two Seat B School Board candidates Chris Tuck and Ryan Sharratt will also appear at that time. If you live in Anchorage and are interested in attending this event, click HERE for more information.

Commentary: Of the candidates not reported in attendance, and who have campaign websites, none of them explicitly support the Knik Arm Bridge. However, all of them do support measures to reduce traffic congestion, and so it is likely they can be ultimately convinced to support the project, so long as we don't have to bear all the costs locally.

But it will be difficult to procure state and Federal financial help if we ourselves are equivocal about our support of the project. The stubborn insistence upon routing the southern terminus through Government Hill will foment continued opposition coalescing around the Government Hill neighborhood, whose residents clearly don't want the highway through their area, to the point where it could cause the project to be shelved. To prevent this, its time for the Knik Arm Bridge and Toll Authority (KABATA) to take the lead and push more explicitly for the Hiland Road route or the Boniface route to be constructed for the southern terminus.

And the March 5th candidate forum took place hot on the heels of another Assembly candidate forum held on Thursday March 1st at O'Malley's On The Green, sponsored by the Home and Landowners Association (HALO). Original story published by the Anchorage Daily News on March 2nd.

South Anchorage candidates Val Baffone, Gary Hovanec, Jennifer Johnston and Ryan Stencel were in the spotlight. All the candidates for that seat are registered Republicans except for Baffone, a Democrat. However, Assembly candidates for the Midtown and East Anchorage seats as well as the two Anchorage School Board seats appeared at the forum.

For some, the gathering was an attempt to define themselves in different ways. Hovanec told the crowd that his experience as a city engineer would help shepherd growth in the developing area and that he didn't have his eye on higher office. Hovanec is also a former Kodiak borough manager and former construction engineer for the city of Anchorage. He ran unsuccessfully for state House and Senate seats in the Mat-Su in the late 1980s and early 1990s -- including a close Senate loss to Curt Menard -- and later founded an Anchorage shipping company.

Baffone said she's new to the Hillside but that her background in labor relations and solving problems among diverse groups would transfer well to the city office. Baffone ran for state House last year, losing to Republican Craig Johnson by about 200 votes. Now semi-retired, she told the audience Thursday that most of her career has been spent as a union representative. Baffone said she put her business aside when she started her House race. "In my opinion, it's a very issues-based race," she said when asked if there's potential for her opponents to split the vote because they're all Republicans. "I don't see party playing much of a role," she said. According to her website, Baffone has been endorsed by outgoing Assemblywoman Janice Shamberg, who's retiring to spend more time with her grandkids.

Johnston said she's passionate about education and curbing crime and that while she doesn't have all the answers, she wants to "bring respect back to public service." Johnston is chair of the Chugach State Park citizens advisory board and past president of the Hillside East Community Council. This is her first campaign, she said.

Stencel described herself as a successful business owner and longtime active civic leader who understands the issues and priorities of local voters. Stencel is also a first-time candidate, and said she resigned her posts as the Huffman-O'Malley Community Council president and as a member of the HALO board in order to run for Assembly. Stencel owns Alaskalink, an operations-management consulting company.

East Anchorage candidate Sheila Selkregg said she was heading to the forum from a fundraiser at Snow City. "We're all starting to sprint right now. This is when it begins to unfold," she said.

East Anchorage incumbent Ken Stout, who is running for re-election, said it has been a quiet campaign season so far and that's OK by him. "The longer you run, the more of an aggravation it is."

East Anchorage libertarian candidate Alex Crawford appeared but was not quoted.

Of the Midtown contestants, incumbent Dan Coffey and challenger Jason Dowell appeared but not candidate Elvi Gray-Jackson, who said by phone that she wanted to come but had a flight delayed out of Juneau.

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