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My Turn: Why I'm voting for Cheryl Jebe for mayor

Posted: September 4, 2012 - 11:01pm

I am voting for Ms. Cheryl Jebe for Mayor because the United States Congress is the most dysfunctional institution in America. If you sense a disconnect, bear with me.

Congress is dysfunctional because the leadership in both Houses is bitterly partisan, and they are unwilling to work together to address the crises that threaten our nation’s economy. And so, they do nothing, and the crises deepen.

Depending on the outcome of the mayoral race on Oct. 2, we may have a mini-Congress right here on the Gastineau. As always, our Assembly will be divided on the most serious issues facing the city. Will we have a mayor who will fan those controversies by joining the bickering—the classic recipe for gridlock? Or will we have a mayor who will reach out to every interest represented on the Assembly, and attempt to resolve issues in a collegial manner. Will we, in short, have a consensus builder or a disruptive partisan?

Ms. Jebe is no stranger to facing controversial public policy debate. She is the past president of both the State of Alaska and the Juneau League of Women Voters; she chaired the Operations Committee of the Juneau Docks and Harbors Board; she served as treasurer of Pioneers of Alaska; and she has supported organizations ranging from the Alaska Native Sisterhood to the Juneau Convention and Visitors Bureau.

In those capacities she has proven both a passion and a talent for promoting open, civil government, and a respect for the multitude of hopes and interests woven throughout our town.

Those are the job qualifications for a great mayor.

The other candidate for mayor is Mr. Merrill Sanford. Mr. Sanford has a long service as an Assemblyperson, where strong advocacy of a particular point of view is an asset. And I don’t quarrel in the slightest with those many Juneauites who admire Mr. Sanford’s forceful advocacy for the interests that he represents — interests that are important to the town.

These are good qualities as an assemblyperson. They are, on the other hand, danger signs for a mayoral candidate. The interests that Mr. Sanford represents are important to Juneau, but no more so than the competing values and hopes that others in Juneau share. And no one has ever accused Mr. Sanford of being a consensus builder.

While Mr. Sanford has served as deputy mayor, which includes chairing the work sessions of the Committee as a Whole, the stakes here are too great to run the risk that Mr. Sanford would carry his partisanship to the fundamentally different role of actually being mayor. For example: Two years ago, Mr. Sanford was a principal spokesperson for the infamous “Proposition 2” — a scheme to raise sales taxes on the average Juneau family by $6,000 over 10 years to build an environmentally and economically inappropriate dam-like structure across the heart of the Mendenhall Wetlands refuge. The proposition received a bit less than one-third of the vote; but, despite being out-of-touch with the sentiments of his own community, Mr. Sanford persevered to the end, pleading the project’s virtue at the League of Women Voters’ debate.

I appreciate the sentimental attachment to Mr. Sanford, who has advocated his heartfelt view of Juneau’s future for many, many years. But the mayor’s chair is far too important to become a retirement gift. Mr. Sanford’s yard sign suggests that he should be elected because of a “Lifetime of Commitment.” Surely Juneau can find a better way of rewarding Mr. Sanford’s career in government, particularly since the same qualities that may have made him a good assemblyperson could make him a poor mayor.

• Tillinghast, 63, is an attorney, small business owner and 38-year resident of Juneau.

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