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Political races in Southeast to be decided next month

Four boroughs in Southeast to elect mayors

Posted: September 24, 2012 - 12:01am

The City and Borough of Juneau is not the only borough in Southeast Alaska whose voters will head to the polls next month. It isn’t even the only one that is expected to have competitive races, or even the only one electing a new mayor.

Other Southeast boroughs, including Haines Borough and the City and Borough of Sitka, are holding municipal elections on Oct. 2 — the same day Juneau voters will elect either League of Women Voters Treasurer Cheryl Jebe or former Assemblymember Merrill Sanford as the CBJ’s next mayor, as well as elect two other new Assemblymembers.

Sitka is also electing a mayor — giving incumbent Mayor Cheryl Westover a second two-year term, or turning over the reins to either Assembly Member Mim McConnell or Vice-Deputy Mayor Thor Christianson.

McConnell has the least Assembly experience of the three, but she pointed to her work as executive director of the Sitka Community Development Corp. and her work on and off the Assembly in support of affordable housing as an additional qualification.

“I have some perspectives and knowledge and experience that are going to help move the city forward,” McConnell said Thursday. She added, “I’m looking forward to working with other mayors in our region on regional issues, and working to help Southeast Alaska in the legislature and lobbying for our mutual causes.”

For Christianson’s part, he said he appreciates Westover’s work as mayor — but, he remarked, “I wouldn’t be running if I didn’t think I could do the job better.”

“We’re in some pretty challenging times right now, and I’m the kind of person, when I have a problem, I really want to fix it,” said Christianson. “And I think I’d have a better chance of doing that as mayor.”

Both McConnell and Christianson said they would prioritize the promotion of economic growth in Sitka, though Christianson added, “I don’t think it’s a good idea to say, ‘Hey, this is my top priority.’ I think from week to week it’ll change, depending on what we’re working on.”

Westover said she wants to secure funding for the proposed expansion of Sitka’s Blue Lake hydroelectric dam as her top priority for a second term. She pointed to her incumbency, with experience both as an Assembly Member and as mayor, as a key qualification for her.

“There’s no learning curve,” said Westover. “I can get in and keep going where I am — or if the people fire me, then I get to be truly retired.”

Sitka’s mayoral race in 2010 made statewide headlines when then-Assembly Member Westover won election over rival John Stein, the former mayor of Wasilla who was defeated for reelection in 1996 by future Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, by just two votes out of almost 3,000 votes cast.

Adding to the drama of that 2010 election, Westover and Stein were vying to succeed then-Mayor Scott McAdams, the unsuccessful Democratic nominee for the United States Senate seat of Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, that year.

“I don’t think much about that,” said Westover of the 2010 election. “I’d been on the Assembly, and I would have remained on the Assembly had I not won the mayor race.”

Westover added, “In all fairness to my opponents, or actually my co-Assembly workers, they all have prior experience on the Assembly. … We should always have a mayor that’s served some time on the Assembly.”

Unlike Sitka and like Juneau, the City and Borough of Wrangell features an open-seat race for mayor this year.

Wrangell Mayor Jeremy M. Maxand is not running for reelection, leaving Assembly Members David L. Jack and Donald McConachie Sr. as the two candidates to succeed him.

“My whole life has basically been in service to the country or the state or the city,” said Jack, a retired former police officer and Vietnam War veteran. “That’s just who I am. I believe in providing service to the people.”

Jack added, “One of the top things here in Wrangell is getting a new hospital built. Other than that, it’s jobs. Anything we can do to help the economy of Wrangell and create jobs is my priority.”

McConachie, who was the first mayor of the CBW after its incorporation in 2008, said he enjoys public service and wants to be mayor again “to lead us through a few of the controversial problems that we have here in Wrangell at this particular time.”

“It’s just something that I’ve always considered fun to do, and I enjoy doing it,” McConachie said. “I emigrated here from Canada and became an American citizen, and the first thing I did after becoming an American citizen was to run for Planning and Zoning (Commission).”

Like Jack, McConachie said construction of the planned hospital would be his top priority as mayor.

Under their respective municipal codes, the mayors of Sitka and Wrangell are, as in Juneau, considered ex officio members of the Assembly, and have full voting rights as such.

Wrangell voters are also voting for three additional Assembly seats, including that of Assembly Member Billie Younce, who was appointed to fill a vacancy earlier this year. Younce and Maxlyn J. Wiederspohn are vying to fill the remaining year of the unexpired three-year term.

Assembly seats in Sitka are elected at large, with the top two vote-getters winning three-year terms and the third-place vote-getter being elected to fill out the remaining year of an unexpired term. Five candidates, including Assembly Member Phyllis Hackett, are contesting those seats.

Mayoral candidate McConnell is the other member of the CBS Assembly whose term expires next month.

In Haines Borough, the mayoral race is not on the ballot, but two Borough Assembly seats are. Both races feature two candidates.

Like the CBS, the Municipality of Skagway Borough elects members of its Assembly at large. Three candidates are vying to be among the top two finishers. The candidate with the fewest votes will not be elected.

While Ketchikan Gateway Borough is the second-most populous borough in Southeast Alaska, behind only the CBJ, it features perhaps the least dynamic elections of the day.

Assembly Member Todd Phillips and Jim Van Horn are the only two candidates running to be elected at large to the Borough Assembly. Assembly Member Mike Salazar, whose term expires this fall, is not running for reelection.

As Ketchikan Gateway Borough voters are electing the top two vote-getters to the Assembly, both Phillips and Van Horn will be elected by default, unless a write-in candidate files and can garner more votes than one or both of them.

The City and Borough of Yakutat uses the at-large system of elections and representation for its Assembly as well. Like Juneau, Sitka and Wrangell, it also has a mayoral race on the ballot this year.

But unlike other Southeast boroughs, the CBY holds municipal elections on the third Tuesday of October, which is Oct. 16 this year. By then, in Juneau, the new members of the CBJ Assembly are expected to have been seated.

Mayor Dave Stone, who is running for reelection and said he has not yet drawn an opponent, described Yakutat as separate from other Southeast communities.

“You know, we’re grouped in with Southeast,” Stone said. “On the map, we’re Southeast. But we are not Southeast. We are not South-Central. We’re our own thing. We are 200 miles from anybody.”

Stone said lowering energy costs, which in Yakutat are among the nation’s highest, is his top priority. High unemployment, lack of economic diversification and declining fish stocks are also sources of concern for him, he added.

“So nothing looks good,” said Stone. “So everything is pretty dismal. But yeah, we’ll get by.”

• Contact reporter Mark D. Miller at 523-2279 or at mark.d.miller@juneauempire.com.

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