Legislative-move kingpin Uwe Kalenka no stranger to conflict

Posted: Wednesday, February 27, 2002

Though not officially a sponsor of the initiative to move legislative sessions from Juneau to the Matanuska-Susitna Borough, Uwe Kalenka spearheaded the campaign to get the measure on the 2002 ballot and has cast himself as spokesman.

Kalenka, 57, is no stranger to conflict - in the political arena and in court.

Some may know him as the Anchorage restaurant manager with the German accent who championed a controversial ballot measure to cap property taxes statewide in 2000.

Others may know him for his clashes with police. Kalenka was the only person associated with the session-move initiative with a criminal record, according to Alaska court documents.

An Anchorage jury convicted him in 1995 of four misdemeanors stemming from charges of eluding a police officer, reckless driving, resisting a police officer and disorderly conduct.

But official details of the court case are lost because Kalenka's file disappeared from the Anchorage courthouse in May 2001, according to Jo Hall, records supervisor.

The court was about to copy the file to microfilm when Kalenka submitted a written request for it on May 2, Hall said recently. The court transferred the file from its micrographing office and someone checked it out on May 4. But the identity of the person is unknown because the court does not solicit names of its patrons, Hall said.

"We do not have any trail after that," she said.

There is no proof Kalenka stole the file, said Hall, who emphasized it could have been misplaced by employees. Hall said she called Kalenka to ask if he had taken it but gave up when a woman answered the phone and said she did not speak English.

Kalenka declined to talk about the case and instead referred the Empire to the court file, saying "the public record speaks for itself." When told the file had disappeared, he said, "That's absolutely news to me," and denied taking it.

Kalenka said he requested the file because he was applying to a law school in Illinois and the university required copies of any criminal records of applicants. But the court took too long to transfer the file from its micrographing office and he had to catch a plane to Illinois, where he planned to submit his application in person, he said. He got on the plane without the required documents and never returned to the courthouse to check out the file, said Kalenka, noting he was rejected by the school because he applied too late.

A spokesman for the Anchorage Police Department said he was prohibited by law from releasing a police report on the incident. However, the Anchorage Daily News published a story in 2000 based on the court file. Here is what happened, as recounted by the paper:

Lt. Gary Gilliam was heading home after his shift at the Anchorage Police Department, where he worked as a detective in the fraud unit. Gilliam said he was driving in an unmarked car on the Seward Highway in Anchorage when he saw a red Toyota pass him doing at least 70 mph.

Gilliam was off duty and in civilian clothes but he decided to stop Kalenka and warn him because it was the eve of Memorial Day weekend, a prime time for bad accidents.

Kalenka, who holds a bachelor's degree in justice and history, immediately declared he was "a student of justice" and said he didn't have to get out of the car, Gilliam testified in court.

Gilliam allowed Kalenka and his elderly mother to stay in the car. But as he was holding Kalenka's license and registration, Kalenka suddenly drove off, at one point driving onto a sidewalk and into an intersection against a red light, said Gilliam, who pursued him.

The chase ended at Kalenka's house, where Kalenka first locked himself in his car, then ran from it and ordered his German shepherd to attack, Gilliam said. The detective recognized the attack command, which was given in German, and gave a countercommand, ordering the dog to lie down.

The dog did not attack, so Kalenka angrily threw the dog at Gilliam, according to the detective's account.

Kalenka in court denied siccing his German shepherd on Gilliam and scoffed at the allegation he threw the 100-pound dog at the detective.

Kalenka told the jury he was trying to protect his ailing mother, who had a heart condition and needed to get home to take her medicine.

Kalenka said he didn't recognize Gilliam as a police officer because Gilliam was in civilian clothes and driving an unmarked car. He said the detective flashed his badge so quickly Kalenka couldn't read it.

He accused Gilliam of trying to rip open his car door and mumbling an ethnic slur based on Kalenka's accent. Kalenka also said Gilliam smelled of alcohol - an accusation Gilliam denied in court.

The jury convicted Kalenka of all counts after listening to a tape-recording started by one of the officers partway through the incident.

It was not the first time Kalenka clashed with police, according to court records. In separate incidents in the early 1990s, Kalenka was arrested twice on outstanding warrants for unpaid traffic tickets.

In one incident, state trooper Kevin Kemp stopped Kalenka for speeding and arrested him when he saw the warrant. Kemp testified Kalenka was hostile and called him a communist. The trooper hauled Kalenka off in handcuffs, calling it "the worst contact I've ever had on traffic stops."

Kalenka sued the city of Anchorage over the arrest, seeking $5,000 plus interest and court costs as a result of "negligence which resulted in an arrest and incarceration inflicting upon me the most grievous loss of my freedom and liberty."

Kalenka testified troopers frisked him in front of his mother and child, causing a spectacle and public humiliation. He said he did not respond to the initial summons because police sent it to the wrong address. The police officer who issued the initial traffic ticket said the summons was sent to the address given by Kalenka, who ultimately lost the case.

Despite the clashes, Kalenka said he bears no grudge against law enforcement.

"I have no issue with the police," he said.

Kalenka said he was born in Germany in 1944 and became a certified chef through an apprenticeship in Munich. He later worked as a cook in Switzerland, Sweden and England, where he learned English.

Kalenka immigrated to the United States in the 1960s and worked as a chef in several states before moving to Alaska in 1970. He opened an Anchorage restaurant with his brother, Ralf Kalenka, in 1977, but sold his share of the eatery to his sibling in 1988. He doesn't like to talk about that time in his life, when he went through a divorce and lived on welfare.

"I had a certain period of time I'm not too crazy talking about," said Kalenka, adding the experience prompted him to pursue a degree in justice and history to find out why divorce and crime rates are so high and why the system is "so destructive to the social fabric."

Kalenka said he met Robert Monson, a sponsor of the session-move initiative, while attending a class at the University of Alaska Anchorage. Kalenka and Monson later teamed up as sponsors of the measure to cap property taxes on the 2000 statewide ballot.

Kalenka, by then the manager of his brother's restaurant, was paying only $58 a year in property taxes on a small homestead. But he pushed the tax cap on behalf of an elderly couple who lived in little more than a "shack" and paid high taxes on the home because it was unjustly valued at $200,000 by Anchorage assessors, Kalenka said.

Kalenka said he appealed the assessment for his friends and won, but every year the city inflated the assessed value again. Kalenka called the city officials "patronizing" and "arrogant" and said that when they inflated the value a third time, he decided to take the issue to voters, who defeated the measure by 70 percent.

He got involved in the session-move measure at the urging of "a group of people" he declined to name, calling their identities "irrelevant." Kalenka said he was at first reluctant to work on the campaign but changed his mind after a visit to Juneau during the 2001 session.

He had several appointments with lawmakers but was told upon arrival they were not available, said Kalenka, noting he was instead steered toward staff.

"Since I was only on a limited schedule, I could not reschedule and as you know it's about a $1,000 bill to get to Juneau for just a couple days," said Kalenka.

"That convinced me the people who approached me were correct," he said. "The Legislature needs to be moved out of Juneau to make it more accessible."

This is the first in a series of articles profiling the people behind the ballot initiative to move legislative sessions from Juneau.

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