Assembly candidate Mara Early says what separates her from the field is she is one of those young people that government officials, business owners and her opponents say the city needs to retain.
"Many people at my age don't come back to Juneau because they cannot find jobs or cannot afford to live here," Early said.
Early is 23. Opponents Bob Doll and David Summers are 69 and 35, respectively.
Early was born in Korea. Her parents, Dennis and Sharon, adopted her when she was 3 months old. Growing up in Juneau, she was active in Juneau Jumpers and school government. She came back to Juneau after graduating from college.
Early said her passion especially goes to the city's young people.
After returning from college, Early worked as office assistant for the city's Juneau Teen Health Center. She quit the job to run for the Assembly's at-large seat.
The Juneau School District asked her to help organize events such as the Juneau Assets Awareness Week.
During the assets awareness week, students learned to identify things they could take advantage of to be healthy, caring and responsible people. Topics included family communication and seeking parental and adult support.
"The more relationships young people have with adults, the more likely they are to make positive decisions about their lives," Early said.
Kokii Stekoll, a high school senior who knew Early through the teen health center, worked with her on the Juneau Assets Awareness Week.
"Mara is very motivated in working with students," Stekoll said. "When we worked on the Juneau Assets Week, she was very organized and open to new ideas."
Early has established a close relationship with the city's youth, not only through her previous job at the health center but also through her volunteer work at various organizations.
She is chairwoman of the Juneau Coalition for Youth. She is also adviser to the Juneau-Douglas High School Student Council.
She recently went to a weekend retreat with 25 students from the student council to help them identify goals for the organization and prepare for the upcoming Alaska Association of Student Government conference.
Clay Wertheimer, president of the high school council, said Early connects with students well because of her age and her own experience in student government.
"She is a good source," Wertheimer said. "We are lucky to have her."
Joyce Parry Moore, artistic director of Opera to Go!, said Early was a good collaborator, an important trait for an Assembly member.
Early was stage manager for the organization's recent production, "Mozart Reimagined." Early is also on the board of Opera to Go!, responsible for outreach to youth.
"She listens well and she works well with other people," Parry Moore said. "The young people need a voice to speak for them."
Running for the Assembly is a natural merger of Early's interests in youth and politics.
She said she's had political aspirations since she was 14. She has interned for former Lt. Gov. Fran Ulmer, Democratic Rep. Beth Kerttula, and California Congresswoman Lois Capps. She also campaigned for former Gov. Tony Knowles last year when Knowles ran for U.S. Senate.
Kerttula said Early interned for her before she left for college.
"She did a really good job," Kerttula said.
But Kerttula said she doesn't want to comment more on the race.
"I am very close to Bob Doll. Mara understands that," Kerttula said.
Some city leaders, including former Deputy Mayor Jim Powell, have asked Early to step down so she won't split votes from one of her opponents, Bob Doll.
Both Doll and Early are Democrats. Doll's policy ideas are similar to hers, compared with the other candidate, Summers, outgoing president of the Juneau Chamber of Commerce.
Powell said because Doll and Early share a lot of views on issues such as a road out of Juneau, people who would vote for Doll might support Early and let Summers win.
"Bob has the most life and professional expertise among the three candidates," Powell said.
Early said she won't step down. In a written statement responding to the pressure, she said, "I am a committed candidate in the areawide Assembly race not because I want to further the interests of party politics, but because I want to give a proactive voice to both students and residents that feel disenfranchised from the political process.
"I understand desires from former Assembly members to, in a sense, appoint one of 'their own' to the Assembly, continuing status quo. However, as a young woman who has lived in the community her entire life and invested in Juneau's future, I think it is vital that we support new blood, fresh ideas and unlimited energy to the political arena."
Early said if elected, she would create opportunities for high school students to connect with Assembly members so students can learn more about local politics.
Molly Hodges, an Early supporter, said she likes her enthusiasm and her energy, even if she doesn't have the most experience.
"I am not downgrading experience. I just think we have a lot to learn from our youth," Hodges said.
I-Chun Che can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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