Hopefuls offer willingness to act, listen: Joan Cahill

Posted: Monday, September 26, 2005

Juneau Assembly District 1 candidate Joan Cahill is the opposite of incumbent Merrill Sanford in many ways.

Cahill, chairwoman of Juneau Clean Air, succeeded in persuading the Assembly to ban smoking in bars and restaurants. Because of her organization's efforts, smoking has not been allowed in restaurant bars since last January and will be prohibited in all bars in January 2008. Sanford was one of three Assembly members who voted against the proposal.

While Sanford is a vocal supporter of building a road out of Juneau, Cahill said the road is too big of an issue to make it a decision of nine Assembly members.

"The public must weigh in a referendum," said Cahill, 47.

Cahill said she distinguishes herself from Sanford as someone who can research an issue carefully, conduct presentations to educate the public and see an issue through.

"While I was working on the (smoking) matter, my opponent couldn't explain to us why he didn't support it other than he simply felt that way," Cahill said. "My constituents wanted a better reason than that."

Sanford said he didn't think the smoking ban was necessary because there were restaurants and bars that prohibit smoking.

"People already had a choice on which businesses they wanted to eat and drink," Sanford said. "The government didn't need to put more rules and regulations on private businesses."

A communications specialist for the Alaska Permanent Fund Corp., Cahill does presentations statewide to educate people about the fund. She also designs educational curricula for teachers.

To prepare for the campaign, Cahill has had informational interviews with Airport Manager Allan Heese, Finance Director Craig Duncan, Mayor Bruce Botelho and City Attorney John Hartle.

When she attends candidate forums, she often speaks based on the facts she collects from government documents and newspaper articles.

"There is a steep learning curve," Cahill said. "To run for the office is a concentrated experience. It's like taking two years of courses and compressing them in a couple of months of learning."

Cahill is one two female Assembly candidates.

Joan Cahill

Age: 47

Length of time in Juneau: 23 years

Education: Master's Degree in Public Administration from the University of Alaska Southeast

Profession: Communications specialist for Alaska Permanent Fund Corp.

Community involvement: Chairwoman of Juneau Clean Air; volunteer at Juneau Arts and Humanities Council; volunteer for Perseverance Theatre; former volunteer firefighter; former mediator at Juneau Mediation Center

Stated agenda:

• provide affordable mid- to low-income housing

• improve recycling and garbage solutions

• promote Juneau as a regional hub

• create better parking and more local business downtown

• hire locally through training and education

"I have been feeling guilty for years, complaining that we don't have enough women on the Assembly," she said. "Now I am doing something about it."

Cahill said having a female representative is a matter of accessibility for residents.

"Women make up 50 percent of our population," Cahill said. "I cannot say I represent all their opinions. But at least I can bring a woman's perspective to the Assembly."

Cahill was born and raised in Rhode Island. Before moving to Juneau in 1982, she sold coffee and Alaska salmon salad and sandwiches to tourists at the Ketchikan dock for several summers.

Alaska court documents show that Cahill violated a domestic violence restraining order by calling her former domestic partner in 1996. She called the residence of her former partner after he filed a restraining order against her.

Cahill said although she actually was the victim, her partner was able to turn the tables and accused her of domestic violence. "I hope the unfortunate revelation of mine will help somebody else realize they are living in situations that are harmful."

Cahill said she feels lucky to have met her current husband. She said she didn't tell him any of this until it came up during the campaign.

"I didn't tell him because I wanted to move on," Cahill said. "He has been very supportive after I told him what happened."

Cahill said she cares about issues affecting not just women but the whole community.

"Keeping Juneau the capital is my umbrella theme," Cahill said. "It captures many quality-of-life issues such as creating more affordable housing, extending our sewer system, and promoting fisheries and tourism."

The key to improving Juneau's quality of life is to strike a balance among all the important elements of the community, she said.

Although she doesn't want to be called a "garbage candidate," Cahill said she will advocate curbside pickup of recyclables.

"We can try to process some recyclables here," Cahill said. "If our economy of scale is too small, we can be a recycling hub for Southeast Alaska."

Cindy Spanyers, who worked with Cahill to promote the smoking ban, said Cahill remained optimistic and positive even under difficult circumstances.

Spanyers said during the campaign for the smoking ban, two people went to Cahill's office and demanded to talk to her in person.

"She remained fairly calm and steadfast in her belief that everybody deserves clean air," Spanyers said.

Spanyers said Cahill and she went to health fairs to do presentations on the harm of second-hand smoking. They also made the case at Native family gatherings and the city's ski swap. The group received between 1,100 and 1,300 signatures supporting a smoking ban before it approached the Assembly to adopt the ordinance.

Patricia Macklin, who has known Cahill for more than 10 years, said Cahill is good at listening to all perspectives and gathering information.

"The clean air ordinance shows that she comes from the community's point of view," Macklin said.

But some business owners are worried that Cahill might favor more regulations on business.

At a Juneau Chamber of Commerce candidates' forum, Cahill said she would support an ordinance that asks seasonal business owners not to cover their windows with newspapers.

Chuck Collins, owner of Copy Express, said he can see merits in the ordinance but he doesn't want the city to impose more regulations.

"Based on her answers I feel she will be interested in more regulations," Collins said after Cahill attended the chamber forum. "I was there when she did the clean air thing. I don't need the city to tell me how to run my business."

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