Mayoral candidates build on experience

Incumbent Bruce Botelho draws on longstanding service in Juneau

Posted: Wednesday, September 27, 2006

For incumbent Mayor Bruce Botelho, his five decades in Juneau are just the beginning. He wants to make his mark for years to come.

"I tend to look at horizons that are 10, 20, 30 years out, but there are short-term horizons as well," said the lifelong Juneau resident.

Botelho is running for re-election against challenger Brad Fluetsch in the Oct. 3 municipal election.

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The mayor said work this term that will bear fruit soon includes the Downtown Waterfront Development Plan and an update of the city's Comprehensive Plan. He said he is creating a development strategy for West Douglas, and is working to build a second crossing of Gastineau Channel.

Affordable housing and the high cost of living are concerns that have come up frequently this election season, Botelho said. Opening access to West Douglas with another bridge would increase development and lead to more housing in the community.

This year's budget has money designated for identifying a corridor from the mainland to Douglas Island.

"I don't think West Douglas can be developed without direct access and that is very important to Juneau's future," West Douglas Working Group Vice-Chairman Rick Shattuck said.

Although Shattuck has not had day-to-day contact with Botelho about the project, he said the mayor has displayed interest and has been very involved with the group.

• Age: 57.

• Occupation: lawyer.

• Education: bachelors degree from Willamette University, law degree from Willamette University.

• Public service: Juneau Assembly member 1983 to 1986; mayor 1988 to 1991 and 2000 to 2003; former attorney general of Alaska.

• Time in Juneau: 50 years.

• Family: wife, Lupita; son. Alejandro (Alex); daughter, Adriana.

"I would say he has certainly provided leadership on the project," Shattuck said.

Building a second bridge over Gastineau Channel will be the catalyst to developing West Douglas, Botelho said.

"It is something that is not going to happen overnight and will be a several-year process, but we are trying to get all the preliminary planning done to make sure the project is ready for full construction funding," he said.

Another project Botelho supported is the construction of a new capitol. Botelho spearheaded a design competition for a new building that he said did not get the kind of public support he had hoped for.

The winning design by a Los Angeles firm met a chilly reception from the public. The project drew the ire of those who supported a capital move, and in 2005 the city returned a $94,500 state grant for the design contest because Gov. Frank Murkowski and some lawmakers said it was inappropriate.

"It's certainly amazing that as we approach the 50th anniversary of statehood, we're still leaving up in the air whether Juneau is the temporary seat of government or whether it's permanent," Botelho said.

Even though the design competition failed to get support from the community and the state, the contest for a new capitol did produce some positive results, Botelho said.

"What we did amass was a great deal of information about what the space needs were, what the cost were, the nature of the site on Telephone Hill, and I remain firmly committed to the idea that sooner or later we'll need a new capitol building that will do a great deal to cement Juneau, literally, as the state's capital and something that people around the state will be proud of."

The proposed construction of a road out of Juneau also has been divisive, Botelho said. He said it is ironic how much attention the issue has generated, considering the city's limited role in the project when compared to the state.

The mayor has come under fire from some for not being clear on his position on the road.

Botelho said much of the confusion comes from a July 29 special Assembly meeting in which he voted for the proposed project because it complied with local laws. He later spoke out against the project.

He said there are some good arguments for constructing a road out of Juneau, but it is not in the best interest of the community because it would disturb the Berners Bay wilderness and has the potential to stymie support for a second channel crossing.

"The project may be started, but I seriously question whether it will be completed, at least any time in the near future," Botelho said. "So it's clear to me that whatever happens we're going to have to have an investment in our ferry system."

Dick Knapp, Botelho's challenger in 2000 election and a member of Citizens Pro Road, said the road is important for Juneau because it would actually help the Alaska Marine Highway System operate more effectively and would increase the economic diversity of the community.

"It's important that the construction of the road be perceived as being supported by the city of Juneau and there is no better way of doing that then having the city government support the building of the road," Knapp said. "I think it goes without saying that the mayor should be in the forefront of that."

Botelho said construction of the Kensington Mine at the northern end of Berners Bay is a worthwhile project because the management has shown a commitment to protecting the environment and has put a lot of thought into the project.

"It's clearly healthy for the economy," Botelho said. "Alaska by its very nature is always going to be a resource-extraction state. I think our hope is that we have companies that will come in and be responsive and responsible, and I think Coeur Alaska is that company."

A number of other contentious issues have come in front of the Assembly during Botelho's term as mayor, including lifting the sales tax exemption for senior citizens. The exemption remains and Botelho said the issue has had closure and is one he does not intend to revisit.

Chairwoman of Juneau Clean Air Joan Cahill said she was impressed by Botelho's patience working with the two opposing groups that led to a smoking ban in restaurants and will restrict smoking in local bars in 2008.

"It was just a really lengthy and arduous process and he was the pivotal piece of the whole wheel," she said.

Botelho acted as a liaison between the groups to help find a working compromise, Cahill said.

"We all went away with some sense of disappointment and some sense of accomplishment and I don't feel anyone felt they won or lost," she said.

Botelho said he has the experience and leadership style to lead Juneau into the future.

"There are a lot of ways of describing what the Assembly does or what the mayor does, but ultimately it comes down to me being a problem solver," he said. "I think I do a good job at finding where there are points of consensus, trying to narrow divides among groups of people."

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