Ms. Mayor, maybe
Amy Demboski sits at a backroom table in Jitters wearing a maroon jacket and lacey black top, her blond hair falling around her shoulders. She looks friendly yet serious. She takes off her glasses, makes herself comfortable.
Demboski, who has served on the Anchorage Assembly for the past year, recently announced her bid for Anchorage mayor.
The decision wasn’t an easy one.
“It took me three full days, in my house, not sleeping, just thinking,” she says. “The responsibility is greater than I’ve ever felt.”
Demboski grew up a military kid, lived in Japan, the Philippines and the East Coast before her family settled in the Eagle River area when she was 12. She graduated for Gruening Middle School and Chugiak High School, where she met her husband, Anchorage Fire Department captain Ben Demboski. They married in 1998, at the chapel at Elmendorf Air Force Base.
“Nothing impacted me more than growing up in the military,” she says. “Dad used to joke and say I was the most military kid that he knew.”
She attended University of Alaska Anchorage, obtained degrees in both justice and history and went on to get her MBA, with an emphasis in finance, from Columbia Southern University.
“My forte,” she says with a laugh, “is business development.”
She put her degrees to good use, building up a multi-million dollar business.
“I was very successful but my heart felt empty,” she says. “I looked at my husband one day and said, ‘I feel as if I’m not doing enough for my community.’”
She made a commitment to five years of community service, which led to community council president, which led to the Assembly position.
“When I looked at who to support for Assembly, there was no one. So I decided to run myself,” she says.”
Anyone who attends the Anchorage Assembly meetings or watches along on television knows this: Demboski is a formidable force. She’s not afraid to speak up or politely interrupt if that’s what it takes to get her position heard. She frequently butts heads with older and more experienced members, and she doesn’t waiver or back down. She holds her ground.
The first few Assembly meetings proved to be a learning experience. Some of the members, she implies, viewed her as a petite blond woman, someone they could easily sway over to their side.
It didn’t take long to prove them wrong.
“I remember my first meeting after I was sworn in, the mayor was trying to spend like a million dollars on the centennial celebration and I took an amendment to cut that number,” she says. “Here I’m a brand new member going toe-to-toe with the mayor. I had butterflies in my stomach, but I wasn’t deterred.”
Working on the Assembly and running for mayor has its difficult moments, but for the most part Demboski maneuvers smoothly, especially now that her children are older. Riley is 15 and Kennedy, at 18, is a recent CHS graduate. Yet, there are still sacrifices.
“I don’t make every sporting event but my kids know that I love them and support them, and they know that what I do helps others,” she says.
The family member that misses out the most, she says, is their dog, a yellow Labrador named McKinley.
“He’s home alone a lot because the family is so busy.”
Demboski sees her management style in direct contrast with that of current Mayor Dan Sullivan’s.
“I believe to be the most successful is to listen to people and value relationships,” she says. “I’ve never been afraid to engage with people who think differently than I do.”
Women, she believes, tend to be problem-solvers. They understand the emotion behind people’s decisions, and they’re not afraid to remain open to suggestions.
“I think sometimes with some politicians, pride gets in the way,” she says. “I’m just not a prideful person.”
If Demboski wins the mayoral election, she will be Anchorage’s first woman mayor. Her main opponent is Dan Coffey, a candidate with access to deep campaign contribution pockets.
“Being a woman, I definitely haven’t been as easily embraced in the political establishment, but at the same point, I think that’s really been my strength. People are so tired of this establishment mentality.”
As a fiscal conservative, her motto is simple: Don’t spend more than what you have. If elected, she plans on reducing management staffing overtime expenses.
“When you look at some of our positions and people are making $100,000 in overtime, well, we need to get a hold of that,” she says.
She views comments on her lack of lengthy political background as a moot point.
“There’s a big difference between leg experience and common, everyday sense,” she says. “I don’t want a life-long politician with the same old tired ideas in the mayor’s office any longer.”
If elected, Demboski says she’ll be the first mayor to truly “get” Chugiak-Eagle River issues.
“I grew up in Eagle River, where we love sustainable budgeting and ethical leadership, and I think those are what people in Anchorage also value,” she says. “We aren’t divided. We’re all in this together.”