Election deadline approaching as 2 vie for Chugiak-Eagle River Assembly seat
The 2019 municipal election is ongoing through April 2 and is being conducted through the mail. Voters should have received a Vote by Mail packet in the mail shortly after the ballots were sent out in early March.
Because the election is through the mail, traditional polling places will not be open on Election Day. However, the municipality has set up an Accessible Vote Center in the Eagle River Town Center building (12001 Business Boulevard) in downtown Eagle River. There, voters can turn in their ballots, replace a lost or damaged ballot, receive a ballot if they did not get one in the mail, get answers to other questions, register to vote and vote a questioned or provisional ballot. The center is open weekdays through April 1 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and on Election Day from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.
There are several bond propositions on the ballot, including nearly $60 million in school bonds and millions more for capital improvements, road and storm drainage, parks and recreation, and fire service — though most of the bonds don’t apply to Chugiak-Eagle River, which has its own roads board, parks and rec department and parts of which are outside the municipal fire service area. The ballot also includes a new 5 percent tax on retail sales of alcohol and a proposition that would beef up the muni’s junked vehicle laws.
There are also Anchorage School Board and Anchorage Assembly seats open, including an Assembly seat in Chugiak-Eagle River. The school board (which holds areawide elections and isn’t divided into districts) has two open seats. For Seat A, Eagle River’s Kai Binkley-Sims is running against Anchorage’s Margo Bellamy. For Seat B, school board president Starr Marsett is being challenged by Ronald Stafford and David Nees; all three are from Anchorage.
Schiess, Kennedy square off
In Chugiak-Eagle River (and a small section of East Anchorage), voters will choose between an energetic political newcomer in Oliver Schiess and an experienced former school board member and legislative aide in Crystal Kennedy for the assembly seat that’s being vacated by Gretchen Wehmhoff. Wehmhoff has served since December, when Amy Demboski resigned her post to become a deputy chief of staff for Gov. Mike Dunleavy.
Kennedy is running on her experience in public service and ties to local conservative leaders while Schiess says he’ll bring a fresh perspective to the assembly and believes politicians need to spend more time listening and engaging with the public.
“I think it’s more important that they engage in a dialogue with their constituents,” Schiess said.
Kennedy, 61, is an Eagle River paralegal who has served on numerous local boards and committees. Assembly elections are nonpartisan, but the registered Republican is trying to draw a distinction between herself and Schiess, a Democrat who recently lost a bid to represent the area in the State Senate.
“Even though we say it’s nonpartisan, when it comes down to the kind of things the municipality is going to do or how we spend money those things end up being along political ideology,” said Kennedy, a 25-year Eagle River resident who has the backing of prominent local Republicans such as former assembly members Amy Demboski and Bill Starr and current assemblyman Fred Dyson.
Kennedy said she thinks the governor’s budget proposal and public safety are the top issues facing the muni.
“I think crime is still at the top of everybody’s list,” said Kennedy, who has a bachelor of arts degree in anthropology from Wright State University and a bachelor of science degree in legal administration from the University of West Florida.
Schiess, 39, moved to Eagle River in 2015 after a career in the United States Marines Corps and said he’s planning to stay in his adopted hometown for the long haul. But he believes education is a top priority and said dealing with Gov. Dunleavy’s proposed budget cuts will be the key issue facing the Assembly over the next year.
“Without good public education the quality of life in the dist just goes down, same with the university,” said Schiess, who has a bachelor’s degree in mathematics from Georgia Southwestern University.
In a questionnaire submitted to both candidates, Schiess said his experience in logistics and acquisition management taught him “the principles of responsible spending and that the most common driver of wasteful spending is short-term and shifting budgets.”
Kennedy is against an alcohol tax and Schiess is in favor. Both think earthquake repairs are a top issue facing the Chugiak-Eagle River area. Schiess said he would support an on-site marijuana consumption law (“If steps to ensure public safety are taken”), while Kennedy did not answer whether or not she would support on-site consumption and instead said “Retail sales are already prohibited in my district.” Retail sales are not technically prohibited in Chugiak-Eagle River, but the area does have more restrictive land use rules for retail marijuana businesses that make it difficult for such operations to exist in the area, and none currently exist in Chugiak-Eagle River.
In an interview with the Star, Kennedy said it’s important that Chugiak-Eagle River continue to protect the things that keep it different from its larger cousin to the south.
“There’s always been a sense of separation out here, and I’m very aware of that and sensitive to that,” she said.
Schiess would like to see Mayor Ethan Berkowitz create a climate change action plan while Kennedy would not. The two also differ on the plastic bag ban: Shiess would not reverse the law, Kennedy “would rethink the ban and its consequences.”
When asked what they would cut if the muni’s budget had to be trimmed by 10 percent, Kennedy listed travel, municipal vehicles and services consolidation; Schiess said such a large cut to services wouldn’t be realistic or fiscally responsible.
Schiess said he thinks his job if elected will be to not only listen to but engage with the people of their district.
“All our elected officials always say they want to listen to our community and that’s very good,” he said. “But I think it’s more important that they engage in a dialogue with their constituents.”
On that they agree, as Kennedy said she’ll be a collaborative thinker and “great question-asker” if elected to the Assembly.
“Better decisions come from the wisdom of a lot of great minds,” she said.