Candidates square off in Eagle River
Although the Eagle River Lions are famous for their summertime fireworks show, the club played host to pyrotechnics of a political sort when candidates for the upcoming municipal election showed up on March 2.
A forum featuring five school board candidates and four mayoral candidates featured some lively debate among the political hopefuls who turned out to try to sway Chugiak-Eagle River voters in advance of the April 3 election.
Moderated by radio personality Casey Reynolds, the forum followed a strict question-and-answer format, in which Reynolds posed a question to each candidate, allowing each to respond in turn.
Funding, unions highlight differences
First to go were the five school board candidates, who spent about an hour discussing issues facing the Anchorage School District.
Attending the forum were Seat E incumbent Kathleen Plunkett and challenger David Nees; Seat F hopeful Tam Agosti-Gisler; and Seat G candidates Natasha Von Imhof and Starr Marsett. Seat F and Seat G are being vacated due to term limits.
Early on in the forum, Nees tried to establish himself as the candidate most willing to tighten the Anchorage School District’s purse strings.
“I’m here because I think the spending’s out of control,” Nees said.
Nees is seeking to unseat Plunkett, who has served one term on the board. Plunkett said her biggest priority on the board would be lowering class sizes.
“It is going to take all of us working together for our kids,” she said.
Agosti-Gisler’s opponent for the soon-to-be vacant Seat F, Richard Wanda, was a no-show at the forum. When given time to introduce herself, Agosti-Gisler said she feels there needs to be more accountability, community engagement and innovation in the school system.
“We need to increase participation by the community,” she said.
Running for Seat G (which is currently held by Eagle River’s Crystal Kennedy), Starr Marsett said she believes the district needs to do more to engage Anchorage’s poorest students.
“Our achievement gap is widening,” she said.
Von Imhof said one approach she’d like to see in the district would be creating more partnerships with non-profit organizations to help provide social services in the district and take the burden off taxpayers.
“That would hopefully free up some resources,” she said.
Several questions gave candidates a chance to outline how they stood on several significant issues. On the question of union support for their campaigns, Plunkett, Marsett and Agosti-Gisler said they’ve received union support, Nees and Von Imhof said they hadn’t.
“And I wouldn’t take ‘em,” Nees added.
Candidates also differed on the school choice issue — essentially, whether each supported something like a voucher system. Von Imhof, Marsett, Agosti-Gisler and Plunkett all said they support the current funding model, while Nees said he’s in favor of vouchers that would allow students to seek options outside of ASD public schools.
Finally, when asked if they support pre-kindergarten schooling, Von Imhof, Marsett, Agosti-Gisler and Plunkett again seemed to agree — with each saying they support the idea, but only if funding is identified. Nees said he thinks early education should best be left to families and does not support funding pre-k programs.
Mayoral hopefuls state their cases
After the school board candidates had their say, four candidates vying for the municipality’s top job got their turn in front of the crowd. Among the six men who have filed to run for mayor, incumbent Dan Sullivan and challengers Paul Honeman, Phil Isley and Bob Lupo took part in the forum. Jacob Seth Kern and Bruce Lemke did not attend.
Sullivan spent much of his allotted time making the case that his administration has made positive strides forward since he took over in 2009.
“I think we’ve made great progress,” Sullivan said during his opening remarks.
Honeman said he thinks he can do better, especially when it comes to restoring public confidence in the mayor’s office, city finance and providing essential services.
“We could do a better job of being efficient,” Honeman said.
Isley said he’s running to provide an alternative to the status quo.
“I feel everybody should have a choice,” he said.
Lupo, the only candidate who lives in Chugiak-Eagle River, said he’s running on a platform of public safety.
“I need government to understand their prime concern is for the safety of their citizens,” he said.
On the question of public safety, Honeman took the offensive by citing a recent Forbes magazine article that ranked Anchorage as one of the five most dangerous cities in the U.S.
“If you don’t feel safe than you’re not safe,” he said.
Sullivan struck back with a barb, saying he doesn’t think the city is nearly as dangerous as Forbes made it out to be.
“That’s not usually where I go for crime statistics,” he said, arguing that crime has actually dropped in the past two years.
Isley said he thinks crime in Anchorage is due to too many entitlement programs.
“Quit having so many programs that support people that don’t work,” he said.
Lupo, who said he grew up in East Harlem, New York, said he doesn’t think crime here is bad.
“Anchorage is heaven,” he said.
On changing Anchorage’s tax structure, Honeman said he would be in favor of an alcohol or seasonal sales tax, Isley said he’s completely against any sales tax, Sullivan said he’d support a sales tax if it offset property taxes dollar-for-dollar and Lupo said he wants to implement a payroll tax that would get more money out of commuters who work in Anchorage but live in the Mat-Su.
On the Knik Bridge question, Sullivan said he strongly supports the idea of building a bridge from downtown Anchorage to Point Mackenzie, Lupo said he’s against the idea, Honeman said he doesn’t like the idea of a toll authority and would rather explore building a bridge to Fire Island and onto the Kenai Peninsula and Isley said he doesn’t think a toll bridge would be self-sustaining — but it might if tied into the port expansion and an alternative hydro-electric project in Knik Arm.
In closing, Isley said he would be a fiscally conservative and hard-working mayor.
“I’m very tight with a checkbook,” he said.
Sullivan said a vote for him is a vote to keep Anchorage moving in the right direction.
“I think Anchorage is cleaner, safer and stronger than we were three years ago,” he said.
Honeman said he’ll be more responsive to the people.
“The government really is ‘we,’” he said.
Although the candidates differed slightly on several questions posed to them, Lupo made perhaps the most controversial statement of the evening when he put in a plug for Chugiak-Eagle River secession.
“I would like to see Eagle River and Chugiak become a separate entity,” he said. “I’m tired of playing second fiddle to Anchorage.”
Although the statement earned Lupo one of the night’s few rounds of applause, none of the other candidates seconded his opinion.