Election returns show Kennedy on way to Assembly win; voters approve of school bonds

Wednesday, April 3, 2019 - 12:24
  • Crystal Kennedy listens to someone speak in the hallways of Chugiak High School following a public meeting on the future of secondary eduction in Eagle River on Tuesday, Feb. 12, 2019 at Chugiak High School. (Matt Tunseth / Chugiak-Eagle River Star)

There’s about to be a Kennedy on the Anchorage Assembly.

With the early votes counted following Tuesday’s by mail election deadline, Eagle River’s Crystal Kennedy held a commanding lead over Oliver Schiess in the two-way race to replace Gretchen Wehmhoff on the Assembly. With 6,802 votes cast as of Tuesday night, Kennedy had 3,666 (53.9 percent) votes while Schiess garnered 2,686 (39.5 percent).

Kennedy, 61, said she felt her campaign connected well with voters in Chugiak-Eagle River, where she’s lived for the past 25 years.

“My whole message was talking about what the community needs,” Kennedy said Wednesday.

Even though municipal elections are officially nonpartisan, Kennedy said the ideological differences between herself — a registered Republican — and Schiess, a Democrat, were big enough that there was a clear choice for voters.

“With me being the conservative the line was pretty cut and dried to me,” she said.

Kennedy said if the results hold, her goal on the Assembly will be to advocate for Chugiak-Eagle River-specific issues such as fixing infrastructure and schools damaged in the 2018 earthquake and making sure the community doesn’t see a reduction of staffing at the Anchorage Fire Department’s Station 11 in Eagle River.

“We don’t want to lose equipment out here,” she said.

Kennedy — who previously served on the Anchorage School Board — said she’d also like to take a closer look at plans for fixing Gruening Middle School and Eagle River Elementary. The Anchorage School Board has approved a $36 million plan to fix the schools — rather than replacing them or consolidating existing facilities as some have suggested — but Kennedy said she thinks the issue will likely require more discussion.

“I’m just not sure the community is ready to buy in yet,” she said.

The campaign was relatively low key with little or no real sparring between the candidates and no negative campaign ads. Kennedy and Schiess — who both live in the Eagle River Valley — each said they appreciated the cordial tone of the campaign and both spoke highly of one another Wednesday.

“She’s very well educated, she’s ethical, she cares about her community and she wants to do the right things for her community,” Schiess said Wednesday while taking a break from working on repairs to his earthquake-damaged home. “Those are the most important things.”

The campaign was an educational experience for Schiess, a 39-year-old former Marine who also ran for State Senate in November. Between the two campaigns, Schiess said he’s “learned so much” about the workings of both state and municipal government.

“It’s been fascinating,” he said.

The most encouraging part of running for office, he said, has been getting to meet people in the area and see how many folks have a vested interest in its future.

“There’s a lot of good people out there who are really trying to do a lot of good work for our community, and just running a campaign and being a part of that makes me incredibly proud,” he said.

As for whether he’s got another run for office in him in the near future, Schiess laughed.

“Ask me in a couple weeks,” he said.

Votes in the election are still being tabulated, with new counts released each day. Voters had until 8 p.m. Tuesday to turn in their votes at assisted voting stations or until midnight to get ballots postmarked and sent. That means there’s still thousands of ballots still to be counted, according to the municipal clerk’s office. To receive updated vote counts as they’re released, text the word VOTE to 907-312-1012.

Turnout in Chugiak-Eagle River appears to be low, with about 17 percent of registered voters casting ballots as of Tuesday night.

If the vote holds, Kennedy will replace Wehmhoff, who has held the Chugiak-Eagle River seat vacated by Amy Demboski since December when Demboski resigned to take a job in the Gov. Dunleavy administration. The area’s other assembly member is Fred Dyson.

In other items on the ballot, a proposed alcohol tax appeared to be rejected by voters, with about 52 percent of votes cast against.

As for the municipal-wide Anchorage School Board election, board president Starr Marsett and Margot Bellamy, both of Anchorage, looked poised to win their races. As of Tuesday night, Marsett, a real estate agent, had about 52 percent of the vote for Seat A on the board compared to about 39 percent for retired Anchorage teacher David Nees. In the race for Seat B, former teacher Bellmay had about 55 percent of the vote to 45 percent for Eagle River’s Kai Binkley Sims, an engineer who is also a part owner of the Anchorage Daily News and Chugiak-Eagle River Star.

Voters also were approving a $59.1 million school bond package that includes funding for a new roof at Eagle River Elementary and $4 million for Chugiak-Eagle River school repairs. As of Tuesday night, about 59 percent of voters were in favor of the bond.

Email Star editor Matt Tunseth at [email protected] or call 257-4274.

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