Mayor Ken Koelsch speaks at the Juneau Chamber of Commerce luncheon on Thursday, Aug. 30, 2018. Koelsch, who is not running for re-election this fall, reflected on his two and a half years as mayor during the speech. (Alex McCarthy | Juneau Empire)

Mayor Ken Koelsch speaks at the Juneau Chamber of Commerce luncheon on Thursday, Aug. 30, 2018. Koelsch, who is not running for re-election this fall, reflected on his two and a half years as mayor during the speech. (Alex McCarthy | Juneau Empire)

‘An unexpected honor:’ Koelsch reflects on time as Juneau mayor

Ken Koelsch recalls tough choices, contentious votes during mayoral term

During his speech at Thursday’s Juneau Chamber of Commerce weekly luncheon, Mayor Ken Koelsch quoted Mark Twain more than a dozen times.

Koelsch, who is not running for re-election this fall and was looking back on his two and a half years as mayor, chose one quote of Twain’s to repeat twice.

“The public is merely a multiplied ‘me.’”

Koelsch, 74, said that saying sums up the challenge of being in city government. Everybody has their own interests, desires and priorities, and it’s nearly impossible to cater to all of them.

“Many people are critical of government,” Koelsch said. “Some think we spend their property and sales tax too foolishly and others think we are too stingy. Finding the balance is always a challenge.”

Since taking over after winning a special mayoral election in March 2016, Koelsch said, there have been a variety of difficult decisions and close votes. One that “certainly sticks out,” Koelsch said Thursday, is the February 2017 vote on an ordinance that forbid people from sleeping in the doorways of downtown businesses.

In past interviews with the Empire, Koelsch has also pointed to that vote as one of the toughest and most contentious issues on the Assembly during his time as mayor. Koelsch voted in favor of the ordinance, which passed by a 5-4 margin, and said he received a large amount of negative feedback from the public afterward.

Koelsch listed off the steps the city has taken in addressing homelessness since that contentious vote, including the Housing First facility that houses 32 of the community’s most vulnerable residents. He mentioned the hiring of Housing and Homelessess Coordinator Irene Gallion, the opening of a wintertime warming shelter and the consideration of expanding Housing First.

The speech was not all serious. Koelsch threw in a few jokes throughout, including a few at the expense of the media organizations in town. He pointed out that he wasn’t fond of the wording of headlines over the years and certainly wasn’t a fan of the Empire’s editorial cartoons, but said he understands the important role the paper and radio stations play in the way the capital city functions.

“With that being said, we have an obligation to ensure our press is free and is here to bring us the news,” Koelsch said. “I cannot imagine Juneau without free press.”

When he announced he was not going to run for re-election, Koelsch said he had wanted to move on and spend time with his family, but didn’t want to do it unless there were going to be multiple good mayoral candidates to choose from. Voters will have four options: former Assembly member Norton Gregory, political newcomer Cody Shoemaker, Aiding Women in Abuse and Rape Emergencies (AWARE) Executive Director Saralyn Tabachnick and former Assembly member Beth Weldon.

There was a full house at the Moose Lodge for Thursday’s luncheon, and Koelsch drew applause twice. Midway through his talk, when he said he is still in favor of a road north of Juneau, applause broke out. The second time was a standing ovation at the end of his tidy 18-minute address.

Near the end, Koelsch said he didn’t know what the future holds for him, but he knows it will be in Juneau with his wife Marian and their children and grandchildren. It’s been an interesting journey since his out-of-nowhere candidacy in the 2016 special election, he said, and he smiled warmly as he extended his gratitude to the audience.

“It was an unexpected honor to serve as mayor,” Koelsch said. “Thank you.”

“I don’t know what the future will bring, but I do know that it will be in Juneau, with family and friends.”

• Contact reporter Alex McCarthy at 523-2271 or Follow him on Twitter at @akmccarthy.

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