Editor’s note: Ahead of the Oct. 6 municipal election, the Empire is publishing articles on how the vote-by-mail election will work, the propositions that will appear on ballots and races for Assembly and Board of Education seats. The Empire is also partnering with the League of Women Voters, a nonpartisan organization that does not endorse parties nor candidates. You’ll find candidate bios and answers to six questions that the League developed inside today’s paper. In cooperation with the Empire and KTOO, the League will hold a virtual candidate forum at 7 p.m. on Sept. 16.
There are four people running for the District 2 seat covering the Mendenhall Valley, Auke Bay and the area north of the ferry terminal. The Empire spoke with each of the candidates about their reasons for running, and what they wanted to see in the City and Borough of Juneau.
There’s no one defending the seat, as its current occupant Rob Edwardson decided not to seek reelection.
All the candidates are new-comers to city governments and fairly young — all but one are millennials. The youngest of the group is 22 years old and the oldest 43. All said they more or less approved of the job the current Assembly had been doing, but acknowledged the challenges the city faced both before the coronavirus pandemic and because of it. Each expressed a strong desire to be part of city government right now, a time candidates used words like, critical, crucial and transformational.
Dzinich — pronounced GEEN’-ich — is the youngest of the group. So young, in fact, he just graduated from Elon University in North Carolina in May. Now at 22 he finds himself back in his hometown facing a problem he shares with many of his peers.
“The big issue for people my age is ‘How can I make my life here?’ For us it’s a constant issue,” Dzinich said. “A lot of those people come to the conclusion that they can’t.”
Dzinich is young, but he’s amassed a fair amount of leadership credentials. He was student body president while at Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé, the student representative to the JSD Board of Education and was named an Isabella Cannon Leadership Fellow while at Elon. He currently works as a civil clerk at Juneau’s trial court.
The coronavirus pandemic highlighted the city’s need to diversify its economy and provide alternatives to the tourism industry, Dzinich said, and the city had a role in supporting the private sector when it came to incentivizing certain kinds of businesses. While he thinks the city should provide a supporting role to businesses and social services, Dzinich acknowledged there were difficult decisions ahead when it comes to the city budget.
“I am in support of the bond package, yes it will increase property taxes, but I think it’s fair for us as a community to bear the burden together, but (the bond package) has to come with responsible decisions made on the city’s part,” he said.
Derr is another lifelong Juneauite concerned with Juneau’s ability to retain people. At 34, she’s raising her own family and that experience has made her more aware of areas of the city that are struggling, she said.
“You see the areas of Juneau that have struggled a bit more. But you also see what Juneau has been, is, could become. We have so much going on,” she said. “I am younger, but I intend to grow old here and want my children to grow old here. I have to get out there and at least try, I’m not the only one facing these issues.”
As a mother, Derr said some of her main concerns are schools and child care, and while she doesn’t like the idea of her taxes going up, she believes the maintenance of schools and other infrastructure is critical. The city should take an active role in social services, Derr said, which is going to mean spending money.
“There are people saying we want to see something done with (homelessness) but don’t want to see the funds spent toward it,” she said.
But taking in public comment and listening to multiple viewpoints are areas in which Derr said the current Assembly was doing well and something she wanted to be a part of.
“They’ve done the absolute best they can with the information they’ve had,” she said. “They’ve shown a lot of respect for these viewpoints and how they’re presented at these meetings.”
Woll, 35, has never served as an elected official in city government, but she’s served on city boards and commissions and her work with environmental group the Nature Conservancy has her working with public and private entities throughout Southeast Alaska, she said.
Her role as program manager has given her leadership skills managing a staff and budget, she said, and a lot of her work involves interacting with different interests.
Much of her work, she said, is “specific to working with Southeast Alaska and small businesses on sustainable development and cultural tourism. I have experience with building economies while conserving the environment.”
Given her work on local bodies such as the Juneau Sustainability Commission where she serves as secretary and the Blueprint Downtown Steering Committee which she chairs, Woll said she has a fairly decent working knowledge of CBJ policy and procedure.
“When I was deciding to run, I reached out to a variety of the Assembly members (to ask,) ‘If you knew what you knew now, would you do it again?’ They all said they would do it again, and they all thought it was the most important thing they could be doing right now. That’s how I feel,” she said.
She too feels the city should play an active role in social services, saying she supported the $15 million bond package, but the city will have to adapt to a constantly changing financial outlook.
“I think we do have to see how school bond debt reimbursement plays out. It’s probably not going to be reimbursed in the same way it has in the past, and (the Assembly will) have to adapt based on the information that comes in.”
At 43, Shoemake stands apart from his fellow candidates in more than just age.
“Looking at what we have as the current (Assembly) members, the private sector is not really represented very well,” he said.
Shoemake owns Budget Appliance Repair, an experience that he said taught him how to keep a tight rein on budgets.
“You don’t have the ability to raise taxes in the private sector,” he said. “I definitely want to tighten down. looking ahead and what we’re trying to do next year, we’re going to have to be really creative to keep everything going.”
That doesn’t mean he’s against the city supporting some amount of social services. Shoemake said he was on the fence about the $15 million bond package, not with the proposal necessarily, but with the fiscal diligence surrounding the money once it hits the city’s coffers.
“I think it’s a good idea if they use it what for what they say. But if you look at the history of this Assembly, as time goes on they reallocate that money to something else,” he said. “I’m OK with (bonds for infrastructure), I’m not a fan of the city government borrowing money unless it goes to something that’s going to create revenue.”
Shoemake said he supported the idea of the city giving some funds to local nonprofits to help with homelessness but suggested using volunteers to bolster the ranks of service organizations.
“As leaders in the community we need to come out and say we need extra volunteers,” but, he also said, “if we establish some of these (social) programs, we’re going to have to pour some money into it.”
• Contact reporter Peter Segall at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at @SegallJnuEmpire.