Two weeks to the day before this fall’s municipal election, dozens of people got to know three mayoral candidates a little better.
Mayoral candidates Norton Gregory, Saralyn Tabachnick and Beth Weldon fielded questions during the Get Out The Native Vote’s CBJ Mayoral Forum, with topics ranging from drug use to property taxes to how to keep Juneau as Alaska’s capital. Cody Shoemaker, the fourth candidate for mayor, was not in attendance.
The three of them spoke for about 45 minutes, answering questions from moderator Rep. Sam Kito III, D-Juneau. Candidates were particularly talkative when it came to issues of affordability, accessibility and public safety. Those issues, they all stated, translated to various other challenges facing the city.
“In order to incite new industry in our community, we need to have more places for people to live,” Gregory said. “That means we truly need to start exploring and opening up the back side of Douglas.”
That comment proved timely, as the City and Borough of Juneau announced Tuesday that the West Douglas Road will open Sept. 28, with the eventual goal of bringing industry and housing to the back side of Douglas.
Tabachnick stated multiple times that she wants to see Juneau become “a 21st century capital city” and promote jobs that involve technology. She pointed to the Marine Exchange of Alaska, which tracks ships around Alaska. It could be based anywhere, she said, but it’s in Juneau because the owner wanted to be in Juneau. Making Juneau a welcoming place for innovative business owners, Tabachnick said, could boost the economy.
“This is the 21st century. People can work remotely, and they are working remotely, this new workforce,” Tabachnick said. “We can invite people here who have those skills to work from Juneau.”
Weldon, a longtime business owner in Juneau, said it’s important to not forget about the businesses that are already here.
“Our economic base is as varied as the heritage of all of our citizens,” Weldon said. “We have tourism, mining, fishing, small businesses, state, federal, city and tribal jobs, and we need to keep working with all these industries to keep them here and working well.”
In reference to tourism, Weldon said it’s important to provide open spaces for visitors to go where they can get out of downtown. In the fishing world, she favors more friendly user fees and user regulations of the docks. Helping small businesses, she said, is as simple as maintaining the infrastructure around them like water, sewer and roads.
All three also spoke in favor of investing in early childhood education to help spur the local economy as well. The forum lasted about 45 minutes, with each candidate getting one minute to answer each question. A couple of the questions came from the audience, but most were pre-prepared.
Gregory and Weldon are both former CBJ Assembly members who resigned their seats to run for mayor. Tabachnick is the executive director of Aiding Women in Abuse and Rape Emergencies (AWARE), Juneau’s domestic violence shelter. Shoemaker is a car detailer who works at National Enterprise at the Juneau International Airport.
Multiple people in attendance said they thought the forum was valuable. Attendee Natasha McClanahan, who works at the Alaska Network on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault, said she wished the candidates had tied rates of domestic and sexual violence into their comments because those issues tie into other issues as well.
Overall, though, she said she enjoyed being able to get to know the candidates a little better.
“I actually came in with a really open mind and I think it helped to inform,” McClanahan said. “It’ll be something I reflect upon before I vote.”
GOTNV hosted another forum, for CBJ Assembly and Board of Education candidates, starting at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday. The date of the municipal election is Oct. 2. The organization will host forums about other statewide races leading up to the state’s general election, which takes place Nov. 6.
Know & Go
What: Get Out The Native Vote Candidate Forum Series
Where: Elizabeth Peratrovich Hall
District 33 & 34 Candidate Forum: Sept. 25, 11:30 a.m.
District 35 & District Q Candidate Forum: Sept. 25, 5:30 p.m.
Alaska Gubernatorial Candidate Forum: Oct. 2, 11:30 a.m.
Ballot Measure One Forum: Oct. 9, 11:30 a.m.
• Contact reporter Alex McCarthy at 523-2271 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @akmccarthy.