Ken Koelsch is running for mayor.

Ken Koelsch is running for mayor.

Candidate profiles: Meet Juneau’s next mayor

On March 15, the City and Borough of Juneau will hold a special mayoral election to determine who will fill the rest of former Mayor Greg Fisk’s term, which ends in 2018. Karen Crane and Ken Koelsch are the two candidates in the running, and they’ve already begun campaigning, as evidenced by signs advertising their names across town.

Both candidates recently sat down with the Empire to give their take on the issues facing the Assembly, the role of the mayor and why they should win. Here’s what they had to say.


Karen Crane

Age: 68

Years in Alaska: 37

Years in Juneau: 30

Education: BA in history and MLS from Indiana University


Q: Why do you think you’re qualified to be the mayor?

A: Well, I’ve been on the Assembly for over five years. I’ve been the chair of the Finance Committee for four of those years. I’ve also served on the Public Works and Facilities Committee, Human Resources Committee. I know the issues. As head of the Finance Committee for four years, I know the city’s budget and have worked on it for the last few years. I have the time and the interest and feel that I’m well qualified.


Q: In your opinion, what are the two most important issues facing the Assembly?

A: The major issue is the state’s financial picture. It is going to — and it already has already started to — impact Juneau. And one of the things that the new mayor and the Assembly have to do is weigh in on the issues facing the state because they’re going to roll right back down on Juneau. Loss of jobs, loss of state money for the projects that we’ve had in the past, fewer grants, so we’re just going to have to take — continue to take — a very hard look at the budget and adapt as the circumstances warrant. I feel that the state must begin solving the fiscal problem this year. So that’s the first one.

The other issue that we talk about and that comes up with everything else we talk about is housing in Juneau. We need housing of all types, affordable and at every level. If we’re going to entice people to move to Juneau, if we want our young people to come back and to stay in Juneau, they’ve got to be able to afford to live here. They’ve got to be able to find housing. It has been difficult in Juneau for years, and as much progress Assembly and previous Assemblies have made to solving this issue, it’s still difficult. So I think we have to look at how we deal with it a little bit differently.


Q: How do you plan on solving these issues?

A: For one, I really want to be an active, a very active, mayor. I was president of the Alaska Municipal League, and I know municipal officials from around the state. I think that the mayor has to be out promoting Juneau at every turn — with business, with other municipalities, with the Legislature. And we need to carry Juneau’s message to the Legislature. We need to emphasize how important it is to deal with the fiscal issues now and also emphasize that they can’t push the problem down to municipalities either, which is something we need to guard against. And having worked in municipal league, I’m familiar with those municipal issues and can carry that discussion forward, I think.

On housing, everyone thinks the municipality has a lot of land; we do. We don’t have a lot of buildable land, but we need to really look at freeing up more of what we have. While I was on the Assembly, they made some changes to Title 49. I think it didn’t go quite far enough. In developing subdivisions, developers are in business to make money, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. So they’re going to build what makes them the most money. If we want affordable housing, maybe what the borough needs to do is pick up some more of the cost for development in subdivisions and other areas. We’ve been hesitant to do that in the past. And I think to get what we want, we’re just going to have to look at not only how developers do business but how the borough does business and see where we can change what we’re doing to get where we want to go.


Q: What, to you, are the most important aspects of the mayor’s job?

A: I think the most important role of the mayor, or one of them, is being visible. Two, the mayor presides over the Assembly, and I think we need a mayor who can work well with the differing ideas and views on the Assembly and try and bring them together as much as possible. I come out of my work experience, which was collaborative and public service oriented. I also was president of the state League of Women Voters, which works to reach consensus on issues. And I think in working as chair of the Finance Committee over the last four years, I’ve tried to make sure that all of the ideas and issues among members of the Assembly were brought forward and dealt with, and I think that’s one of the most important things that a mayor can do: work well with the Assembly, represent Juneau as much as possible and provide some leadership on issues within the community.


Q: While on the topic of mayoral roles, if elected, it will be your job to guide the Assembly. How will you do it?

A: I think the primary thing is that I respect differences of opinion. Juneau is divided on many issues, and that division is reflected in the Assembly on many issues. I believe that those issues need to be discussed and brought out. I’ll give you an example: I’ve met before with people running for the Assembly who I knew would vote differently than I did on many issues, and one of them said, “Why are you willing to talk with me about this and give me the information and help me with this when you know that we’re probably going to disagree on any number of issues?” And my response was, “If you’re elected, you’re going to represent people in the community that may think about things differently than I do. That doesn’t mean they’re wrong. It just means that there are different viewpoints.” And I think we make the best decisions for this community when we are listening to the different viewpoints in the community and trying to come to a solution when we know we’ve heard what people have to say about it.


Ken Koelsch

Age: 71

Years in Alaska: 47

Years in Juneau: 47

Education: BA in education from Michigan State University, MA in English from The University of Alaska Fairbanks, MA in administration from University of Alaska Southeast.


Q: Why do you think you’re qualified to be the mayor?

A: I am a 47-year resident, so I have seen a lot of changes and growth. I love the community. I have grandchildren here. I have children here. I’m part of the fabric of this community. I am a good organizer. And I have a dedication to seeing that it’s going to be done right.


Q: In your opinion, what are the two most important issues facing the Assembly?

A: The top issue that is always on everybody’s mind is the economy. That is something that underlines or is underneath every other issue that we will be facing. So the economy and the changes that we will have to deal with in the economy and also education, for me, is a top priority.


Q: How do you plan on solving these issues?

A: Number one, I plan to unify the Assembly. I think that’s a thing that needs to happen with the Assembly and with the community. I’d also work with the state and federal government because that’s one of the bigger sources of revenue other than taxes that we receive. On education, helping support the Juneau School District and ensuring that the education system has the financial support to deliver a really good product.


Q: What, to you, are the most important aspects of the mayor’s job?

A: I think that probably the most important is to take what we have as a direction and move it forward. I’ve been able to moderate in a classroom, and in a classroom you have to be able to listen to all sorts of diverse opinions without negating any of them and bring people toward a consensus. And that was one of the joys of working at Juneau-Douglas High School: working with students that were able to bring such a diversity of opinion and hear them out and then move in a direction with them. Teaching government to me was a joy every day because of the idealism that was there, the sense of hope. And I think that’s what the community needs.


Q: While on the topic of mayoral roles, if elected, it will be your job to guide the Assembly. How will you do it?

A: By listening to the Assembly. I think the form of government that we have is not the strong-mayor type where there’s a veto power. It’s about consensus building, and I think that’s really key. I think walking in with a preset agenda and trying to push it is not the way to do this. Listening to what the Assembly members each bring to the table and then building your consensus and moving on from there is the way to do it.

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