Candidates share visions for Juneau in virtual forum

Candidates share visions for Juneau in virtual forum

Assembly and School Board candidates have their say

All candidates who will appear on ballots for the Oct.6 municipal election gathered under one virtual roof Wednesday night for a candidate forum hosted by the League of Women Voters, KTOO and the Empire. Candidates for the City and Borough of Juneau Assembly and Juneau School District Board of Education were given turns answering questions provided by the League.

Candidates had more in common than not, largely agreeing on similar goals for the city but differed in their approaches. District 1 candidate Kenny Solomon-Gross said in his closing statements he would bring a “fresh set of eyes” to the Assembly and use his business experience as a casino and theater manager to help guide the city through difficult budget decisions.

[It’s a 2-candidate race for District 1]

Incumbent Alicia Hughes-Skandijs didn’t disagree there were tough decisions ahead for the Assembly, particularly when it comes to the budget, but she argued she had already been doing just that on the Assembly.

“My approach to the budget would be to build from the most basic services up,” and then start looking at programs that affect the most people, she said.

The four candidates vying for the same District 2 seat covering the Mendenhall Valley, Auke Bay and the communities north of the ferry terminal similarly all mentioned the goals of expanding child care, expanding social services to the homeless and continuing to safeguard the city against the spread of COVID-19 but had different views on how that should be done.

[WATCH: 2020 virtual candidate forum]

Lacey Derr said when it comes to the child care industry in Juneau there can be “over-regulation.”

“I support finding ways for our privately funded sector to move forward, they have the resources the ability and the will,” Derr said.

Robert Shoemake, who is a business owner, also advocated for the private sector during his time. Small business owners and the private sector are under-represented on the Assembly, Shoemake said, and he suggested the city find more ways to support local businesses.

“I think we should take the rest of that CARES Act money and dump it into the tourism industry,” Shoemake said, arguing the industry had been hardest hit by the effects of the coronavirus pandemic. Keeping those businesses afloat is key to the city’s future economy, he said.

While acknowledging tourism is a critical part of the city’s economy, Derek Dzinich argued Juneau needed to diversify its economy and move away from reliance on the tourism industry.

“Keeping people in town both young and old is an absolutely essential part of this conversation,” he said.

All the candidates acknowledged the difficult times the city is going through and that are likely to continue but sited that as a reason for wanting to run for office.

[4 first-time candidates run for 1 Assembly seat]

“This moment hopefully can be an opportunity,” Christine Woll said, noting that because of the pandemic, health concerns were at the top of her mind. “But health and safety includes building a strong economy,” she said.

Running unopposed for the areawide seat is deputy Mayor Maria Gladziszewski, who’s running for her third term on the Assembly.

“I like to think that I work for all of Juneau, not just the people who voted for me,” Gladziszewski said.

Working on the Assembly means listening to a variety of viewpoints, she said, and stressed being open to those ideas.

“We’re fighting a virus, not each other,” she said.

School Board

Both school board candidates, current President Brian Holst and Martin Stepetin Sr., are running in a noncompetitive race for two open seats, but still had plenty to say on what they wanted to do on the board.

Holst said he came to the school board through his work on economic development, saying education should be “the great equalizer.”

Both acknowledged that having children in classrooms is the best option for students, but there is still too much risk to have students and staff in close quarters. Holst praised the district’s teachers for shifting to distance learning in a few months.

[School board, areawide candidates have busy jobs ahead]

“Our teachers also need time to adjust,” Holst said. “We’ve seen remarkable improvement from the spring to the fall.”

Stepetin said he has been an education advocate for several years, and has four children in the Juneau School District.

“Not all of our students are doing fine and dandy right now,” Stepetin said. “We need to make sure kids are not falling between the cracks and falling behind because of COVID.”

• Contact reporter Peter Segall at psegall@juneauempire.com. Follow him at @SegallJnuEmpire.

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