Troy Wuyts-Smith assumed that he’d run for a political office at some point in his life. And, earlier this month, he filed the paperwork to replace long-serving City and Borough of Juneau Assembly Member Loren Jones, who is barred from seeking an additional term due to term limits.
He joins fellow candidates Barbara Blake, who joined the race last month, and school board member Paul Kelly, who declared his candidacy in May. His entrance sets up a three-way race for the seat to be decided in October’s municipal election.
“I can be a voice for the community, a powerful voice,” Wuyts-Smith said at a recent interview downtown. “It’s no secret that the current assembly lacks diversity,” he added.
Wuyts-Smith said that as a gay Black man he brings a different perspective to the job and that his life experiences have helped him develop critical listening skills.
“I was raised by extremely hard-working parents. My father is a Vietnam veteran who fought on the front line, and my mother worked several jobs while attending night school to get her nursing degree. Being raised by parents who had to work hard and fight for everything we had taught me that through hard work, you can achieve anything,” he said.
He said that his work experiences and extensive travel have helped him develop listening skills that would aid his work on the assembly.
“I’m one of those people. I don’t have a strong political background. I know how to listen to people. It’s about listening and being a voice,” he said.
On the issues
Wuyts-Smith said that reviving the economy is the most significant task facing the assembly.
“We need the big ships to revive our economy, whether we want to say it out loud or not,” he said. Wuyts-Smith said that he did not support any recent petitions to limit large cruise ship travel to Juneau. The petitions failed to gather enough signatures to make the ballot this fall.
He’s complimentary of the strategies the CBJ Assembly used to manage the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Mayor Weldon and the council did an absolutely fantastic job,” he said. “They could not have handled it better.”
Moving forward, Wuyts-Smith would like to see more people get vaccinated and see the city take a more active role in encouraging it through incentive programs.
As of July 6, city leaders reported that roughly 63% of Juneau’s residents have completed their vaccine series and clinics are seeing about 200 new people receiving vaccines a week.
According to city data, 63.4% of Juneau’s total population are vaccinated and 67.3% have received at least one dose. In a recent email, Deputy City Manager Mila Cosgrove said she’s confident the city will reach the 70% goal, and if vaccination rates continue at current rates that should happen by the end of July.
While Wuyts-Smith generally agrees with the current assembly’s decisions, he cited a handful of examples where he would have made different choices.
He specifically mentioned the city’s recent decision to redirect a $2 million donation from Norweigan Cruise Line to the Juneau Community Foundation rather than accept it on behalf of the city as an example of a situation he would have approached differently.
“It was a 100% absolute mistake to turn down the money from Norweigian Cruise Line,” he said. “When there’s help, you take help.”
He said one of the areas that money could have gone was toward Juneau’s unsheltered population, child care or other nonprofit organizations.
“Child care definitely needs to be more affordable. It’s tough these days to find good, affordable child care, and parents shouldn’t have to worry about whether or not they can afford to have someone take care of their children,” he said in a follow-up email to the Empire. “They work hard to put food on the table— we should have the decency to ensure that parents have quality affordable child care.”
He’s also very interested in addressing homelessness in Juneau.
“There are so many issues we can fix together,” he said.
Wuyts-Smith serves on the Douglas Advisory board, though his first run for public office.
He said that volunteering for U.S. Congress candidate Alyse Galvin’s campaign to unseat Alaska’s long-serving and sole U.S. Rep. Don Young, a Republican, inspired him to enter the political arena. He also said that Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s work across party lines personifies his approach to politics.
Wuyts-Smith is a 2009 graduate of St. Vincent College in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, where he majored in political science and English and was active in the Multicultural Student Association and played tennis.
He lives with his husband, their mutual boyfriend, and their dog — an American Akita named Woodrow — on South Douglas. He’s been to 24 countries and has seen four of the seven wonders of the world. Before settling in Juneau in 2017, he lived in New York City, Iceland and Fairbanks.
Professionally he’s a supervisor for Alaska Airlines. In addition, he owns a consulting business that helps pageant contestants polish their interview skills and develop platforms for competitions.
His family enjoys hiking Perseverance Trail, dining at Saffron downtown and grabbing carry-out from El Zarape.
“We love different cultural foods,” he said.
• Contact reporter Dana Zigmund at firstname.lastname@example.org or 907-308-4891.