A busy week of candidate forums culminated in the annual League of Women Voters candidate forum on Thursday, which was co-sponsored by the Empire and KTOO.
Almost all of the candidates took the stage at KTOO on Thursday, with three mayoral candidates answering questions alongside seven City and Borough of Juneau Assembly candidates.
Moderator Alyson Currey asked a variety of questions, ranging from topics as large as climate change to those as specific as the Juneau Economic Plan. A few themes stood out during the forum, which lasted just under two hours.
Making Juneau more affordable, especially for retirees
At the Get Out the Vote forum earlier in the week, almost all of the Assembly candidates answered that the biggest problem facing Juneau was the cost of living in town. At Thursday’s forum, mayoral candidate Saralyn Tabachnick said making Juneau affordable — both housing and child care — will have an effect on everything else in town.
“They form a cornerstone from which we can grow our economy,” Tabachnick said. “It gives people the opportunity to live here, to stay here, to come here and create new opportunities.”
At Thursday’s forum, the candidates specifically talked about how to make Juneau more affordable for retirees. Multiple Assembly candidates lamented the fact that family or friends were forced to leave Juneau once they retired because they couldn’t afford to stay.
Areawide Assembly candidate Tom Williams, who said he’s approaching retirement, said the main three factors retirees are struggling with in town are cost of living, access to health care and crime.
Other candidates were particularly focused on housing. Mayoral candidate Norton Gregory — who works for Tlingit and Haida Regional Housing Authority — stated that his biggest priority is to make housing and food more affordable across the board. Mayoral candidate Beth Weldon included housing on her list of priorities as well.
In a pre-recorded opening statement, District 2 candidate Garrett Schoenberger (who was absent because he’s getting married this weekend) said all levels of senior care, including housing and health care, are lacking. Schoenberger is a managing partner in real estate firm Alaska Legacy Partners, which is working to open up a senior housing facility in Juneau.
The idea of expanding the senior sales tax exemption became a huge issue in the 2017 municipal election, and two District 2 candidates brought it back up. District 2 candidate Wade Bryson said the Assembly could at least look at the exemption to see how to help seniors save a little money, though he wasn’t advocating for restoring the whole exemption.
Fellow District 2 candidate Emil Mackey said he wasn’t sure how to best address the struggles of retirees, but said it’s risky to adjust taxes.
“If we give tax breaks, we’re putting more taxes on millennials who can’t afford it,” Mackey said.
The sole millennial on the stage, Areawide Assembly candidate Carole Triem, said affordability in one age group can affect affordability in another. If Juneau is an easier place to live for young health care workers, she said, there can be more health care options for seniors.
District 2 candidate Michelle Hale said the Assembly has to start taking action to address the housing shortage.
“The free market’s not going to un-stick it,” Hale said. “It needs city intervention.”
Diverse thoughts on public safety
Public safety has been at the heart of recent elections, and this one has been no different. Currey asked specifically about improving police retention and reducing homelessness, and many candidates had their talking points ready.
Weldon, a former division fire chief for Capital City Fire/Rescue, has made public safety a large part of her campaign. At forums and in her mailings around town, Weldon has pointed out her history of voting to give more help CCFR and the Juneau Police Department.
Weldon, along with District 2 candidate Don Habeger, suggested trying to figure out a partnership between JPD and the University of Alaska Southeast. The U.S. Coast Guard currently has a partnership with UAS to try and find interested students and get them involved in the Coast Guard.
“I think if we can get them from here, they are more willing to stay here,” Habeger said. “One of the issues is that we bring people up from the south and then they disappear after they get their training.”
In another public safety topic, Habeger and Williams both suggested moving homeless services including the Glory Hall (formerly known as the Glory Hole) away from downtown.
“One thing I think is important is you need to provide those services and facilities away from your business district,” Williams said.
• Contact reporter Alex McCarthy at 523-2271 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @akmccarthy.