Editor’s note: Ahead of the Oct. 6 municipal election, the Empire is publishing articles about how the vote-by-mail election will work, the propositions that will appear on ballots and races for Assembly and Board of Education seats. The Empire is also partnering with the League of Women Voters, a nonpartisan organization that does not endorse parties nor candidates. Today and Sunday, you’ll find candidate bios and answers to six questions that the league developed in the Empire. In cooperation with the Empire and KTOO, the league will hold a virtual candidate forum at 7 p.m. on Sept. 16.
Assembly veteran Alicia Hughes-Skandijs will vie for District 1’s open three-year seat against political newcomer Kenny Solomon-Gross as the city soldiers through the coronavirus pandemic in the City and Borough of Juneau’s municipal elections on Oct. 6, 2020.
Hughes-Skandijs, raised in West Virginia and a Juneau resident for more than 15 years since earning a degree in mathematics at University of Alaska Southeast, works for the Department of Health and Social Services. She filled state Sen. Jesse Kiehl’s seat on the Assembly after Kiehl was elected to the Alaska State Legislature in 2019. Hughes-Skandijs was subsequently elected to the District 1 seat for a one-year term and now stands for reelection for a three-year term.
“It was a carefully measured decision. I felt a sense of responsibility. I felt I had to. It’s not over yet; I need to see us through to the other side and the town in good shape,” Hughes-Skandijs said. “I know what that first year on the Assembly can be like. Having that experience, knowing what the financial picture will look like, I think that there’s key decisions to be made.”
Born in Chicago and raised in Juneau, Solomon-Gross returned to Juneau after a period in Las Vegas. Solomon-Gross is the vice president and general manager of Gross-Alaska Theatres.
“The next several months of the year, there’s gonna be things thrown at the Assembly that they’ve never seen before. I think I have the skillset to help,” Solomon-Gross said. ”Sometimes you need to have robust discussions. Right now, during this time, there’s no playbook for pandemic. Right now this Assembly needs leadership and I think I can offer that.”
Hughes-Skandijs is focused on the long game, helping to carry Juneau through the pandemic while keeping an eye on the future. Handling the pandemic in short term and attacking issues like inaccessible child care, the obstacles facing residents experiencing homelessness, the lack of affordable housing in Juneau and exploring and solving issues related to systemic racism in Juneau, Hughes-Skandijs has high aspirations for Juneau as she serves the residents on the Assembly.
“I think we’ve done a good job. I feel sort of proud of our initial response. We’ve followed the science, which is super important to me. I feel like we’ve taken a measured approach. We already worked together well before the pandemic and we’ve found our groove,” Hughes-Skandijs said. “I want to see us make more progress on child care. And I want to see us make more progress on affordable housing.”
Solomon-Gross echoed those concerns in many cases, particularly homelessness. Solomon-Gross served on a homelessness task force in 2017. Leadership and experience in crisis management from serving as a casino manager are some of the things he would bring to the table, Solomon-Gross said.
“My leadership skills and management skills are really important. Homelessness across our whole town and the weight that it’s putting on the businesses downtown and making downtown a scary place for people to take their kids downtown, there’s a mental health crisis going on,” Solomon-Gross said. “I believe I’ll be a champion for the mental health crisis. I think that’s something this town needs.”
Hughes-Skandijs is also looking at the post-pandemic that theoretically awaits Juneau, including working more as partners with cruise tourism to make the industry more palatable to Juneau residents. She also emphasized the development of further small-cruise industry and capturing more independent travellers, who will have lower impact on Juneau’s environment
“I think that tourism will continue to be important part of the economy. I am confident that we will continue to see cruise tourism. We don’t know what that’s going to look like post-COIVD or with COVID dragging on,” Hughes-Skandijs said. “I think the cruise companies have shown willingness to meet us more as a partner.”
Both strongly support improved environmental consciousness, with Solomon-Gross mentioning his support for making infrastructure supporting the industry and in Juneau in general more environmentally friendly, including the electrified piers and electric busses, as good steps forward. Hughes-Skandijs said that Juneau should look toward meeting its renewable energy goals, beginning with an energy audit.
“I think now is a great time for us to really look at our commitment to meeting our renewable energy goals,” Hughes-Skandijs said. “I would like to see the city to make a backwards plan to meet our goals. First step would be an energy audit. It’s only going to pay off in the long run.”
Both candidates have for multiple dogs and enjoy being outdoors.
•Contact reporter Michael S. Lockett at 757-621-1197 or firstname.lastname@example.org