From the first question of Thursday’s Chamber of Commerce mayoral forum, the three present candidates talked about the importance of connecting Juneau to the region and the state.
Moderator Mike Satre began the forum by asking the panel of Norton Gregory, Saralyn Tabachnick and Beth Weldon whether they were in favor of the Juneau Access project. Gregory and Weldon spoke in favor of it, while Tabachnick said she would not pursue the project if she were to become mayor.
While they differed on that specific topic — one that won’t be on the table anytime soon due to the lack of state and federal support — they did agree that the capital must be more accessible.
Efforts that would make Juneau more accessible, including Juneau Access and a more robust Alaska Marine Highway System, are not within the city’s control. Weldon, who was on the Assembly before running for mayor, said being the mayor means being an ambassador for the city and making sure voters’ concerns are heard at a statewide level.
“I would do anything in my power to support the Access (project), which includes going to lobby the legislature, which we’ve done in the past and to talk to the governor, which I have done in the past,” Weldon said.
Tabachnick and Weldon were physically present at Thursday’s forum at the Moose Lodge, and Gregory was present via webcam from the Anchorage airport. Cody Shoemaker, the fourth mayoral candidate, was absent.
All three present candidates agreed that a strong ferry system would be extremely beneficial to Juneau and Southeast as a whole. Again, that would take effective lobbying to the legislature.
In terms of projects under the city’s control, all three candidates agreed that a second bridge to Douglas Island would be a boon.
Making Juneau more accessible for entrepreneurs was another angle to the topic. Weldon said the city should streamline the permitting process of starting a business in town. Gregory said more accessible housing would help incentivize people to move to Juneau. Tabachnick talked about increasing the amount of residential development downtown and finding ways to bring high-paying jobs to Juneau.
All three of them said a key role of being mayor is communicating with other Southeast cities to work toward common goals.
“I think we need to have great communication with our neighbors and our other mayors in our region to make sure we are all on the same page, that we’re strategize with one another when it comes down to efforts that affect every community,” Gregory said.
Juneau already connects communities in Southeast and serves as a destination for health care, shopping and tourism, Weldon said, and Tabachnick said it’s vital for Juneau to be as convenient and welcoming as possible for visitors.
“There’s a real importance and need for Juneau to represent Southeast as the hub and to maintain our status as the capital city,” Tabachnick said.
The candidates talked about also increasing the access between the Assembly and the residents of Juneau. They have spoken at previous forums about wanting to hear from the public as much as possible when making decisions. Gregory spent part of his closing statement pointing out that if he can be present at the forum through his computer, it should be possible to stream all city meetings as well.
“It’s the way of the future,” Gregory said. “Every single committee meeting needs to be broadcast via the web. I think those are some of the steps we can take as a community to encourage people to become participants and active in their local community government.”
Thursday’s forum was the final major forum of the municipal election season, and the election takes place this coming Tuesday. Early voting is open at City Hall and the Mendenhall Mall Annex from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on Friday and Monday. The Mendenhall Mall Annex will also be open from noon to 4 p.m. Saturday.
• Contact reporter Alex McCarthy at 523-2271 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @akmccarthy.