Soon-departing Assembly member and Deputy Mayor Maria Gladziszewski smiles for a photo at her seat in the Assembly chambers Thursday afternoon. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire)

Soon-departing Assembly member and Deputy Mayor Maria Gladziszewski smiles for a photo at her seat in the Assembly chambers Thursday afternoon. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire)

Q&A: Deputy Mayor Gladziszewski prepares for departure, shares advice to candidates

The long-serving Juneau Assembly member nears the end of her final term.

After nine years of serving as a member of the City and Borough of Juneau’s Assembly, Deputy Mayor Maria Gladziszewski is ready to trade the political stage for a musical one.

Following the results of the 2023 municipal election — which is currently underway — Gladziszewski will have successfully completed her third and final three-year term on the Assembly. One of the 10 candidates seeking an Areawide seat will fill her role.

To mark her tenure, the Empire sat down with Gladziszewski who shared ups and downs, advice to candidates seeking her seat, hopes for the future Assembly, and what’s next in her life.

The conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

How are you feeling as your time as an Assembly member is soon coming to an end?

I’m grateful that I had the opportunity to serve — I do seriously consider it a privilege — and I’m also looking forward to having someone else serve. I was on the planning commission for 11 years before this, so plus nine years with the Assembly I think that’s a good run.

When I say I’ve been on (the Assembly) for nine years, I joke that the two pandemic years should be counted in dog years because serving during the pandemic was really hard.

What are you most proud of accomplishing over the past nine years?

I think navigating COVID was both difficult and rewarding. We had constantly changing information, we adapted on the fly.

One of the first meetings we had (at the start of the pandemic) was a Committee of the Whole meeting that I chaired on Facebook Live. Nobody knew how to use Facebook Live, but we had no other way to get more people to hear the meeting. So we had this really rinky-dink Facebook Live thing and we did that for a while until Zoom was a thing.

So we adapted daily and I feel privileged to have served during that time, and think I made a difference there.

Do you have any regrets about decisions you did or didn’t make while serving?

When I ran nine years ago I was largely concerned about housing and the lack of affordable housing, or really any kind of housing. And nine years later we’re in a similar position.

We have done a lot of things, but still I would say housing is an economic drag on our community. There are people who want to move here and would like to live here, but they just can’t find a house that is suitable. I’ll also say when I first came here, more than 40 years ago, you couldn’t find housing either. Since 40 years ago we built a lot of housing and the population hasn’t gotten much bigger, so people must be staying in their houses without a family and all sorts of factors.

I wish I could have fixed it. I wish there was an easy fix. Generations of Assembly hopefuls have run and said, “We’re going to do something about housing,” but it’s complicated. We (the current Assembly) helped support Riverview Senior Living and that was a good thing. We helped with several phases of Juneau Housing First (Collaborative’s) Forget-Me-Not Manor. We more robustly funded the Affordable Housing Fund — so we’re definitely making progress. But, as anybody knows someone who’s looking for a place to live or rent, it’s still tough to find housing in this town.

The other thing I regret is not getting sales tax off of food. I would have liked to be able to accomplish taking sales tax off food for everyone. I think it hits people in the lower income levels the hardest. But doing something like that is a super complicated thing to do. We got close to trying, but maybe another Assembly can try that again sometime.

What advice would you give to the candidates seeking to fill your role?

Listen to the community, listen to your fellow Assembly members who have arguments that are different than yours. Be kind. We’re all in this together. It’s a small town and if you can remember that it will help.

There are nine members on the Assembly with nine different opinions — we’re not at all the same. Someone will say an argument and I will think, “Oh, that’s great, I totally buy that,” and then five other people will say “No, actually I think this other thing is better,” and someone else will say, “Well, actually, I was swayed by this third thing.”

Everyone’s going to pick up a different thread on the Assembly, but in the end you have to vote yes or no. You try to make it as good as you can, but it’s rarely a choice between roses and a hellscape. Usually it’s a choice between slightly better or slightly worse — because if it was a clear choice it would have happened already.

Being on the Assembly requires a lot of time and a lot of work. Everybody on the Assembly is dedicated to doing the best for the community. The disheartening thing is to hear people say mean things about members when they’re just trying to make the best decision for everybody.

Sometimes people say we don’t listen, but we do. We just also listen to other people and try to come up with the best for the most people. That’s the job — to do the best for the most people. It’s not always easy to figure out.

What do you hope to see the Assembly accomplish in the coming years?

Making more progress on housing and lowering the cost of living here as much as possible. We have expensive transportation. We have expensive utilities. It’s expensive. It just is and it’s hard to make it less expensive.

Anything you can do to make it less expensive — it’s a balancing act.

What is the biggest difference you’ve seen in Juneau over the past nine years?

The energy of people who have different opinions is vitriol — it’s higher. I don’t know if it’s the pandemic or national scene or what, but people are on a shorter fuse, a shorter hair-trigger.

We’re getting more exasperated emails, for example, expecting more instantly. I think everybody is stressed and it’s showing in the attitudes toward government in general.

What’s next?

Well, the first thing I’m gonna do is go to rehearsal — I’m in rehearsal for “Cabaret.” I haven’t really done it since joining the Assembly since I had no time. I’m going to play Fraulein Schneider in Theatre in the Rough’s production of “Cabaret.”

I also retired from my day job this spring, so it’s very exciting to have an open calendar except for rehearsal for the next few weeks.

I plan to pay attention (to the Assembly), but I will not be logging on to Zoom to watch the meeting. But you know, it’s my community and I care about it. I’m glad it’s time for someone else to do their best at trying to do the best for the most people.

Anything else you’d like to say?

Juneau has been and still is a neighborly town. If you need someone to water your plants while you’re gone or take your mail, you can count on your neighbors to do that, regardless of who they voted for. I hope that people remember that and don’t get into these factions of dislike like, “you voted for a different person and now I don’t want you to be my friend anymore.” I hope we don’t turn into that.

• Contact reporter Clarise Larson at clarise.larson@juneauempire.com or (651) 528-1807.

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