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, Friday 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.
The coronavirus and the future of the community are on the minds of candidates for both the Assembly’s areawide seat and for the two candidates for terms on the Juneau Board of Education.
It’s not an easy job they’re up for election to, however. Maria Gladziszewski, is up for reelection to one of the Assembly’s areawide seats for a three-year term. She is the only certified candidate in the running for the seat. Brian Holst and Martin Stepetin are running for two available three-year terms on the Juneau Board of Education in the upcoming Oct. 6 vote-by-mail election.
“The truth is, because of the pandemic. It’s been very difficult. We’ve learned a lot in the last six months. As a nine-man team we’ve worked our way through with grace. That’s been sort of my mantra — listening and working with people to move the ball forward,” said Deputy Mayor Maria Gladziszewski, who’s up for reelection to one of the areawide seats for a three-year term. “I obviously have values that I want to uphold. So we move the ball forward as best we can with imperfect information. Because I care about the community and I want the community to be OK.”
Gladziszewski and Holst are both up for reelection to the Assembly and the Board respectively, while Martin Stepetin Sr. is throwing his hat once more for election to the Board of Education. Stepetin said he would have tried again after running last year regardless of the pandemic.
“It doesn’t have anything to do with what’s happening. I would have run again,” Stepetin said. “I’m a super-big supporter of education, and I want to help solve some of our long-term problems that we haven’t been able to move the needle on in a long time.”
Stepetin, born in Anchorage and raised on St. Paul Island, has four children in the Juneau School District, a compelling reason to be interested in the goings-on of the school. Stepetin said he’s interested in improving reading and literacy, as well as looking into an expansion of the Tlingit Culture Language and Literacy program to anyone interested in participating. He’s also concerned with the security of schools, looking to harden entry against possible intruders.
“I got behind education in 2014. That’s when I started learning about the funding at the state level,” Stepetin said. “I learned about funding at the local level. That led me naturally to learning how the money is spent. Is it being spent in the best way?”
Holst, now a six-year member of the board, much of that as president, returns for a third term this year. Holst has three children currently attending Juneau schools, with a fourth recently graduated. Joining because of the economic opportunities that education offers students, Holst continues to be enthusiastic about what the district can accomplish working with the community.
“I was super-excited with the progress that we’ve made. I still think I have more to contribute. There is more work to be done. Initiatives like pre-k education,” Holst said. “Our community is really embracing the value of that and making investments in it. Getting it to be part of the fabric of our community. The pandemic is causing us to take a fresh look at education. What is this teaching us about the strengths of our schools and what doesn’t work.”
Good board chemistry has helped achief long term goals, Holst said, including the strategic plan. Holst also praised the teachers for their hard work and parents for their understanding of what’s being done, frustrating though these circumstances may be.
“I’ve been super impressed with the commitment of our teaching staff and faculty with how they’ve responded, and the incredible understanding of parents,” Holst said. “We’ve heard a lot of frustration from parents. I have to say that the overwhelming response from parents is they understanding how challenging this is and we’re doing best.”
Gladziszewski likewise praised the smooth meshing of personalities on the Assembly for its efficiency.
“During most meetings, people are saying what they believe, and bringing different things to the table. Somebody’s a math major or a biologist or a business owner,” Gladziszewski said. “Someone else reads something that I glossed over and brings something up, and I say ‘Oh, that’s a good point, I didn’t think of it.’”
Gladziszewski hasn’t lost her view of the big picture with the pandemic, however.
“It has filled up so much of our screen in the last six months. But everything else didn’t stop. How much government can we afford? Housing prices are still too high. The pandemic has shown the world the weak points of it,” Gladziszewski said. “This pandemic has not affected us all equally. We’re all in the same storm, but we’re not in the same boats. Some people have big boats, some people are in a skiff, some people are holding on to a life preserver.”
• Contact reporter Michael S. Lockett at 757-621-1197 or firstname.lastname@example.org