As all of you who have been listening the last few weeks know, the Anchorage Mayoral Race is underway. In fact, the election is upon us: on April 7th, that’s Tuesday, the city of Anchorage will elect a new mayor, who will serve the city for the next two years, starting in July.
There are 11 candidates running for the city’s highest office, which gives you, the voter, a lot to choose from: which is good! But, how do you know which candidate is right for Anchorage?
To help you solve this question for yourself, KRUA has set out to speak with all the mayoral candidates we could to give our listeners the chance to get to know what the candidates stand for and who they really are.
This week, on Getting to Know You, we’re going to hear from mayoral candidate Ethan Berkowitz.
Berkowitz is originally from California, but he’s called Alaska home for the last 25 years. He lives in Anchorage with his wife, Mara Kimmel, and their two children. Berkowitz received his education at Harvard, Cambridge, and Hastings School of Law before coming to Alaska. He says he’s worked on renewable energy projects across Alaska, as commercial fisherman, as a prosecuting attorney in Anchorage, and even herded reindeer in the Aleutian Islands. Berkowitz served in the Alaska House of Representatives from 1996 to 2007, where he also served as the Democratic Minority Party Leader.
More recently, Berkowitz spent about a year co-hosting a right-wing radio show “Bernadette and Berkowitz,” where he says he served as the voice of reason and moderation. Here’s a clip form his final show with Bernadette.
I asked Berkowitz what inspired him to run for the city’s highest office.
“I’m runnin’ for mayor because I’m invested in this community: my kids are here and I see a future where if we make the right decisions we can position ourselves to be safe, secure, and strong moving ahead.”
Berkowitz says that one of the challenges facing Anchorage is community safety. He says that the city needs to be proactive in its strategies, rather than reacting to events that have already transpired. Key to fostering a safe community is having enough officers on the streets, Berkowitz says. He says that he’d like to see officer placement determined on a results-based system. As a prosecutor, Berkowitz says that he saw what kind of tactics get results.
“I will say, and it’s true for the crime issue as well as any other, there’s a lot of studies that are sitting on shelves and frankly my style will be just to take those studies off the shelf, dust them down, and start implementing them.”
Another issue Berkowitz says he’d like to address is Anchorage’s economic security. Moving forward, he says, as the state tries to balance its budget, the city will find itself in a new position. Berkowitz says he sees this as an opportunity for Anchorage to become more independent from the state.
Along with shoring up economic security, Berkowitz thinks the city needs to focus on strengthening the community through quality education by encouraging connection between the University and businesses around the city, by providing universally available pre-K, and making sure elementary and high schools have the resources they need.
“The idea that you can do more with less, it’s a slogan, it’s not a way of teaching kids. And I’ve got two kids in the schools right now and they’re getting a good quality education, and I want to see that enhanced, I don’t want to see that compromised.
I asked Berkowitz how he would handle the challenge of managing the city government’s finances at this time when state funding is expected to substantially decrease.
“We need to make sure there are more public-private partnerships, we need to make sure that the barriers that government sometimes puts up that prevents private money from flowing into public projects, we take those barriers down, and there’s some finacial instruments that are available. We need to spend our money more wisely and there’s a classic example; you know, Anchorage has about 20,000 light poles. And we put LED lights in 5,000 of those poles. That saves 2 million dollars a year. I don’t have to be a math guy to know that if we put LED lights in the other 15,000, we’d save another 6 million dollars. And that’s just one example.”
Berkowitz says that, in the case of LED lights, not only are they more efficient, but they last longer, which frees up city workers to do other things.
“The whole changing light bulb thing, I’m sure there’s a joke in there, but I haven’t been able to come up with it yet.”
Berkowitz says that one of the many great things about Anchorage is that the problems the city faces are manageable. Even the homeless problem, which has been a growing issue for the city, is a solvable one, he says.
“We know who these people are. And if we keep our humanity in resolving the difficulties, we’ll be able to solve the problem. I’m a believer in making sure that everyone has a roof over their head.”
Housing first initiatives not only are a humane way of working towards a solution, but they also make financial sense, according to Berkowitz.
Of course, housing issues in Anchorage stretch far beyond the homeless community. Affordable housing for middle to low income people in Anchorage is scarce. I asked Berkowitz how he thinks this could be addressed.
He said streamlining building codes and processes, re-zoning areas to allow more multifamily housing, and using common sense to reconsider tax structures for developers will go a long way to fix the issue.
“Anchorage is, after all, it’s the biggest city in the country. I reject the idea that there’s not enough ground here.”
Moving from land to sea, I asked Berkowitz his stance on what’s happened over the last few years with the Port of Anchorage. He says that the port is of crucial importance to Anchorage and to Alaska. He says the project hasn’t been managed well and one that needs to have a more concrete plan. As mayor he said, he would be more involved in managing the port, which he says will serve Alaska for the next 50-75 years.
A bridge across the Arm, Berkowitz says, is a terrible idea. First of all, he says, we can’t afford it. And second, plans for the bridge include destroying active businesses for a project that doesn’t even have a plan for completion.
I also asked Berkowitz his stance on marijuana legislation. He said that he believed marijuana will be regulated much like alcohol. He said that 100,000 Alaskans were already using marijuana in one form or another before the initiative passed. When a law is that widely disregarded, Berkowitz says, it likely needs to be reconsidered.
“Smoking dope is like drinking. And responsible adults should be allowed to make responsible decisions in the appropriate environment. And I’m pretty libertarian with that: as long as what you’re doing doesn’t hurt anyone else, it’s okay. But at the same time there’s public health and public safety components to legalization.”
Berkowitz says that he’s running to make Anchorage safe, secure, and strong. He says that when people feel safe, they are free to be more bold and to live life on their own terms. I asked Berkowitz what he thinks makes him the best candidate for Mayor.
“The vision I have for Anchorage is one that is more widely shared. I believe in a community where everybody, all people, regardless of where they came from, how long they’ve been here, how they worship, what color they are, and any other differences: we all have opportunities. And that’s just a core belief. And I think Anchorage can be a place that’s a model for the rest of the world. We have the single most ethnically diverse zip code in the country out in Mountain view. Ninety-nine languages are spoken in our schools. It’s, this is really a unique place to be at a great time in history.”
You’ve been listening to Ethan Berkowitz, candidate for Anchorage mayor.