This Q&A is part of a broader candidate survey by the Anchorage Daily News. View the full survey here.
Forrest Dunbar | District: 5 | Age: 37 | Occupation: Attorney, Army Guard Officer | forrestdunbar.com
What is the most important problem facing Anchorage? How would you address it?
Public safety and homelessness remain our most pressing challenges. Because homelessness is addressed below, I’ll use this chance to highlight our public safety issues in Anchorage, from violent crimes to the quality of life issues presented by thefts and vehicle break-ins. That is why over the last six years I have supported adding 100 more officers to APD, which has led to a three-year decline in crime. But we are not yet where we need to be. Last year, I helped create the mental health first responders, a program that has worked in other cities to both improve outcomes for residents and free up police officers to focus on more serious crimes. I will continue to support our fire department as well, who respond not only to fires but to our medical emergencies, particularly in East Anchorage’s large senior community. When an Anchorage resident dials 911, I want them to know that help is on the way. That means fully funding our public safety agencies.
Rate Dave Bronson’s performance as mayor. Explain, with specific examples.
I am committed to working with Mayor Bronson on policies that will benefit East Anchorage, and standing up to him when his actions are harmful. His attempt to put a 1000-bed megashelter in East Anchorage was bad for the neighborhood and for people experiencing homelessness. He attempted to cut every park improvement in East Anchorage, cut the school resource officers program (then went onto social media and claimed that he wasn’t), cut $1,000,000 from pre-K, and tried to eliminate the Mental Health First Responders Program, all while increasing the number of expensive political appointees. He has violated long-held norms that have kept the city running, including attempting to control the Assembly Chambers and standing by as his deputy dismissed security and cut the video feed to our meeting. I’m glad we can work collaboratively on fixing the Port, a better homelessness plan and keeping Anchorage safe, and hope in the coming year he pivots to a less divisive approach to governing.
The past two years have been marked by increased civic discord in Anchorage. How would you improve the quality of civic discourse in the city?
We need everyone in Anchorage to stand up to anger, hatred, and misinformation, and not allow our community to be dominated just by those who yell the loudest in person or on social media. Most Alaskans and Anchorage residents are independents and undeclared, and are not interested in endless partisan battles. At our meetings, we need a return to basic decorum and respectful discourse. And when we are crafting our policies we must always base our decisions on facts and truth, not conspiracy theories or things pulled out of context and twisted for political gain.
What’s your vision for improving and diversifying Anchorage’s economy?
Anchorage can and should be a vibrant city that attracts and retains a trained and talented workforce, with world-class outdoor recreation opportunities and walkable, bikeable neighborhoods where our cultural diversity is on full display, where child care is accessible and housing is affordable. Anchorage can be a city where students get a top-tier education, starting with pre-K. We can be a city that exports value-added products, while importing visitors who will add hundreds of millions of dollars by staying longer. As we compete with the rest of the country for workers, we need to make Anchorage the obvious choice. That means incentivizing and removing barriers to affordable housing, investing in and marketing our world-class trail and parks system, cultivating the independent visitor economy, revitalizing our downtown, fostering a sense of Indigenous place, partnering with the university, and going to bat for every opportunity that will bring jobs to Anchorage.
What do you see as the most effective strategies to address homelessness in Anchorage going forward?
First, it is NOT building a massive, concentrated new shelter in East Anchorage or anywhere else. Time and again, studies and examples from other cities demonstrate that smaller facilities targeted at specific needs work better for people experiencing homelessness, get to the root causes, AND are better for neighborhoods. The current facilitated process between the Assembly and administration recommends a multi-pronged approach, with treatment, workforce housing, a facility for medically fragile and complex care needs, and smaller shelters that serve different populations with different needs. While I am still opposed to the size of the “navigation center” that the mayor is attempting to put at Tudor and Elmore – 50% larger than the Brother Francis Shelter at its height – the other portions of the plan appear sound, and are similar to the plan passed by the Assembly in May of 2021, which the mayor initially discarded.