South Anchorage’s Randy Sulte is the sole conservative to unseat an Assembly incumbent this year

Randy Sulte will be the new Anchorage Assembly member representing South Anchorage, replacing John Weddleton. (Wesley Early/Alaska Public Media)

Anchorage’s municipal election season is winding down, and most incumbent Assembly and School Board members are holding onto their seats — except one. 

South Anchorage Assembly member John Weddleton conceded to his conservative challenger Randy Sulte over the weekend. At latest count, Sulte had a four point lead.

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This’ll be Sulte’s first political office. In an interview this week, he said he hoped to have more conservative allies joining him on the Assembly this year. 

“I would say I was delusionally optimistic,” he said. “I had become friends with Kathy and Stephanie throughout the process. That was kind of my slate, if you want to call it that. I really wanted to see those two in there to work with me, I could work well with them. It doesn’t change my approach.”

Kathy and Stephane are Kathy Henslee and Stephanie Taylor, two of the four conservative candidates who ran to unseat Assembly incumbents, with backing from Anchorage Mayor Dave Bronson.

Only Sulte was successful.

Anchorage first lady Deb Bronson (right) waves a campaign sign. The campaigns for Kathy Henslee, Stephanie Taylor, Randy Sulte, Kevin Cross, Liz Vazquez, Mark Anthony Cox and Rachel Ries threw a sign waving event on Election Day. The slate of conservative candidates had support from Mayor Dave Bronson. (Wesley Early/Alaska Public Media)

He said he wanted to run for the Assembly because he thinks Anchorage is worse off than when he moved here in 2004.

“I just think it’s declining,” he said. “I see businesses getting hurt. I see a homeless pandemic, a drug pandemic, a crime wave, and I wanted to step forward and try to do something to help our city.”

Sulte is a 52-year-old father of four who has a background in the oil and gas industry. He’s currently the chief operating officer of Kakivik and CCI Industrial, subsidiaries of the Bristol Bay Native Corporation. He said his experience in budgeting and management will be an asset to the city.

“If I don’t deliver, I get fired,” Sulte said. “So my focus is on delivery. It’s on getting things done, getting the right things done, failing quickly, failing forward. If I do something wrong, I’ll admit I was wrong, and I’ll change direction immediately.”

One of his big priorities is revitalizing business in Anchorage. He said a lack of affordable housing in Girdwood, which is in his district, is making it hard to hire seasonal workers. Also, he said, there’s a battle between Anchorage and the Mat-Su Borough in attracting people to live and work, and he thinks Anchorage is losing right now. 

“We’re seeing more new homes getting built in the Valley, five to one,” Sulte said. “The labor force that builds those homes is in the Valley and doesn’t want to come to Anchorage when they can drive two miles to a job site. We’re seeing with our trade shows — the outdoor show, there was one in the Valley and one in Anchorage. And if you went to the one in Anchorage, they’ll tell you the Valley one blew it away.”

Sulte said he’s encouraged by moves from the mayor and the Assembly to revise parts of the city code to waive fees for building and permitting, and hopes to continue that effort to foster new business. As a way to support business, Sulte said, he’ll also focus on addressing the city’s homeless problem. 

“We’ve got to have some tough love,” he said. “We can’t continue to — you see people all the time giving homeless on the street corner money. In my mind, all that does is it allows some of them to go buy more drugs, more alcohol, but it prevents them from going to the establishments we already have and getting help.”

Sulte said he’s in favor of the city’s proposed homeless shelter and navigation center, a roughly $9 million project in East Anchorage that would house 200 people and connect them with job resources as well as substance abuse treatment. And before the city shifts away from the Sullivan Arena megashelter, Sulte said, officials need to ensure that people who are homeless will be able to get the help they need.

“We need to make sure there’s enough resources,” Sulte said. “You can’t just kick people out, like the Sullivan, you can’t just kick them out and then put them on the streets. We’ve got to literally bus them from the Sullivan to the navigation center, and then push them to those resources for counseling.”

When it comes to working relationships, Sulte wants to see more cooperation between the Assembly and Bronson. Relations between the two have been rocky since the mayor took office last year, with the mostly-progressive Assembly overriding many of the mayor’s vetoes. Sulte said he doesn’t think that’s a balanced approach. 

“That’s really why I wanted to see other members get elected,” he said. “Because anytime you’re going to have vetoes from the mayor, or overrides from the Assembly, that’s not balanced. Balance is dialogue. And just like we have the eight or nine that have a balance of power right now, you probably wouldn’t want the same 100% conservative either.” 

While Sulte’s addition to the Assembly gives the mayor one more vote of support, it’s not enough to prevent a veto override from the other eight members. The impending addition of a 12th Assembly member that will represent the historically liberal North Anchorage district makes that prevention even harder.

Sulte said that balance also extends to the mayor. He thinks Bronson has shifted from initially acting more autocratically to being more open to compromise. 

“So he probably needs to get a little more political, and I’ve been encouraged by seeing him do that,” Sulte said. “He’s using less stick and more honey and sugar to get his way. And more balance, more trying to listen to the other side and be inclusive in his approach.”

Sulte will join Eagle River/Chugiak conservative Kevin Cross as the new voices on the Assembly when the election is certified on April 26. Ahead of that date, Sulte said he wants to meet with Assembly members to start to work on finding common ground.

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Wesley Early covers municipal politics and Anchorage life for Alaska Public Media. Reach him at wearly@alaskapublic.org.