Three of the four Anchorage Assembly incumbents running for reelection are set to keep their seats for another three years after municipal election results are certified next Tuesday. The trio staved off a well-funded challenge by a slate of conservative candidates backed by Mayor Dave Bronson.
Incumbent West Anchorage Assemblyman Kameron Perez-Verdia says the conservative group looking to unseat the more progressive incumbents campaigned and fundraised largely together. He doesn’t think that worked.
“I think they all got under one umbrella, one narrative, about what they felt like the city needed and wanted,” Perez-Verdia said. “And we focused more on what West Anchorage wanted.”
Perez-Verdia won his Assembly race by a wide margin. So did East Anchorage’s Forrest Dunbar and Midtown’s Meg Zaletel. They attribute their success to the support of their local districts’ voters.
Though both the mayor’s office and Assembly seats are nonpartisan positions, the relationship between Bronson, a staunch conservative, and the mostly progressive Assembly has been strained throughout Bronson’s term. That’s been evident from Assembly meetings devolving into mass disruptions and arrests at times to the Assembly overturning many vetoes from the mayor over things like the budget, a mask mandate and various bonds.
Dunbar says he thinks the results of the election show Anchorage voters want Bronson to work more closely with the Assembly.
“The people of Anchorage want him to moderate, to drop this ‘us or them’ kind of politics,” Dunbar said. “Drop the extremism and work with the Assembly. And I heard that a lot when I was door knocking.”
Despite what can sometimes be hectic and divisive Assembly meetings, all three incumbents say there’s more agreement between the body and the mayor than those meetings would suggest.
Zaletel says she’s found the mayor’s office to be responsive to concerns she hears from her constituents.
“So the day-to-day,” Zaletel said. “The pothole, the need for snow plowing, something’s up… being able to email, get a quick response and get back with our constituents is like the bread and butter of municipal service. That’s working.”
Even with more contentious items, like the budget, there was a lot of agreement between the Assembly and the mayor. While Bronson had vetoed many changes to the budget, and didn’t follow it for months after his vetoes were overridden, Dunbar said there were only disagreements about a small portion of it.
“It was what, a $550 million budget, I think, $540 million,” Dunbar said. “And we agreed and the Assembly passed all but about $5-6 million of it, right. And so, the vast majority of the things the mayor asks for, we have passed. Almost every ordinance he brings forward, we pass. Almost every appointment he brings forward, we pass or we accept. Almost every line-item in the budget, we pass, too.”
However, all three incumbents say there hasn’t been a lot of willingness from the mayor’s office to communicate with the Assembly. Perez-Verdia says he’s tried to have an open-door policy with the mayor’s office, with little success.
“I have not found that the administration is very open to working together,” Perez-Verdia said. “I’ve found that they don’t communicate very well, and they often bring issues to us last-minute. And so I hope that changes. I’m optimistic about the fact that now that the election is over and the people of Anchorage have clearly spoken about what they want, that the mayor and his team will shift.”
All three members say they’re focused on several topics moving forward, including public safety, economic recovery and solving the city’s homelessness problem. Zaletel says it seems like the mayor has similar goals as well.
“We are clear on what the mayor’s priorities are, which is the Port [of Alaska], homelessness and food security,” Zaletel said. “So it doesn’t feel like we’re starting from a point of misalignment. The question is how do we keep that communication open to work on policies together in a way that can meet shared priorities.”
Even if they don’t, the Assembly still maintains a strong progressive lean. While South Anchorage incumbent John Weddleton lost his reelection bid to Randy Sulte, a conservative backed by Bronson, the Assembly still has enough members to retain a supermajority that could override vetoes from the mayor.
That majority will likely grow after the Assembly adds a 12th member from the historically left-leaning North Anchorage district, formerly known as Downtown. A mail-in election to fill that seat will be held on June 21.