Bill Popp, longtime AEDC president, says if elected mayor his skills and experience will put Anchorage ‘back on track’

Bill Popp, former head of the Alaska Economic and Development Corporation, is pone of ten candidates running for Anchorage Mayor in 2024. (Valerie Lake/Alaska Public Media)

Bill Popp is one of 10 candidates running for Anchorage mayor.

The election is April 2, with ballots mailed out March 12. 

Prior to running, Popp served as president of the Anchorage Economic and Development Corporation for 16 years. He says he’s running for Anchorage mayor to build a ‘bright and vibrant future’ for the city.

Listen to the full interview here:

Alaska Public Media interviewed the four major candidates for Anchorage mayor. The candidates had to have raised at least $10,000, had at least 15 donors and a campaign website. For more, listen to our interviews with Mayor Dave Bronson, Suzanne LaFrance and Chris Tuck.

This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.

Wesley Early: So you headed the Anchorage Economic Development Corporation for 16 years. How does that experience prepare you to be mayor?

Bill Popp: Well, it’s given me experience with cities across the United States in both economic and community development, plus the on-the-ground experience with the local economy and community here in Anchorage. Quite honestly, I think I’ve got more experience in economic and community development than anybody else running. And I think it gives me an edge in terms of being able to set out a vision that we can accomplish for the city in where we want to be in 10 years, and how we can lay out the groundwork and the measurable milestones and metrics that we’re going to use to mark progress towards that vision. And I think that’s one of the key things to get the public on board, is to be able to know that you’ve got transparency and you know whether or not we’re getting the job done.

WE: So unlike other major candidates in this race, you’ve never been elected to office by Anchorage voters. As a fresher political face, why should voters trust you to be as prepared as people who have experience being accountable to the city’s constituents? 

BP: Well, first of all, I’ve have community local government experience as a six-year member of the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly, including chairing that Assembly — and then also working under two mayors as a senior senior assistant in two different mayor’s offices, focused on oil and gas, workforce development and economic development for both mayors. I know Anchorage for the fact that I grew up here. I’ve seen it since 1968. Anchorage is a city for Alaska. In no small part, we’re all involved in what goes on in Anchorage, no matter where you live. And I’ve been here, again, since 2007, very closely tracking local politics and local issues, as well as the economy. And I have an intimate knowledge of what’s going on in our city. And I think I can bring that knowledge and my past government skills and my business skills, as a small business owner and being part of large business teams and managing hundreds of people. I think that all combines to give me a set of skills that puts me in a position of being able to get our city back on track.

WE: So the average home price in Anchorage surged to about $481,000 last year and buying a home remains difficult for many residents. How would your administration make housing more affordable and available?

BP: Well, there’s a lot of different things we’ve got to do. First, we’ve got to staff up the building department so that we’ve got people there to get permits issued in a timely manner as opposed to the current shortfalls that we have. And also to make sure that inspections and other key immediate services are being delivered. We also need to look at our policy issues and look at how we can make our systems more streamlined, more user-friendly and more focused on the outcomes that we want to accomplish in our city. Last but not least, we need to start thinking outside the box and I want to have a conversation. For example, with Alaska Housing (Finance Corporation), I believe that they would be willing to work with us to develop a first-time home buyer initiative where they would provide funding that could be loaned to first-time homebuyers. And anchored to the mortgage that would allow more people to be able to afford to get into a home, as well as targeting developers to bring new kinds of housing to Anchorage that we’re currently not building that meets the needs of seniors who no longer want a large house with a lot of maintenance going with that, as well as young professionals who want basically the same kind of housing. And we have to start looking at the different changing tastes of housing in our marketplace that are completely different from the past, in addition to maintaining good single family home construction and redevelopment.

WE: So on a related note, can you name one specific step you would take if elected to address homelessness in Anchorage? That’s been an issue that’s really been blowing up the last… really since the pandemic.

BP: Homelessness has actually been with us for decades. I was dealing with this issue through Mayor (Dan) Sullivan’s office when I was at AEDC. It’s not something that is new to Anchorage. It’s just been getting progressively more pronounced, and unfortunately, worse in many different conditions. I would bring together all the players — the state agencies, the municipal agencies, the federal agencies, the nonprofits, the for-profits and the faith-based community — everybody who’s got their finger in this issue, and put them in a room and come up with a longer term set of goals and outcomes that we want to accomplish. And then start to lay out the plan for who’s going to do what, and then find where we’ve got funding gaps and where we’re going to solve those funding gaps and making sure we’re not duplicating services being delivered and not missing services that should be delivered. And holding all of these partners accountable to the metrics that they agree to commit to. We need an alliance to get this done, a true alliance. Government should not be doing all of the services. We are not the best doers in dealing with complex issues like the condition of homelessness. The nonprofit, for-profit and faith-based community are much better equipped to deal with the multitudes of issues that we are dealing with, as well as our agency partners for mental health services, for drug treatment services, for housing help. All of those things need to be brought together in a large-scale alliance that everybody has got skin in the game on.

WE: Are there any proposals that have been done by the city or the mayor’s office, or proposals that have been done that you might have done differently, with relation to homelessness?

BP: There’s a multitude of things that I would have done differently. But you know, the main thing that I would do differently is not just run from one issue to another, one idea to another in what appears to be more of a throwing-spaghetti-against-the-wall theory of, “Let’s go down this path. Try that, well, that didn’t work. Let’s go down this path. Let’s try that.” You know, we’ve got plenty of examples nationally of what does work and what is working well for other cities. And we’ve been really trying to invent our own wheel here, if you will, when there are already existing plans for wheels that we could have adopted and adapted to our circumstances here in Anchorage. I applaud the Anchorage Coalition to End Homelessness for getting their program off the ground, with the city’s help with the recent funding that the city Assembly approved and that the mayor let go through — that’s going to get people into permanent housing, about 150 people moving into permanent housing. It brought matching funds, two-thirds of it is being paid by other sources other than the city. And this is the kind of thinking that was already being done in Houston, that we need to adapt to our city’s needs. And that’s how I think we start to get things done. But it needs to be done through a longer term planning process, rather than just going six-month intervals. 

WE: So the number of people leaving Anchorage continues to exceed the number of people moving here. How would you make the city inviting to newcomers while also keeping the people that we have here?

BP: It’s a huge shopping list to keep people here. First and foremost, we’ve got to make sure that our schools are fully funded and are performing better than they currently are. I think the academies program that the Anchorage School District is about to launch this coming fall is a great program that’s working nationally. That’s where national ideas, I think, are going to help our city improve our education system. We need to do a better job on safety. Our police department is understaffed. Our fire department is not up to snuff in national standards in terms of staffing. We need to do a better job of keeping our streets safe and clean, and our neighborhoods clean and safe. It’s an appearance issue, first and foremost. We need to reinvest in ourselves. We need better city amenities that meet the needs of older generations and the new up and coming, younger generations who have a different perspective on life and what they’re looking for in their community. We need vibrancy in our community. We haven’t reinvested in Anchorage since the 1980s, with Project 80s. It was launched by Mayor George Sullivan and finished by Mayor Tony Knowles. That’s the last time we did something that was long-term and didn’t depend on just one mayor to get done, which has been our problem. We’ve gone six years with one mayor trying to get initiatives going, then the next mayor comes in, tosses it all over the side and starts at all over again. And we’ve just basically been treading water for decades. It’s time for us to start thinking about the longer term in reinvestment and revitalization of our city. That’s how we start to attract people to our city as well as retaining our youth who are fleeing in significant numbers.

WE: So touching on that a little bit, while other candidates have talked about getting city government sort of back on track in the short term, your campaign, as you noted earlier, has been more focused on what the city looks like a decade from now. How would your administration aim to make lasting impacts to the city’s quality of life? 

BP: Well, first and foremost, we’d have to have a conversation about key areas of our city — Downtown, U-Med District, Midtown — and then some of the key assets that we have. We need to connect people better to them with wayfinding, just decent signage that tells you how to get to places. Because new visitors to our city, potential new workers moving to our city, potential investors to our city don’t know about all the amazing assets that we already do have. But then we’ve got a Downtown that’s more vacant lot and parking lot than it is a true downtown. And it’s very rough around the edges. We need to invest in Downtown, perhaps an entertainment district. There are a lot of different ideas that we should be discussing and looking at and deciding whether or not we want to launch to revitalize our Downtown. The U-Med District, which we’re sitting in right now, you gotta go a mile and a half from where you and I are sitting right now to find a pizza and a beer. That’s just not how a campus works when you want a year-round campus setting and a true campus life experience. That’s why we lose a lot of our kids, in no small part, to universities outside of Alaska because they want a different university experience, as opposed to what is, for the most part, a commuter experience here at UAA. 

I think we need to look at different kinds of innovative housing, mixed-use districts where you’ve got businesses on the ground floor, apartments and condominiums on the upper floors that are on top of those businesses, and do them in a way that makes them more walkable. That’s what seniors want. Seniors want walkability in their retirement, when they are no longer going to be as mobile as they used to be, and they’re planning for the future. They want a place that they can take an elevator down to the ground floor, go and have a cup of coffee with friends, go do their grocery shopping, be able to get around and still remain independent, and living in a very nice place. Younger people, same story on the independent and very nice place. They don’t want to be anchored to a large house in their early years. Likely they’re going to be midlife before they’re looking at the idea of buying a house. We don’t produce that kind of housing in Anchorage. We don’t produce those kinds of walkable neighborhoods in Anchorage. 

Anchorage is a great city to live in if you’re a car. And that’s a challenge for us, because we’ve got hundreds of cities across the United States that are all dealing with the same workforce shortage that we’re dealing with. We’ve lost one out of 10 workers that we used to have in 2013, due to net out-migration and retirement. And we’re not competing for those workers in the Lower 48. We are just sitting on the sidelines letting everybody else compete for them. We need to be aggressive about this. We need to offer a better product, if you will, in our city, a better quality of place. But we also need to be out marketing the amazing assets we already have and starting to aggressively bring together an alliance of business and government to go out there and target markets that we can attract workers from, because hundreds of cities are doing that to us practically every day.

WE: Well, one of those factors of Anchorage is snowfall. And with two years in a row of record snowfall, snow plowing has been a hot topic for Anchorage residents. What do you think is the best way to ensure that roads are plowed quickly and effectively? 

BP: Well, first and foremost, we need to start thinking in terms of the future as opposed to the past, because it’s very becoming very, very clear in recent years, that the past is no longer necessarily a good measure of what’s likely going to be happening in the coming years when it comes to weather. And I think that we need to start to think about what are the potentials of these kinds of snowfalls happening in the future, in different variations, and start to come up with some backup strategies that I don’t think we currently have. The other thing is we need a stronger partner in the state. The state really let us down this winter. And I haven’t really heard the mayor’s office make a lot of noise in public about what the state should be doing. Like maybe having the right equipment for an urban setting as opposed to the plows that they use in our town that are more for major highways. We’ve got a lot of roads that we rely on the state to plow and we had to pull our city equipment off of our neighborhood roads and put it on those state roads. And that just slowed us down completely in that very difficult first major snowfall that we had. The third thing is we got to staff up. We truly do need to be thinking about, do we have adequate staffing, do we have adequate amounts of equipment for both street plowing as well as sidewalk plowing. Because we have a growing population of people in Anchorage who walk, and they get often ignored because, once again, Anchorage is a great town to live in if you’re a car. And we need to start thinking more in terms of how we get things done for our citizens.

WE: Well, we’re just about out of time. But before we wrap up, can you give listeners the 30-second version of why you think Anchorage residents should vote for you? You know, what sets you apart from the other candidates?

BP: I think when you’re looking at me as a candidate, you’re looking at somebody who’s thinking about the future of our city as opposed to repeating the past. I am not interested in continuing the same treading-water cycle that we have done for mayor after mayor after mayor. We need a mayor with vision and the skills and the knowledge and the ability to get us to that vision, to get our government righted and working the way we need it to and delivering the services that we expect as a foundation to stand on, to address homelessness in a comprehensive way. But more so, to start laying out a vision that will go beyond my time in office. I will not cut, probably, a single ribbon if I’m mayor. That’ll be the next mayor. But my job is to get these investments going to get our city headed on the right track and get us back to a bright and vibrant future.

Disclosure: Bill Popp is a former chair for the Alaska Public Media Board of Directors.

Wesley Early covers Anchorage life and city politics for Alaska Public Media. Reach him at and follow him on X at @wesley_early. Read more about Wesley here.

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