Former Assembly chair Suzanne LaFrance aims to ‘restore competence’ in bid for Anchorage mayor

Former Assembly Chair Suzanne LaFrance is one of ten candidates running for Anchorage Mayor in 2024. (Matt Faubion/Alaska Public Media)

Suzanne LaFrance is one of 10 candidates running for Anchorage mayor.

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

Prior to running, LaFrance served six years as an Anchorage Assembly member, representing South Anchorage, and was Assembly chair for two years. She says her goal in running for Anchorage mayor is “restoring competence at City Hall.”

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, Bill Popp and Chris Tuck.

This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.

Wesley Early: So before running for mayor, you served on the Assembly for six years, and were Assembly chair. How will that experience factor in your tenure as mayor if elected?

Suzanne LaFrance: Thanks, Wesley. You know, I learned the nuts and bolts of municipal government when I was on the Assembly. And serving as chair also gave me a front-row view of how our municipality works. So I’ve got the relationships, as well as the knowledge of how it works and how to make it work better to really step in and start working immediately. 

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

SL: I’m committed to creating a pro-housing culture at the Municipality. And that means cutting red tape, working with stakeholders and builders to identify ways to make it easier to build houses in our community. It also means bringing municipal assets to the table and ensuring that the Municipality is a partner. And we’ve seen in places like Minneapolis, where they engaged in public-private partnerships and increased the number of units in their community, that the price came down. And we know that housing is huge for keeping people here and attracting people here and definitely a major issue of affordability, especially for young people and our young professionals who we all know we’re losing.

WE: You mentioned sort of cutting red tape. I think that’s been a common theme over the last three years. I’m curious, what tape is there left to cut? What’s standing in the way of homes being built?

SL: Yeah, and you know, if you talk to home builders, they’ve got a list of things. And when I was on the Assembly, that’s one of the things I really appreciated about working with that group is they identify specific areas and come with a solution. And there are more conversations to have. I know that there’s been work, as you said, done in that area. I think that we have an opportunity with the permit center. And I thank all those employees, you know, who serve our community as municipal employees. I think, though, there is a way to ensure that they have enough resources and training and to be able to turn permits around at a faster rate, because that is one area that, you know, comes up as far as a potential for improvement. 

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? 

SL: Yes, the outmigration of working families and young people is probably the biggest threat to not just our economy, but our community. And I believe it comes down to two things. It comes down to are we a place where people want to live, and can they afford to live here? And it’s critical that we do the basics right, that we ensure that our streets get plowed, that our public safety departments are staffed up, that we have… that our trails are safe for everyone to recreate and that people know that this is a good place to start a business, grow a business, raise a family, retire. And that means advocating for strong schools and good jobs as well. It also means ensuring that people can break into the housing market. And so again, I’m committed to having a pro-housing culture. And it also means ensuring that people have access to quality child care that’s affordable because we know now that child care is very expensive, it’s hard to get and it can really break a family’s bank. And so those are two areas I would focus on in addition to being a strong advocate for our public schools, because that’s a really big reason for why families choose a place to live.

WE: So as Assembly chair, you were one of several members who voted against building a large homeless shelter in East Anchorage. You’ve cited financial mismanagement from Mayor Bronson. Considering the size of the city’s homeless population, do you still stand behind that decision? And what would you do to help shelter the city’s homeless population?

SL: So I think it’s important to back up a step with that discussion. And initially, Mr. Bronson had come forward with a proposal for a 1,000-person shelter in East Anchorage, and a group was formed — a few Assembly members and the administration — to work together to come up with a proposal that would have broader support, because there wasn’t support for moving forward with a 1,000-person facility. And so the proposal that came forward was much smaller, 150 or so individuals to, you know, flex up as needed. And I voted yes to move forward because our community needs those facilities, we need more shelter. And a navigation center is important for connecting people with services so that they can get out of homelessness. And so I did vote to move forward with the next phase of that. However, we saw over time that the cost went up. And the operations plan, in addition to the construction costs, also went up. And it’s very important when spending public money to follow the rules and to follow the law. And we saw that did not happen. And it became a matter of fiscal responsibility to stop the project at that point.

WE: I guess, do you support the idea of still building a large shelter, you know, now that the Sullivan Arena is turning back into a concert venue and ice arena? Or do you have any other suggestions for how to address the growing homeless population?

SL: Well, we certainly need to get out of crisis mode. The current approach, you know, has cost time, it’s cost money, it’s cost lives. As far as mass shelters, I don’t believe those are the best practice and that having smaller emergency shelters is the way to go. Now, it’s also important to keep in mind that shelter is short-term. It’s an emergency response. And ultimately, we want to get out of that mode, and connect people with housing and the supports they need. But the fact of the matter is, we’re a winter city, it gets cold here, and when people don’t have a place to go, if they can’t move directly into housing, with the supports they need, they’re on the streets or on the sidewalks or in our parks. And it’s a public safety issue, and I’ve heard from folks, especially businesses in Downtown and Midtown, that they are having to, you know, they’re having a lot of interactions. And that’s not working in our community. And, you know, we need to ensure that we’ve got a place for people to go, and that there are professional individuals, whether they’re clinicians or, you know, public safety personnel who are having those interactions with folks, because right now, it’s a public safety issue, and one that, you know, we need to get a handle on and make some good progress on.

WE: So a big platform of your campaign has been “restoring competence” to City Hall. What exactly do you mean by that? And how specifically, would you accomplish that goal?

SL: Well, you know, it starts from the top. And the mayor has a, I believe, responsibility to establish a tone of respect to ensure that the Municipality is a positive place to work, that there is accountability and that people have pride in doing those jobs. And unfortunately, that has not been the case, right? We’ve seen a lot of positions vacant. And I still get contacted by muni employees who’ve described to me really difficult working situations. So that’s the first step. The second step is, you know, to appoint competent people to leadership positions, to ensure that that positive culture of ethical behavior, respect, accountability, is that it goes out throughout the entire municipality, and that people who are competent, qualified, passionate about our community are in those positions. I mean, there are a lot of really great people who are dedicated and passionate and qualified who serve. But we’ve seen, especially in the last three years, that many of the individuals who have been appointed are not qualified, and they are not committed to putting our community first.

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

SL: Yeah, this is top of mind for so many people. And there are three things I would set out to do immediately to ensure that we are truly prepared for next winter. And the first thing is taking a look at our staffing levels. Over time we’ve seen a decrease in the number of operators at the Municipality. We also know that those positions are not competitive. So ensuring that there are competitive wages and we have the right number of individuals in the department is really important. Next, I would do an audit of equipment to make sure that we’ve got the right pieces of equipment we need to do the job. And the third thing I would do is reach out and coordinate with the state. I think more people know now that it’s a mishmash of state and muni roads. And if we are going to ensure that we truly are prepared, we’ve got to have a plan with the state and an understanding of what resources that they’re bringing to the table when it snows. And I think too, it’s ripe for us to have a conversation about who is maintaining what roads. Anchorage has changed a lot in the last 25, 30, whatever years, and I believe that we could have a conversation about who is managing which roads. And I would say the other piece of that has to do with communication, communicating with the public about the expectations and you know, when are the plows going to come through their neighborhoods, and also coordinating and communicating with the school district so that they are in a position where they can hopefully minimize the number of snow days as well. 

WE: So, we’ve got a little extra time. So I did want to ask, you brought up several times that there are certain departments that aren’t staffed very well in the city. I’m curious, how do you make the city an attractive place for people to want to work?

SL: Well, as I mentioned earlier, it starts with culture, and ensuring that the municipality is a place of respect, where competent leadership is valued and in place, where people know that we are here to serve the residents of the municipality first. Culture is very important. And then we need to also take a look to make sure that our positions are competitive. And there are a number of represented employees at the municipality, so working with the unions, to explore and implement ways to make those jobs more attractive, whether that’s with telework, whether it’s with flex time or part time. I think we need to be really creative, because we know that it is a tough job market. But I have to say, even though I’ve been off the Assembly now almost a year, I still get calls from people. And you know, some of them are former employees, some of them are still there or holding on, like in the Health Department, under pretty tough conditions, because we know as staffing decreases, then those people who left behind have more and more to do. But there’s a lot of pride in serving the community. And you know, people believe in those jobs, and I know that there are people who are willing to come back.

WE: We’ve got a little bit of time left. I’m wondering if you could give a short version of why you think Anchorage residents should vote specifically for you. What sets you apart from other candidates.
SL: I have a combination of 25 years of private sector experience, managing budgets, projects and people, as well as six years serving on the Assembly. I know the ways in which the public and private sector are different. And I have the relationships and the experience and the vision to be able to step in and start work immediately. I’m also a mom of three, a lifelong Alaskan. I’m deeply invested in this community. This is where my husband and I decided to raise our three kids, who are 16, 17 and 19 now. I believe in the future of our community and of Anchorage and Alaska, and I’m excited to get to work.

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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