Bronson, LaFrance challenge each other’s record during Anchorage Chamber mayoral debate

A man in a suit and a woman with a microphone answer questions at a debate.
Anchorage mayor Dave Bronson (left) and mayoral candidate Suzanne LaFrance answer questions during an Anchorage Chamber of Commerce debate held at the Petroleum Club of Anchorage on Monday, April 29, 2024. (Matt Faubion/Alaska Public Media)

The two candidates in Anchorage’s mayoral runoff election faced off in a debate Monday hosted by the local Chamber of Commerce. Incumbent Mayor Dave Bronson and his challenger Suzanne LaFrance took turns critiquing the other’s record. 


In his opening statement, Bronson acknowledged several issues facing the city, including a looming natural gas shortage and homelessness. He said the city will be on track to fix those issues, if he’s reelected.

“I’m really encouraged again about the future and the amount of outside investment that’s coming in to build this city,” Bronson said. “And I think quite frankly, you should all be encouraged as well, because this is truly a really good city. We just got to fix a couple of problems.”

LaFrance, the former chair of the Anchorage Assembly, used her opening remarks to criticize Bronson’s plans for addressing homelessness, as well as the city’s outmigration and low staffing levels. 

“The mayor’s the CEO of our community and supposed to bring people together to solve problems,” LaFrance said. “I’m running for mayor to bring a nonpartisan collaborative, low ego, problem solving approach back to City Hall.” 

During the hour-long debate, both candidates answered a series of questions from the Anchorage Chamber of Commerce, largely dealing with impacts to businesses and the city’s economy. With two weeks until ballots are due, the candidates are looking to win over more voters after a close race in the general election. LaFrance earned just 473 votes more than Bronson.

A man in a suit speaks at a debate
Anchorage mayor Dave Bronson gives opening remarks during a debate at the Petroleum Club of Anchorage on Monday, April 29, 2024. (Matt Faubion/Alaska Public Media)

On a question at the debate related to supporting small businesses, both candidates took different approaches. 

Bronson said the issue had to do with finding enough workers, and then pivoted to talking about addressing the city’s homeless population. He criticized the Assembly — including LaFrance who served as chair at the time — for canceling the construction of a large shelter on Tudor and Elmore roads. 

“After we started pouring the concrete, about halfway through the pouring of the concrete, she and her fellow Assembly members killed the plan,” Bronson said. “And the plan has been dead ever since. Until we build the shelter space, we cannot compel people to go into shelter because we don’t have the space.”

LaFrance did vote to advance the homeless shelter, until the Bronson administration ordered work on the project to commence without Assembly approval. That led to the Assembly scrapping the project

In her remarks on small business, LaFrance said a major issue is public safety, and said the police department is currently short 50 officers.

“When the municipal government isn’t doing its job by ensuring that our public safety departments are staffed up, businesses have to pick up the slack,” LaFrance said.  

Candidates also answered yes-or-no lightning round questions, which further showed their diverging positions. 

On a question of whether the city should have a stormwater utility, LaFrance said yes, while Bronson said no. On the recent Alaska Superior Court ruling that said it’s unconstitutional to reimburse parents for private correspondence schooling, LaFrance agreed with the court’s decision, while Bronson disagreed. 

Candidates were also asked if they support instituting a sales tax, “whatever form that may take.” Bronson called the question “unanswerable” while LaFrance said yes, if approved by voters. She later floated the idea of a seasonal sales tax aimed at tourists.  

Both candidates agreed that “there is a need for stricter ethics and transparency measures within city government.”

Bronson and LaFrance were also given an opportunity to ask the other a question. 

Bronson asked LaFrance why the Assembly’s budget more than doubled under her tenure as Assembly chair. 

“Your budget was $3.7 million,” Bronson said. “When you left six years later, as leader of the Assembly, the budget was $8.9 million. What do the people in this room get for that massive increase in spending?”

LaFrance said the Assembly budget includes a lot of outreach services for the public, and the increase reflected that.

“It also includes the elections and beefing up the election system as well, and providing services to constituents,” LaFrance said. “The legislative body is focused on those relationships and getting that feedback and helping folks connect with their local government.”

A woman with a microphone stands during a debate
Mayoral candidate Suzanne LaFrance stands for her closing statements during a debate held at the Petroleum Club of Anchorage on Monday, April 29, 2024. (Matt Faubion/Alaska Public Media)

Meanwhile, LaFrance asked Bronson about his focus on the political divide when campaigning. Bronson has regularly admonished the Assembly’s left-of-center majority, and called the notion of nonpartisan debate in politics “naive.”

“This is about a political ideology called wokeism and normal,” Bronson said. “I’m normal. She’s woke. It’s that clear.”

LaFrance responded by saying that the office of mayor is nonpartisan and, “not about red or blue, left or right.”

“We have this tremendous opportunity at the local level, to put aside the stuff at the state and federal level that divides us, and really make progress to make our community a better place,” LaFrance said.

Ballots for the runoff election will be mailed out starting Tuesday. The deadline to turn in a ballot for the mail-in election is May 14.

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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