Published in the Northern Light February 17, 2004
A two-term incumbent debated rival candidates in the Anchorage Assembly Chair Four election at the Campus Center Feb. 11. Assemblyman Doug Van Etten and contenders Stephen Johnston and Troy Maulden debated in the presence of 20 to 25 students.
The event was organized by Union of Students senators Cassie Iutzi-Mitchell and Kristine Hilderbrand, with the help of debate team veteran Ben Garcia. The candidates’ viewpoints were made public with the hope of encouraging student political awareness and to serve the community.
“We’re interested in getting UAA students working with the Anchorage Assembly and the Mayor’s office,” said Iutzi-Mitchell, who thought the event was a success.
Hilderbrand, who had hoped for higher student attendance, voiced some disappointment and spoke of a desire to see the community recognize the reciprocal value of involvement with the university.
“We’re giving and taking from the community as a whole,” Hilderbrand said.
The debaters were respectful to each other but questioned the motives of missing candidate Dan Coffey, who, Van Etten said, was “hobnobbing” at a fundraiser for wealthy socialites instead of listening to the concerns of UAA students.
Objections to some of Coffey’s political maneuverings formed the most volatile issue at the debate.
Maulden impugned the social conscience of the well-financed Coffey, whom he characterized as part of a local conspiracy of Anchorage Home Building Association members eager to use Assembly seats to push lucrative construction projects.
UAA student Steve Baldwin said he found the debate a bit hard to follow, suggesting political double-speak.
Moderator Garcia posed questions to the candidates, such as what each thought was the most important issue facing the municipality today; how they would deal with the lack of financial resources; what kind of projects they would sponsor to improve and beautify Anchorage; and how they would address traffic congestion in East Anchorage, particularly near the hospital and the university.
Johnston, an 18-year Anchorage resident, PTA member and former chair of the Campbell Park Community Council, called for a sales tax to fund law enforcement as well as improvements to Anchorage infrastructure and the public transportation system. He proposed re-routing some university-area traffic through expansions of Piper and Laurel streets, which are now residential roads. He also proposed the legalization of gambling, which he noted already exists in the form of local pull-tab and bingo establishments.
“Voters who approved the tax cap forfeited their complaining rights,” Johnston said. “All municipal services require funding.”
Maulden, a single 34-year-old business owner, lamented an ongoing surge in local crime and a “revolving door” corrections system.
“I really feel that our city officials are asleep at the wheel right now,” Maulden said, citing a recent increase in day break-ins, methamphetamine trafficking and unsolved homicides and missing-persons cases.
Maulden identified Anchorage Police Department recruitment of detectives from Cleveland, OH as a “failure of leadership,” asserting that APD should hire and develop local law-enforcement talent. He proposed broadening Anchorage’s sporting events and programs as a means of generating revenue.
Incumbent Van Etten described Anchorage’s abysmal education budget and other shortfalls to the municipal tax cap, noting that only a ballot-driven lifting of the cap would enable the Assembly and the mayor to make crucial changes. Addressing local traffic congestion, he pledged to continue pursuing federal grants for improving public transportation.
“The kind of economic recovery that we must experience is a bottom-up recovery, not from trickle-down methods being observed in our Republican administration,” Van Etten said. He proposed investment in vocational training, citing the corresponding nature of Alaska’s workforce.