Mayor-elect Bronson has placed the attack on the Anchorage Assembly at the heart of his campaign. Now he has to work with them.
Mayor-elect Dave Bronson takes office after a close election and a controversial campaign, and he now has to work with the people he has spent months criticizing: the Anchorage Assembly.
He succeeds interim mayor Austin-Quinn Davidson on July 1. But even before taking office, the elected conservative mayor is grappling with an Assembly that holds a qualified progressive majority.
Bronson faces a fast approaching deadline to dismantle the Sullivan Arena emergency homeless shelter the city erected during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Larry Baker, a key member of Bronson’s transition team, called the situation “a very unusual situation.”
âIn my 50+ years here, I have never seen a political environment where something like this has never happened,â said Baker, a former state lawmaker and city official, who first sat in the Assembly in 1983.
“… There has never been something of this magnitude that has had an impact on such a large part (of) the community that needed a response and needed it immediately,” he said. -he declares.
Bronson is relatively new to Anchorage politics, and its The bid gained traction last summer as it voiced strong criticism of the city’s COVID-19 restrictions and its handling of the homeless.
He has never held public office before. Bronson’s Transition Team, which includes seasoned Conservative politicians and new faces, is currently focused primarily on building a large homeless shelter in East Anchorage by the end of September and revitalizing the economy of Anchorage.
Political observers say Bronson faces serious hurdles in implementing his agenda, including a steep learning curve and the progressive-leaning Assembly qualified majority. They say that in order to progress, he will have to make compromises.
This means building a good working relationship with the members of the Assembly he has positioned as adversaries during the campaign, including Assembly member Forrest Dunbar, who lost the second round of the municipal election to Bronson.
Yet, so far, observers and some members of the Assembly say Bronson is putting aside the more controversial campaign rhetoric in favor of progress on the city’s pressing issues.
âHe doesn’t look like a guy who’s just going to go to war. So if he can kind of keep that approach, I think he can be successful, âsaid Jim Lottsfeldt, a left-wing political consultant in Anchorage.
âIf I read the tea leaves correctly, the more liberal members of the House are signaling to him that they will work with him on most issues. I haven’t seen a single line drawn in the sand, âLottsfeldt said.
Dick Traini, a former Assembly Speaker who was elected seven times to the Assembly between 1991 and 2016, said voters over the years have strived to elect more conservative mayors to more liberal mayors. The majority in the Assembly is also moving, from more conservative Assemblies to more liberal Assemblies. Yet he said he had not seen one with a progressive majority “to the extent that it is.”
“The mayor may want to do something, push this proposal forward, but if he doesn’t have the six votes to pass it, that won’t happen,” Traini said.
The Assembly, the city’s voting legislative body, has 11 seats. It functions separately but equal to the mayor’s executive office and votes to approve the city’s budget, appropriations and policy.
“This House is really, very, very liberal with a large majority, with only two members who are staunchly Conservatives,” said former Anchorage Mayor Rick Mystrom, a Tory who backed Bronson and two other candidates in the race. At the mayor. “It means that whatever Dave does, it means the Coven has a lot of power.”
As mayor, Bronson has the power to veto legislation passed by the Assembly. But the Assembly can override this veto with eight votes, according to the city charter.
The Assembly has nine members who tend to vote together and who could override a veto, Mystrom said.
âI think it’s going to be a very difficult and quite unpredictable year or two,â Mystrom said.
Still, others say they have already seen signs that Bronson is reaching out to the Assembly and that he might be willing to build on the work that has already been done.
âPolitics is the art of compromise,â said Baker, one of Bronson’s transition team leaders. “Always been, always will be.”
Baker said that historically, opposing parties have generally come together to find common ground for the good of the community.
“I don’t see any member of the assembly currently seated with whom the mayor will not be able to work,” he said.
A television commercial launched by Bronson’s campaign in March directly attacked the Assembly: “Here in Anchorage, a bunch of idiots are tearing our town apart,” he said, while showing a photograph of the Assembly.
Assembly Speaker Suzanne LaFrance said Bronson apologized to her for the publicity.
âAnd that’s important,â LaFrance said. “But it’s hard when there is such intense political rhetoric, so when damaging words are used – you have to move on, you have to build a relationship and get out of those kinds of campaigns, luckily we are really focused. on troubleshooting. “
Assembly vice president Chris Constant has so far said he has seen a good faith effort from Bronson and his transition team to work with the assembly.
Former mayor and governor Tony Knowles said the relationship formed during a mayoral transition between the mayor’s staff, the mayor and the assembly will signal the city’s success going forward.
The assembly seats and the mayor’s office are technically non-partisan, he said, as are most municipal government activities, services such as public safety, fire, sewage, garbage, transport and education budget.
âIt’s really these vital services in the community that don’t lend themselves to Democrats or Republicans or certain labels like conservative or progressive,â Knowles said.
On Wednesday, members of Bronson’s transition team met with the Assembly’s Housing and Homelessness Committee to discuss plans to find shelter or housing for the approximately 400 people at Sullivan Arena and others in cold weather.
Bronson and his team say it’s the city’s most pressing problem. Bronson and homeless service providers say people’s lives are on the line.
âThe economic and social consequences are far too great if we do not take back control of our city. This is why it is incumbent on all of us to work hand in hand and find solutions to some of the biggest problems affecting our community, âBronson told the Assembly at a previous meeting of the committee on roaming this month.
It is not yet clear whether Bronson will follow through with this purchase.
âThe installation of the Alaska Club is seen as part of the solution. But I’m making no commitment today that we’re going to continue with this, âCraig Campbell, one of Bronson’s transition team leaders and former lieutenant governor, told Assembly members Wednesday.
A lot of questions remain about Bronson’s ambitious plan to erect a full-scale homeless shelter and “navigation hub” in East Anchorage by the end of September, including how it would be funded.
“What is the role of the Assembly in the Tudor and Elmore plan?” Assembly member Meg Zaletel, head of the committee, said Wednesday. âWhat is planned for the Assembly? When do you expect to bring items to us for approval? And what do you plan to bring us for approval? I think that’s kind of the burning question.
Campbell said the transition team and administration are working on these issues, and once Bronson is sworn in next week, the team will be able to “review the budget in more detail.”
“We do not expect to create a surprise in the Assembly,” he said.
Constant said he saw signs the Bronson administration was going to compromise. For example, their original proposal for the homeless shelter grew from 1,000 people to around 400, he said.
Bronson also chose to keep Acting Anchorage Police Chief Ken McCoy, who is the first black police chief in Anchorage.
âBy making this decision, he clearly upset some people at his base, but it was the right decision. Congratulations on making the right choice, âsaid Constant. âHe chose the most qualified person. If that’s what we’re going to do over the next three years, then I think we’ll be fine. “
LaFrance said that even between the Assembly and the more progressive administration of former mayor Ethan Berkowitz, as well as Quinn-Davidson, there were disagreements.
“I think that sometimes also the public does not see the creative tensions between the administration – even the previous administration and the Assembly,” said LaFrance. âPeople don’t always agree, which is good, right? I mean, there’s a lot of push and pull.
LaFrance said she was eager to find common ground.
âThere is no magic potion to solve these problems. I mean, we’re going to have to keep digging and working together.
But Anchorage’s political dynamic could change again. Assembly seats are up for election or re-election next year, and an independent spending group supporting Bronson, called Open for Business with Bronson, is already raising money for those races. The group is hosting a fundraiser and celebration of Bronson’s inauguration on July 1.