For the past nine years Chris Birch has represented the sprawling South Anchorage district on the municipal assembly, but because of term limits his time is up.
Three political newcomers, who share a lot of similarities, are hoping to take Birch’s place on the assembly.
Bruce Dougherty, Bill Evans and Pete Nolan have never held elected office before, but each has extensive experience as public servants.
Dougherty spent 28 years in the Air National Guard. Evans was in the Army and a member of the 82nd Air Born. A former Anchorage police officer, in 1981 Nolan was ambushed by a sniper in Spenard and shot twice. His wounds forced him into retirement four years later, he said.
The trio also has experience on a number of boards, commissions and groups involving city issues.
But there is at least one major difference, something that shows when Anchorage Ordinance 37, the city’s new and contentious labor ordinance, becomes part of the conversation.
AO-37 was proposed by Mayor Dan Sullivan and was narrowly approved by the assembly after a rough-and-tumble debate. Among other things, the ordinance restricts the bargaining power of city unions during contract talks. The ordinance also limits city workers’ pay raises. The unions fought hard against the mayor’s proposal with the debate reaching its climax when the assembly decided to cut off testimony with dozens of people still wanting to speak about the ordinance.
Dougherty said the process was flawed and that “AO-37 must be completely scrapped.”
Dougherty tells Channel 2 News that, “negotiating contracts face to face at the bargaining table has always worked fine in the past and that’s what the city should go back to.”
Because of his position to do away with the labor ordinance, Dougherty’s campaign has won the backing of many city labor unions.
While Dougherty wants AO-37 thrown out, Evans said the proposed ordinance is fine. Evans said it saves the city money and “puts the authority and responsibility for the budgets where it belongs with the administration and the assembly.”
Evans called the labor ordinance “just a good first step.” Because of the hard feelings created by the way the assembly debate was handled, Evans said the city now has bad labor relations with its unions. According to Evans, those fences need to be mended before AO-37 can work to its full capacity.
Evans received endorsements from departing Assemblyman Chris Birch who voted for AO-37 and Mayor Sullivan.
While Evans and Dougherty are at polar opposites on the labor law, Nolan falls in the middle of the debate. Nolan said there are many good things the ordinance does, like creating uniform overtime rules and holidays.
According to Nolan, the ordinance is now toxic with the public, and he believes the assembly needs to talk to union members then make tweaks to make the ordinance better balanced.
The three candidates also have their share of pet projects they would like to see happen in their district.
Dougherty said the Old Seward Highway running from Rabbit Creek Road is in dire need of upgrades. He wants to see it widened, with shoulders added so drivers, pedestrians and bike riders are safe.
Evans said roads in the district have not kept up with population growth in South Anchorage. He said roads like O’Malley need upgrades to handle the traffic volume off the Hillside. He also wants to see more east-west running roads connecting into main arteries like Abbott, O’Malley and Huffman.
Nolan said one of his big projects would be improving response time for the fire department. There has been an ongoing debate about what to do with Fire Station 9 on Huffman near Old Seward. Nolan says the fire station is old and is no longer large enough to handle the needs of fire fighters.
Nolan is proposing a three-acre site along the frontage road near DeArmoun Road. According to Nolan a new station should be built on the front acre and a public park created on the back two acres. Nolan says that would be good for the neighborhood, while improving fire department response time for the Hillside and New Seward Highway.
The decision of who will replace Chris Birch on the assembly will be made on Election Day, April 1. According to the pundits, that decision is not clear cut, and the race between Dougherty, Evans and Nolan is a close one.