ANCHORAGE (KTUU) - Channel 2's Municipal reporter Jack Carney sat down with the candidates for Anchorage mayor to talk about their priorities. Here is his interview with incumbent Mayor Ethan Berkowitz:
Channel 2's Jack Carney: What are your top priorities if you are re-elected as Mayor of Anchorage?
Ethan Berkowitz: Well, we've got to focus on what I call the foundation of responsibilities. Public safety is very important. And we will continue to make sure Anchorage is as safer than it has been, continuing to make sure the police department grows, expand our ability to prosecute crimes in ways that we haven't been able to do in the past. As well as do more to deter criminal activities from happening by focusing on drug and alcohol rehabilitation and the opioid epidemic is a real problem. But we're also looking at our aspirational goals, where are we going to go as a city? How are we going to cope with the changing economy of Alaska? And these are goals that we need to focus on as well.
Jack Carney: We've seen a record number of murders and car thefts. What can you do to combat that?
Ethan Berkowitz: I was a prosecutor when I first got started up here and there are no easy answers to this, I wish there were simple answers. What we have done in the city is push on the levers that are in our control, the most important one is the police department. Three years ago there were 320 police officers in the police department, today we have 435 that allows us to have specialty units, it allows us to bolster some of the detectives that we had in the smaller shifts before, and also to make sure that we patrol is bigger. That includes foot patrol, we're looking at expanding patrol so each community council area has its own dedicated police officers and that ought to make sure that we can be proactive instead of just being reactive.
We've also put forth ordinances, particularly on spice, and changing some of the ordinances that are related to car theft. We’ve created a sort of joy ride ordinance in Anchorage, which allows us to do things that the state was not able to do and that should allow us to prosecute crimes in ways that we haven't been able to do in the past. But it is a comprehensive approach and we're focused on making sure that Anchorage is safer than it has been.
Jack Carney: What can you do to help the Anchorage School District students, teachers, administrators when it comes to budget problems?
Ethan Berkowitz: So one of the things that we've done is we've focused on shared services. The things that the school district does and the things that the Municipality does we're looking at ways of focusing on specific areas of responsibility to reduce overall as well as increase efficiencies. That allows a school district to focus its money in the classroom and on students which is what I think they want to do. It allows the Municipality to use our resources to better advantage. And we've seen opportunities for this, one example, fleet maintenance, some with risk management, we're looking at healthcare or health costs savings, there's a range of areas that we're looking for. But the goal for the Anchorage School District is to make sure we're educating our students. Which means the fewer dollars allocated outside the classroom the better.
Jack Carney: Anchorage has had a homelessness problem since before you got into office. But what can you do to address those issues in a tough but tolerant way?
Ethan Berkowitz: So Homelessness represents both a moral challenge as well as a fiscal challenge and the moral challenge is something that we have risen to as a community. The fiscal challenge is something we're trying to deal with in a more efficient way. You know one of the things that we've done is we've conducted a survey of people who are on the street and in the camps so we've been able to identify them by name. And we get all the service providers back together on a bi-weekly basis and we try to connect individuals to the services and housing opportunities that they otherwise might not be able to find. And those should reduce the overall costs.
We've been able to forge public/private non-profit partnerships that allow us to leverage the few resources that are out there, focusing on the idea that the most important thing that we can do is make sure that people who are homeless find a home. Many of those individuals have drug and alcohol issues or mental health issues and make sure that they get connected to the services and measure of independence that they otherwise would not have.
Jack Carney: You've been in support of Proposition 10 since its very beginning. Why is this deal good for both the city and its consumers?
Ethan Berkowitz: One utility is just basically cheaper and more efficient than two utilities. What this does is save the ratepayers money over the long-term save tax payers money over the long term. It also makes sure that Anchorage is equally economically well positioned and financially well positioned even in spite of all the turmoil that's occurring at the state level. This is a unique opportunity at a unique time and we ought to take full advantage of it.