Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Developers take sides in the mayor's race

Some interesting tidbits of information have been hashed out in this Alaska Dispatch article regarding donations made by developers in the mayor's race between Berkowitz and Demboski. Both the Anchorage Home Builders Association and developer Mark Pfeffer donated to the Berkowitz campaign. What I find bizarre however is that a significant amount of funding from the conservative Christian group Alaska Family Action (which backed Demboski, of course) came from developers. I understand that many developers may be interested in backing a conservative candidate such as Demboski due to her hands-off philosophy concerning building regulations (some developers may have even hoped to get more Title 21 rollbacks under her administration), but why donate to a social conservative organization? Seems like a weird route to take to support your candidate. Among the developers who donated to Demboski through Alaska Family Action was Chuck Spinelli of Spinell Homes, which isn't surprising. 

This latest piece of news brings to mind what happened to Anchorage Assembly member Elvi Gray Jackson during a re-election campaign that she ran a few years ago. Hoping to decimate the bench of liberals, a group of developers poured money into advertising against her by using homophobic scare tactics in their ads. Among the donors I recall were Spinell Homes and Davis Constructors & Engineers. In the end, Jackson won and the developers lost. This was the first time I noticed the odd social conservative angle that developers were taking. I understand that they had interest in affecting the makeup of the Assembly which was still working on Title 21 at the time, but why work in cahoots with social conservative groups? I suppose the most realistic answer is simple scare tactics. Homophobic political attacks worked well in the early 2000s, but now we're in a time when the current crop of GOP candidates (Bush, Rubio, Cruz etc) are dodging the issue due to changing national opinion. And as we can see last night, even in red state Alaska, at a local level, Republicans are finding that homophobic scare tactics are no longer a sure thing. Demboski dragged social issues into the center spotlight of this race hoping to capitalize on people's concerns -- and it backfired. We've come a long ways from the days when then mayor George Wuerch ordered the Loussac Library to take down a gay pride display while not suffering any political damage.

What we can take away from this is that there are two sets of developers. Those who champion quality projects (such as Pfeffer), and those who seek to round corners and do what they want at the expense of the city's quality of life. The latter folk are the ones more likely to use crude scare tactics in their campaigning.

"It doesn't matter if you're straight or gay, or heterosexual -- this is our Anchorage,"

^Those are the words of your new mayor-elect Ethan Berkowitz. After facing a runoff election with opponent Amy Demboski, Berkowitz won tonight in what can simply be described as a blowout! As of this posting with 98% of precincts reporting, Berkowitz has a commanding lead with 59% to Demoboski's 40%. Normally we at Joop try not to show any overt excitement for a particular candidate (unless it's Mark Begich, who we still love), but the fact of the matter is this was a truly important election. In my opinion this was the most important municipal election in decades. More than ever, the contrasts were black and white when it came to the issues that this blog covers. Amy supports the Knik Arm Bridge. Ethan is against it. Amy is for conservative values of limited government, limited oversight, and limited regulations. Ethan Berkowitz is not that man. You may also recall earlier at the start of the runoff, it was reported that Amy completely blew off a survey sent to her by a Anchorage bicycle group looking to her for her position on bicycle safety and her plans to better integrate bicycle commuting. Ethan on the other hand embraced his biking constituents and was articulate on his position with regard to bicycle safety and infrastructure. Their positions represented a battle of cultures. It's only to be expected that a candidate from Chugiak-Eagle River was not going to champion smart urban policies. Ethan on the other hand lived in South Addition before heading over to West Anchorage (full disclosure: Joop world headquarters are in West Anchorage). To have an "inner-city" candidate triumph over the exurban candidate was crucial should the city of Anchorage continue to move forward. 

But beyond the context of what this means for urbanism, Berkowitz's win represents a new hope for the city. What we just saw tonight is Anchorage redeeming itself after the very ugly fight over LGBT equality that played out in 2009 and once more in 2012 during the Sullivan administration. For a city that wishes to keep its young people and attract millennials from abroad, Anchorage was doing all the wrong things. But tonight the voters have spoken, and they have said that they've had enough of Sullivan's culture wars, Jerry Prevo's lies from the pulpit, and the Alaska Family Council's fear mongering. In Ethan Berkowitz, we are getting both an urban champion, and a champion for diversity and equality. Anchorage is once again open for business. Let's continue to transform this city.