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Anchorage government continues to hit new lows

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If you think “Die Hard” is the best Christmas movie ever, if you embrace “The Walking Dead” as a workout movie for wimps, or, if you feel a tingle at the prospect of a good old overthrow, hang out, bar brawl, you probably think there’s nothing wrong with the way the Anchorage government works.

But you would be wrong. The government of the frigid northern Newark version is locked in a breathtaking, back-biting climax of yahooism, usually invisible outside of small towns in the south, away from freeway traffic lights.

Endless machinations by those on the left to “get” the rate from Governor Mike Dunleavy became only the second bill. The infighting, the times of whining and “embarrassment”, the endless allegations and accusations make the Anchorage government more like a hyena cackle than officials bent on doing the people’s business. Where did he start? For the sake of argument, let’s say it started in earnest when former mayor Ethan Berkowitz stumbled upon a horrific scandal and – poof – disappeared into political purgatory. Rather than letting voters choose a new mayor, as some thought the city charter required, the far-left majority in the assembly in October last year appointed one of their own, the Austin Quinn-Davidson MP.

In the months that followed, she and the majority of the Assembly had carte blanche, acting as if the Assembly and the Executive were one. They continued with COVID-19 closures and mask warrants, and the city’s economy took a bombardment. Armed with millions of dollars in federal funding earmarked for pandemic aid, the Assembly attempted to purchase older hotels and other structures in or near neighborhoods to shelter the homeless population in the midst of rise of the city.

Public hearings on the matter quickly became corrosive. Then come the municipal elections and the second round between Liberal MP Forrest Dunbar and Conservative Dave Bronson. The second round, in particular, was an ugly and nasty affair, with allegations and counter-allegations, outside black money, and the involvement of the Alaska Public Offices Commission.

Much to the astonishment of those on the left, Bronson edged Dunbar 50.7% to 49.3%. A stunned Dunbar conceded, called Bronson a liar and said the new mayor’s campaign staff were “aggressive, confrontational and downright bizarre.” Then he returned to his seat in the Assembly. What could possibly go wrong?

The situation, insoluble at the time, is now a merciless fight over the separation of powers. The Assembly, unquestionably in denial of Bronson’s electoral victory, has forgotten that Anchorage supposedly has a strong mayor form of government – or it doesn’t care.

As the battle rages on, former Assembly member and now chief executive Amy Demboski appears to be a lightning rod. She has been accused of all kinds of things including try to cut a live stream from Oct. 7 during a particularly heated public hearing on a mask warrant. The Anchorage Daily News editorial board, itself accused in some quarters of favoritism, wrote that Demboski had committed a “serious breach of public confidence” during the hearing and should be sacked.

For his part, Demboski says the claim is bogus, that most of what is said about Bronson and his administration is bogus or half-done.

Both sides made mistakes – some glaring, others just plain silly. The Assembly, at Berkowitz’s behest, formed an unnecessary and redundant equity and justice office, then told Bronson he couldn’t fire his leader. Add to that: The Assembly has reportedly on occasion violated or bruised the Alaska Open Meetings Act, the latest incident being a Zoom meeting that a majority of the Assembly had with the Black Caucus of Alaska on a Sunday in late November, the Must Read Alaska political blog reported. The meeting notice, usually posted on the Assembly calendar, had been unexpectedly posted on another, little-known and difficult-to-locate calendar, the website reported. It’s the same hide-and-seek ploy that the Assembly used when it decided to change the electoral rules to increase the chances of the then-mayoral candidate, Mark Begich, being elected in 2003. New dog, old stuff.

The Liberal wing of the Assembly, in waves of arrogance – the latest being its refusal to allow Bronson to reorganize city services – acts as if the mayor is an inconsequential obstacle in his drive to control the city . The administration, although it sometimes shoots itself in the foot, is on a war footing, ready to fight. Other than hype, neither recognizes needing the other.

The city is no better. A cynic could be forgiven for thinking that the relentless, focused barking is orchestrated; that the ultimate goal is to neutralize the Bronson administration and recall him from office to overturn the last election – a repeat of the failed effort against Dunleavy. The bad news for all participants? Many grow weary of the insane cacophony and look forward to next year’s election, when at least five Anchorage Assembly seats are up for grabs. It could make what happened at the Nakamura Tower a breeze.

Yippie-ki-yay…

Paul Jenkins is editor-in-chief of AnchorageDailyPlanet.com, a division of Porcaro Communications.

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