Meet the candidate: Bill Falsey

Bill Falsey is running for mayor of Anchorage in this year's municipal election.
Bill Falsey is running for mayor of Anchorage in this year's municipal election.(Bill Falsey's campaign team)
Published: Mar. 12, 2021 at 1:13 PM AKST|Updated: Mar. 13, 2021 at 7:11 PM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Bill Falsey is running for mayor of Anchorage. Alaska’s News Source asked him to answer some questions about his campaign. Here’s what he said.

Can you give me a short description of yourself?

Bill Falsey served as Anchorage municipal manager from 2017 to 2020, where he oversaw the police, fire, and health departments, among others. From 2015 to 2017, he was Anchorage’s municipal attorney. He is known to residents for his response to the Nov. 2018 earthquake, the 2019 wildfire season, and for serving in 2020 as incident commander responsible for overseeing Anchorage’s on-the-ground response to COVID-19. Mr. Falsey led teams that delivered on the sale of ML&P, which has lowered today’s electric bills; and successful reconstruction of the first piece of the Port of Alaska, the petroleum/cement terminal. He drafted ordinances that restored law enforcement to Girdwood and the Seward Highway; improved healthcare price transparency; and addressed nuisance properties, such as the former Northern Lights Inn. He is a graduate of Dimond and the proud father of two young kids, who he is raising with his wife of 11 years, Jeannette Lee.

How long have you lived in Alaska?

I moved here in 1993. I left for college and law school (1998-2005), and followed my wife out of state in 2008—but we moved back for good in 2013.

Why are you running for mayor?

I am running for mayor because I believe Anchorage’s best days are still ahead of us, and I’m invested in that future. This is my hometown—I graduated from central and Dimond; my parents retired here after careers in the air force, and teaching special education at Rabbit Creek Elementary. It’s where my wife and I are raising our two kids.

I’m looking ahead at the challenges and opportunities posed by post-COVID work-from-anywhere, Zoom-enabled world, and recognizing that it should play to our strength—we’re a place that people want to be. That the world has discovered.

But I also see that we have some tough days ahead of us. And I’ve helped Anchorage through some tough days before: the Nov. 2018 earthquake; the 2019 wildfire season; and in 2020, when I served as incident commander overseeing our local, on-the-ground response to the COVID-19 global pandemic, where my job was to collect and distribute PPE, establish adequate isolation and quarantine facilities, set up free, broadly available testing sites and, through it all, go on TV tell everyone what we were doing, and why.

We got through the past challenges, and we’re getting through this one, while also delivering on the sale of ML&P; completing the first piece of the reconstruction of the Port of Alaska; restoring law enforcement to Girdwood and the Seward highway; making public safety improvements, like establishing 311, that have led to reduced crime; and cleaning up nuisance properties, like the Northern Lights Inn.

From my record, residents know I’m not really about politics, I’m about getting things done.

What will be your focus while in office?

As mayor, my focus will be on: championing the Post-COVID economic recovery; making real progress on homelessness; completing the Port of Alaska rebuild; preserving our public safety gains; making smart energy investments; and investing in the quality-of-life improvements really take us to the next level—early childhood education, trails, and forging better partnership with the university; while also preserving our local financial health and bond rating.

What do you plan to do about the COVID-19 pandemic?

COVID is the story of two disasters: (1) a public health disaster, and (2) an economic disaster.

In my time at the municipality, I was tasked with dealing with the first. As Incident Commander, I oversaw our local on-the-ground response to the pandemic, and Anchorage’s emergency operations center. My job was to make sure our local healthcare providers and first responders had adequate PPE; that we had adequate isolation and quarantining facilities and a means to safely transport people to them; and that the public would be able to access broadly available, free community COVID testing. In both settings, I understood my fundamental task to be to communicate, openly, honestly and with humanity, about what the City was doing, and why. By the time the next mayor takes office much of that work, hopefully, should be concluding—though the new task of supporting mass vaccination efforts (“medical countermeasures,” in the jargon) will likely still be underway. I will strongly support those efforts.

The second disaster—the economic toll of COVID—will still be very much with us in July of 2021. Additional—and long-overdue—federal support will be key to the recovery, and will likely involve a significant municipal workload. As mayor, I will stand ready to efficiently and transparently distribute whatever funds the municipality next receives from the federal government, on the terms required by the federal legislation.

But the municipality also has a very significant role to play itself, beyond merely disbursing federal aid. That includes: (1) supporting a robust infrastructure program to get the city back up on its feet and working again; (2) spurring new private-sector development through more creative ways of financing on- and off-site improvements (such as through tax-increment financing-like arrangements, and targeted use of the municipality’s SB 100 ability to use its tax code to incentivize particular forms of development); (3) ensuring that the municipality processes construction permits quickly, and does not needlessly stall or block projects; and (4) making quality of life investments to re-establish and grow our tourism sector and make Anchorage a more attractive place from which to “work from anywhere.”

What is the largest issue outside of the pandemic facing the municipality and what do you intend to do about it?

Homelessness is a highly visible and growing problem.

In Anchorage, homelessness should be brief, one-time and rare—and no one should be sleeping on our street corners or in our greenbelts.

After years of largely leaving the issue to our local non-profit and religious organizations to solve, homelessness in the Municipality is now off the charts—we have 200 more people in the shelter system right now than we have ever had in prior years; we have nearly 400 people living in the Sullivan Arena, another nearly 50 in the Fairview Recreation Center, and more than 100 in other settings around town.

We need a comprehensive solution—one that reduces the inflow of people into homelessness; involves a safe and appropriately sized shelter system, established through an open, transparent and community-driven process that involves credible business plans and no surprises; a rapid, more effective camp-abatement program that connects people to services; and housing-first investments that get folks up and on their feet again.

There’s a lot of political division in our city. How can you bring people together?

Lead by example. The mayor has the opportunity, and responsibility, to set a tone of civility and respect. That means proactively reaching out to key stakeholders, welcoming everyone into a collaborative effort of joint problem-solving, really listening, and, after arriving at a decision, explaining candidly, not just what the decision is, but the reasoning behind it. It also means working to maintain a relentless focus, not on waging political battles, but on the essential business of the municipality: solving problems and delivering real, on-the-ground solutions for residents.

Do you think the state’s vaccine distribution has been fair for all?

Alaska has led the nation in effective vaccine distribution but, like elsewhere, has been forced to confront the unavoidably difficult choice of how to prioritize distribution when need outstrips supply. Priorities and distribution tiers have been by the state, and supplies have been disbursed by the federal government. For my part, I support the efforts made to date to prioritize those who are most put at risk by COVID, and who face the greatest risk of exposure.

That said, I would have preferred to see earlier eligibility for individuals with high-risk medical conditions, regardless of age, and a fairer system for allocating doses unexpectedly made available after clinics had “no shows”—allocating the doses by “last-minute, random phone calls,” as the newspaper characterized them, is certainly not fair or ideal.

People have been leaving Anchorage over the past few years. How can you make Anchorage a desirable place to live and do business?

Anchorage’s population has been on the decline since 2013. Stemming outmigration is an important economic, and quality-of-life objective for the city. The city should adopt several strategies. The city can directly support economic activity through smart infrastructure investments and appropriate business-fostering incentives that encourage or unlock new construction projects, and that involve the appropriate use of apprentices. The city can also, less directly, though still critically, make or encourage the kind quality-of-life investments that make Anchorage a world-class city in which to “live, work and play”—investing in and marketing our trails, expanding early-childhood education options, improving our housing stock (including expanded housing options for seniors), and by advocating for support to keep the university system strong.

Did you agree or disagree with the municipality’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic? If not, what would you have done differently?

Generally, yes. The municipality appropriately prioritized public health, kept our first responders and health-care providers adequately supplied with appropriate PPE, slowed disease transmission, and helped Alaska achieve best-in-the-nation levels of testing and vaccination, all while preventing our hospitals from being overwhelmed. Getting the virus under control is key to our economic recovery: unless and until COVID is brought to heel, travel, in-person dining, and general economic activity, will not fully rebound.

As I said when I first appeared as incident commander for the local COVID-19 response in the March 2019 townhall I worked to organize at the Alaska Public Media studios, our decisions should be based on the best available science, the lessons of history, and news from the front.

On those metrics, two articles from the social science literature influenced my thinking, each of which I discussed with the community.

The first was an historical analysis of how the differing public health measures adopted by cities in the 1918 pandemic affected the cities’ ultimate recoveries. The paper concluded that the pandemic depressed the economy across the board–but that cities which adopted more public-health protective measures (masks, distancing, capacity restrictions) ultimately bounced back more quickly.

The second was an early economic analysis that attempted to quantify the cost-benefit trade-offs of public health interventions cities were adopting specifically for COVID-19. For the nation, that paper concluded that the interventions had net benefits for the country in the amount of multiple billions of dollars.

The best-available information suggests that the paths that lead to the best economic outcomes are the more public-health protective paths.

That said, I do think the municipality should have done a better job messaging to affected industries. My sense is that several emergency orders were announced at Friday press conferences without much advanced warning or coordination; that would not have been my approach.

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