Meet the candidate: Forrest Dunbar
ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Forrest Dunbar 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?
I’m a lifelong Alaskan, raised in Eagle on the Yukon River and Cordova on Prince William Sound. My parents are Miriam, a former Special Education aide and librarian, and Roger, who worked for Fish & Game for 30 years. Growing up, I worked as a wildland firefighter, commercial fisherman, and stocked shelves at Fred Meyer. Anchorage was always the “big city” to me: an exciting place with shopping, entertainment, and friends, and where I aspired to live.
I’ve made my home in East Anchorage, where I serve as a Captain in the Alaska Army National Guard and on the Assembly. Since being elected in April of 2016, I’ve focused on jobs, quality of life, public safety, homelessness, and affordable housing. I was honored to twice be selected by my colleagues as Chair of the Assembly, and I am the only candidate currently serving and ready to go on Day One.
How long have you lived in Alaska?
I am a lifelong Alaskan so 36 years! I received my post-secondary education and served in the Peace Corps outside the state, but Alaska was always home.
Why are you running for mayor?
I’m running for Mayor because I want to make Anchorage an even better place to live, and because we need fact-based leadership to beat COVID and get our economy back on track. I believe Anchorage can be an exciting city with strong public safety, thriving businesses, good-paying jobs, and a top-tier education system.
My time on the Assembly, as well as the work I’ve done with the Muldoon Farmers Market, Anchorage Park Foundation, and Scenic Foothills Community Council, has prepared me to hit the ground running on Day One. And beyond our immediate economic recovery, which will be assisted by the quick and equitable distribution of federal aid, my team has developed plans for the Municipality’s long-term economic growth. Our community has advantages few cities share, including world-class trails, a deep Indigenous history, and a diverse population. We have tremendous opportunities in the outdoor recreation industry, knowledge-based “work-from-anywhere” economy, a revitalized downtown, and a growing community of entrepreneurs. I believe, and I hope you do too, that our best days are still ahead of us.
What will be your focus while in office?
Getting through the immediate public health crisis and getting Anchorage’s economy back on track will be my Administration’s immediate, top priority. We will use a fact-based approach to address the pandemic, and will listen to public health experts on necessary measures. This means clearly communicating vaccine appointment eligibility and availability, administering vaccines quickly, and informing residents about important health precautions they can take to slow the spread of the virus.
At the same time, ensuring our local economy recovers as quickly as possible is paramount. My Administration will disperse new COVID relief funding quickly and equitably. We will build stronger community coalitions and use existing channels to get information out to small business owners about available grants.
In addition, we must prioritize Anchorage’s long-term economic prospects so Anchorage can be a world-class city in which to live, work, play and visit. We will invest in the visitor economy, the “work from anywhere” knowledge-based economy, revitalize our downtown, promote cultural tourism, partner with the university, and do everything we can to bring the jobs of the future to Anchorage.
What do you plan to do about the COVID-19 pandemic?
As I said above, we need a fact-based approach that both listens to public health experts and takes the practical advice of impacted communities and businesses. Communication is key. Within business networks, my Administration will facilitate technical assistance to improve necessary adaptations and make sure we are continuing to offer ways for small businesses to continue operations while getting federal aid out as quickly as possible. For community members and social settings, we need to be building guidelines that are realistic and speak to real-life situations. We must keep residents up to date on new ways they can keep their social bubbles safe, as well as the latest health guidance.
The new mayor will be sworn in at the start of July; we are all hoping that by that point a much larger portion of our population will be vaccinated, and vaccine-resistant variants of the Coronavirus will not have come into being. With those conditions present, we should be able to have a much greater level of openness, while still staying safe and not snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. I am optimistic that the coming summer will be far happier and healthier than the last.
What is the largest issue outside of the pandemic facing the municipality and what do you intend to do about it?
The biggest challenge we face is getting our economy back on track while keeping a balanced budget. On top of addressing the immediate COVID crisis, we must preserve our excellent bond rating that keeps the cost of Municipal borrowing low, diversify our revenue streams, and move away from over-reliance on property taxes and the unstable State budget. We need to find a balance between providing critical services and keeping rates, fees, and property taxes affordable.
On the Assembly, I helped ensure that the proceeds from the sale of ML&P were deposited into the Municipal Trust, supported the fuel tax, approved targeted cuts to every department but public safety, and voted for audits that returned millions to the Municipality. I will continue to prioritize fiscal responsibility as Mayor.
There’s a lot of political division in our city. How can you bring people together?
Along with the pandemic, the co-occurring challenge facing Anchorage is the rise of “fact-free,” conspiratorial politics, disconnected from public health, reasonable dialogue, and the realities of governing. Our community cannot heal and our economy cannot recover if misinformation and lack of civility continue to spread.
It will take a commitment from all of us, from across the political spectrum, to reject this style of politics and recommit to fact-based discourse. My Administration will be committed to better communication, transparency, and facilitation of dialogue to help this happen. We will also assist community groups who seek to make the Assembly Chambers more welcoming and will make Agencies more responsive when residents need answers and information on vital programs.
Do you think the state’s vaccine distribution has been fair for all?
I think the State was right to prioritize elders and emergency medical staff in the first waves, and now I am happy to see the State shift to educators in order to get our children back in schools without sacrificing the safety of staff. Alaska on the whole is now at around 13% fully vaccinated -- a heartening number when you think about how many high-risk people are now able to feel safer going about their lives.
People have been leaving Anchorage over the past few years. How can you make Anchorage a desirable place to live and do business?
I believe an economic boom is coming for Anchorage should we seize the opportunity. We can be a vibrant city that attracts and retains a trained and talented workforce with world-class outdoor recreation opportunities and walkable, bikeable neighborhoods where our cultural diversity is on full display, where child care is accessible and high-quality, and housing is affordable. Anchorage can be a city where students get a top-tier education, starting with pre-K. We can be a city that exports value-added products while importing visitors from across the world who will add hundreds of millions of dollars by staying longer. And by engaging every part of our community, we can ensure that benefits of growth are shared equitably across the Municipality, without leaving any neighborhood behind.
Did you agree or disagree with the municipality’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic? If not, what would you have done differently?
We have made tough calls and taken tough votes this past year. In an unprecedented time, the residents of Anchorage have sacrificed and lifted each other up--as a result, our community has had far lower rates of hospitalization and death than many Lower 48 cities. As difficult as the Emergency Declaration and Order decisions have been, the evidence clearly demonstrates that the hunker down orders helped control the spread of the virus, and in the case of EO-16 likely prevented our hospital resources from being overwhelmed. During the first round of federal aid I fought for funding for child care relief, rental and mortgage assistance funds, and small business grants, particularly to the hospitality and tourism industry. I will maintain those priorities as additional aid becomes available.
I wish the Municipality had been able to distribute funds faster, and I know that the current Administration is still working to ensure the entirety of funds are dispersed. My Administration will work to simplify dispersal processes and get the next rounds of federal aid out faster while continuing to target those funds to the industries most impacted by the pandemic.
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