Candidate profile: Forrest Dunbar is eager to work with Alaskans, get city ‘back on track’

Forrest Dunbar discusses his mayoral campaign and speaks on his vision for Anchorage in a March...
Forrest Dunbar discusses his mayoral campaign and speaks on his vision for Anchorage in a March interview.(KTUU)
Published: Mar. 16, 2021 at 9:44 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Forrest Dunbar, one of 15 candidates running for mayor of Anchorage, has a simple answer for why he’s running.

“I’m running to get Anchorage past our current public health crisis and get our economy back on track,” Dunbar said in an interview last week.

His plan for either of those things, however, is much more involved.

“We can see that the municipality is beginning to open things to 100% capacity,” he said. “That’s because of the incredible sacrifice of the people of Anchorage over the past year. And it’s really important that over these last few months, we don’t snatch defeat from the jaws of victory; we don’t throw away the sacrifice of the people of Anchorage and small businesses have made over the past year.”

“We have to rapidly deploy the federal aid that is coming to Anchorage,” he continued, elaborating on his plans for the near future. “Over the past several years, we’ve created a number of systems to get federal aid into the hands of those who need it most.”

Dunbar, who grew up in rural Alaska, is a captain in the Alaska Army National Guard and a longtime member of the Anchorage Assembly, representing East Anchorage since 2016. As his detractors often point out, he was among the members in favor of sending an alcohol tax to the ballot in 2020, which would go on to pass by a vote of the people.

“The people of Anchorage voted for an alcohol tax last year,” Dunbar said. “And that allows us to fund domestic violence and sexual assault prevention, treatment, early childhood education and a number of other important priorities.”

He was also one of the members voting in favor of extending municipal emergency orders earlier on in the pandemic.

“We have to have a shared commitment to facts,” he said. “You know, we can’t just make things up and think conspiracy theories are real. Whether you’re a republican, democrat, independent, we have to have a shared sense of facts, and reject some of the anti-mask, conspiratorial rhetoric that has been out and about this past year.”

Overall, Dunbar said, Anchorage needs to start working smarter to make sure the city can fully reopen and stay that way, not only for the benefit of its residents, but its visitors, too.

“That will help us kick-start our economy this summer,” he said of distributing aid as soon as possible. “But there’s other things we can do: attracting more independent travelers, revitalizing downtown, for the long term, really diversifying the Anchorage economy.

“Anchorage has unique advantages a few other places have,” he said. “We’re very close to the Chugach, we have a world-class trail system, we have a high quality of life. That will allow us to bring people here, but also allow us to market ourselves as a work-from-anywhere, Zoom-based economy – a center for the knowledge economy.”

As for schools and businesses, he wants them all open as soon as is safely possible.

“No victory is permanent or absolute,” Dunbar said. “We are going to see COVID-19, and unfortunately, we’re likely to see some cases, so we have to be really thoughtful. And I believe the school district has been proactive in trying to track and control those kinds of cases. So we can keep, again, as many schools open as much as possible.”

According to Dunbar, he and fellow mayoral candidate Dave Bronson are leading among pollsters at the moment; with the split as it is now, a runoff between the two is more than likely.

“If we want the city to move forward and move past the toxicity of the past year, it’s going to be crucial that we run strong in the runoff,” Dunbar said. “And that we take this race really seriously.”

The mayoral race thus far has been a “tremendous experience,” Dunbar said, adding that he’s excited to bring people together to move Anchorage into a better place.

“I’m eager to work with folks to get the city back on track, get our economy back on track,” he said. “And that’s going to take us beating the pandemic, not ignoring it.”

In 2014, Dunbar ran for Alaska’s lone seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, netting 41% of the vote but still falling to Rep. Don Young, who remains in the position today.

The campaign for Dunbar — who officially announced his candidacy in 2019 — last week reported more than $300,000 raised. Among his supporters are Anchorage Democrats and the Alaska Center, as well as unions such as the Laborers and IBEW, and the International Association of Firefighters Local 1264.

“I do think that as we’re able to further open things, and as the pandemic fades, I think people are going to realize that Anchorage actually came through a lot better than other places,” he said. “And there’s a shared sense of pride and opportunity and hope.”

Dunbar is among more than a dozen others currently running for mayor of Anchorage. More information on him and his campaign is available on his website.

Alaska’s News Source will also offer continued coverage of candidates and ballot proposals from now until the election on April 6.

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