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‘You don’t attack my people without paying the price’: Mayor Bronson, Anchorage Assembly battle over COVID-19 and confirmations

Anchorage mayor Dave Bronson.
Anchorage mayor Dave Bronson.
Published: Sep. 9, 2021 at 2:21 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - When Mayor Dave Bronson campaigned to become mayor of Anchorage, he often used harsh words when talking about people he perceived as going up against him.

He referred to the homeless population as “vagrants” and told his opponent in the race, Anchorage Assembly member Forrest Dunbar, that he didn’t, “have the sense God gave an anvil.”

This time his frustrations are targeted at the seven assembly members who didn’t vote to confirm his pick to run the city’s library system, former Anchorage School Board hopeful Sami Graham.

“At least I now know who I have to deal with,” Bronson said in a Tuesday interview with Alaska’s News Source. “and that’s actually a good piece of information, because the irrationality of not confirming Sami Graham was way beyond the pale. You don’t attack my people without paying the price.”

In city government, the positions of mayor and assembly member are supposed to be nonpartisan, but elections are often won and lost along party lines.

The seven assembly members who voted not to confirm Graham were Suzanne LaFrance, Felix Rivera, Austin Quinn-Davidson, Pete Petersen, Meg Zaletel, Kameron Perez-Verdia and Dunbar.

“I don’t remember any Assembly member saying anything negative about Mrs. Graham,” Rivera said in a Wednesday email in response to Bronson’s comments. “If the Mayor wants us to approve his appointments, he should put qualified people before us for consideration. Frankly, the Mayor’s response sounds childish and the threat of repercussion should alarm anyone who values American democracy.”

“The decision about Sami Graham had nothing to do with politics or ‘attacking people,’” Perez-Verdia wrote in an email. “It is the job of the Assembly to review the qualifications of executive appointments and determine whether we believe they are qualified or not. This is our role and responsibility as elected members of the Assembly. My vote to not confirm Ms. Graham was solely based on her lack of qualification for the position.”

During deliberation in the hearing to confirm Graham, some assembly members expressed concerns about her qualifications for the job of lead librarian. She holds two master’s degrees, in counseling and educational leadership, but does not have a master’s degree in library science like the former top librarian.

Some assembly members said they are frustrated with Bronson for not doing more to slow the pandemic

This week, according to the municipal coronavirus data dashboard, 20 of the 56 people in Anchorage ICU beds have COVID-19, or 35%.

“I don’t know what I can do, they’re private enterprises,” Bronson said of the hospitals. “They’re the ones who determine how many beds they have and how many staff they have. I don’t micromanage hospitals. I have enough on my plate right now.”

LaFrance says Bronson should be doing more.

“I believe that if the mayor would urge people to wear a mask, get vaccinated that would help,” she said Thursday.

“It also is very concerning to hear that the Mayor will not advocate for vaccinations,” Perez-Verdia said via email Wednesday. “He has said publicly that vaccinations our best defense against Covid-19. His health department (has) ‘strongly recommended’ that people get vaccines. It makes absolutely no sense to me that he would not encourage people to get vaccinated.”

Bronson, who has previously had COVID-19, said he will not get vaccinated himself.

“For me personally I make my own health care decisions,” he said. “I don’t make those decisions for anyone else. I don’t compel people to get vaccines. If they want to I support that, if they don’t I support that as well.”

This week the state’s hospital data dashboard showed there were at least 206 people hospitalized with COVID-19 — that’s the largest number of COVID-19 patients the state has had at any one time during the pandemic.

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