Joelle Brown is not a career politician. She would like to be elected to the Anchorage Assembly to address specific issues and then continue to promote Eagle River.
Brown (D), a UAA political science graduate and 23-year-old Starbucks employee, is running for Seat A, District 2 of the Anchorage Assembly. The seat is one of five up for grabs. The municipal election will take place on Apr. 6. Brown stated her capability to address the district’s special needs stems from her living and working in the heart of Eagle River.
Eagle River is but a portion of District 2. The entire district spans from wPeters Creek, a small community 10 miles northeast of Eagle River, to north Muldoon at the edge of Anchorage. Most of the issues Brown plans to address as an assembly member directly concern Eagle River. She is adamant about the community’s unique qualities, but she also recognizes it as a part of Anchorage.
“It may not be that detached from Anchorage, but we definitely have our own community identity,” Brown said. “(Eagle River) is just as strong as any community in Anchorage.”
Brown will be competing for her seat against incumbent Debbie Ossiander (R) and newcomer Joshua Roberts (R).
Recent press releases offer little information on Roberts and he does not have an official campaign website or a Facebook campaign page.
Ossiander has represented the Chugiak/Eagle River district for two terms, and until Dec. of last year she served as the assembly chair until she was suddenly voted out of her leadership role. Ossiander is running for her third and final term.
Brown is dissatisfied with the way Ossiander has been representing District 2.
“I would have voted yes on Ordinance 64,” Brown said. “That’s the major thing I would have done differently if I was in Ossiander’s seat.”
Ordinance 64 was hotly debated this past summer. The ordinance would have added veterans and the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) citizens to an already existing list of protected groups to prevent discrimination in housing, education and employment. The ordinance originally passed, but Mayor Dan Sullivan vetoed it. Ossiander chose not to be the overriding vote to the veto.
As a school board member, Ossiander supported gay rights. In 2001, she voted, along with the rest of the school board, to unanimously approve language including sexual orientation to protect students and faculty from being discriminated against.
Ossiander introduced a version of Ordinance 64 that the assembly chose not to advance. She stated her proposal was not as bold a step and it was a hard summer talking with 300 to 400 passionate people on both sides of the issue.
“It was very controversial, and I tried to diffuse controversy all summer by listening carefully to people,” Ossiander said. “I offered a compromise that would have done (Ordinance 64) incrementally instead of all at once, but the assembly said no.”
Brown has long used political activism to push her ideals of feminism and equality. As a UAA student she was vice president of the Campus Action Network, a feminist club whose goal was to bring the word of feminism to the general vernacular of UAA. Brown was involved with various events for Women’s History Month and helped establish multiple do-it-yourself workshops.
“Joelle has a very positive energy about her. She cares very deeply about things going on in her community,” UAA student and former colleague Heather Aronno said. “She always impressed me with how dedicated she was in trying to make others lives better.”
As a Starbucks employee Brown connects with her community daily, hearing their concerns. Her customers are most distressed with public transportation and property taxes at the moment.
Starting March 1, two out of three bus routes to Eagle River will no longer operate. Instead, a new ride share program costing $85 a month will replace the old bus system. Brown wants to ensure that an affordable public transportation system be put back in place. Only 246 people use the bus system in Eagle River.
“The only reason there is less than 250 people is because the system they had in place was not usable. It comes between six and nine in the morning,” Brown said. “It seems like it was catered for one specific group of people and many don’t fit into that.”
Part of the issue is budget. Finances are allocated based on a scale of the number of people who use the bus system. People Mover often struggles to make healthy decisions for the community when they are told they must absolutely stay within budget.
One of the most frustrating aspects of the dilemma to Susan Gorski, executive director of the Chugiak-Eagle River Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors, is that there has been federal money for transportation upgrades, but Anchorage has been reluctant to pass a lot of these measures.
“Nobody’s happy about (the bus system) decision,” Gorski said. “To move a community forward in this day and age really requires easy access to public transportation.”
The Chugiak-Eagle River Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors has yet to take an official position on the matter.
Joelle Brown’s stances reach far beyond public transportation. For more information on the young politician you can visit her official campaign website at www.brownforassembly.com