Students discuss city issues with the mayor

Mayor Dan Sullivan sat casually at the head of a table in the student union last Tuesday. Students gathered at the tables forming a giant square in the middle of the area. More chairs were seated in the back facing Mayor Sullivan, where more students trickled in, slowly filling the space. Morning with the Mayor, an event which had been put on hold for several years, was brought back into swing by USUAA. The event gave students the chance to sit down with Mayor Sullivan and talk about issues in the community.

Sullivan started off with a short introduction about his roots with UAA, having gone to school here in the early 70’s for a few years before transferring to the University of Oregon. After coming back to Anchorage he spent years in various jobs until he was voted onto the Anchorage Assembly. He served on the Assembly for nine years until he was elected to mayor three years ago, and is up for election again in April.

Sullivan currently has four essential goals as mayor that he has been working towards since he was elected; Restore the financial health of the city which is slowly crawling out of a deficit, create a better energy future for Anchorage with new sources of natural energy, ensure public safety by implementing a crime reduction plan, and maintain and upgrade the assets the city currently has.

After a short discussion about his four-fold plan, which he hopes to continue if re-elected, students were invited to ask him questions. USUAA President Ryan Buchholdt started the Q&A part of the event by inquiring about the snow removal process and how the DOT is slow to respond to heavy snowfalls, creating hassle for all commuters, students and workers alike.

“I know that this year has had one of the heaviest snowfalls in history, but it just seems like when you talk about state DOT road graters, it sort of like a rare or even going extinct animal. What is the coordination with the state and Muni to clear roads,” Buchholdt asked.

Sullivan responded that it was a challenge to keep up with the extreme snowfall. When the main roads get plowed and they finally get to the smaller roads, it typically snows again and they have to go redo the main roads.

The discussion drastically shifted gears when an audience member inquired about One Anchorage and why the mayor vetoed the last gay rights ballot. Sullivan calmly answered that out of the 200 plus people who testified during the last hearing, none of them gave him a real example of how they personally were fired because of their sexual orientation, or were kicked out of their home because their landlord found out about their sexual orientation. Because of this, he felt that it was all anecdotal. But now that it was put onto the ballot, it is out of his hands and is up to the people whether they want to pass it or not.

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USUAA Vice President, Amie Stanley asked Mayor Sullivan if there were any plans to implement a new transit system such as subway or metro, and why buses that people used to rely on, like route 76 and  77, are no longer in service. Sullivan described the budget deficit the city is experiencing and that because of the small population that Anchorage has, there just isn’t the need and demand that other larger cities like New York. The ideas of another transit system are unrealistic and that is also why bus routes like 76 and 77 were cancelled, there wasn’t a high enough demand and they were cut to save the city money.

Student Alejandra Buitrago was looking a few months into the future, curious about the sidewalk ordinance that recently got passed. “How will the sidewalk ordinance effect downtown during the summer tourists?”

Sullivan believes that it will be business as usual and that the problem of camping on the sidewalks downtown only became an issue this year. Some students in the audience looked skeptical, others giggled. There has been opposing opinions on the decision to pass the ordinance, some believing that it was just a vendetta against John Martin, a homeless man who continuously camped on the downtown sidewalk in protest. However, Sullivan gives his reasoning as essential for every city.

“They are called sidewalks for a reason. Not sidesits or sidesleeps. We have very active tourist traffic downtown and we don’t want them having to step over people,” said Sullivan. “Talking with other cities, even the most progressive cities that we’ve talked to like San Fransico, Portland, they all have the same ordinance and they all passed it for the same reason, because they let it get out of hand.”

The next question was concerned with events even further in the future, but relevant to a vast variety of students; what he thought about and the status on the Knik Arm bridge.

“I like it. If I could I’d say let’s turn dirt tomorrow,” said Sullivan. “With so many people commuting from the Valley to Anchorage, why not have another route?”

As for the hold-up, Sullivan stated that it is a long process to build anything, but currently there are several large companies going into a bidding war over it. However, there has to be extreme caution taken when building on or around the habitat of endangered animals, in the case the beluga whale, which are constantly swimming in and out of the inlet. There will be no breaking ground until issues like that can be resolved in a strategic way.
One of the final questions asked? Where did all the mosquitos go? To which Sullivan simply replied,

“I killed them as part of our crime reduction plan.”

Who says politicians can’t be humorous?

Finally USUAA presented Sullivan with some UAA swag, as the attending students clapped in appreciation for his time.

To complete the event Buchholdt closed by saying, “I hope that this is something we can do again, not just for [Mayor Sullivan] but future mayors as well.”