Monday, March 09, 2015

Interview With Ethan Berkowitz, Mayoral Candidate

I'd been to a meet and greets for,  and did videos of, mayoral candidates Dan Coffey and Andrew Halcro, so I thought I should track down Ethan Berkowitz too.  So I went to the opening of his campaign headquarters last week.

His key issues were "fundamentals" like a safe community, housing, keeping the fiscal house in order, infrastructure for the 21st century, and education.   Housing and fiscal issues were also important to the other two candidates.  But Berkowitz said 21st century a couple of times and as he talked it did seem to me he was looking forward, perhaps, more than Coffey and Halcro - he talked about better broadband, and LED street lighting,  and he was not keen on building a road through the university.

[Disclosure: of these three candidates, I know Berkowitz better and feel most comfortable with him.  And I made a contribution to his campaign.  But you can view the videos and judge for yourself.]

I also need to mention that while I usually have the camera in close, this is a little extreme.  But he didn't pull back and you won't get any closer to him. 

[Note:  it will say in the video March 6, but it was really March 5]

Here's a reasonably close transcript of the video.

Steve:  Why do you want to be mayor?
Berkowitz:  Because it’s a great time to be mayor.  Washington DC is totally dysfunctional, Juneau is acting like it’s broke, so if anything is going to happen in this community, it’s going to happen at the mayoral level.  So I think there are terrific opportunities in front of us and I just didn’t see anyone coming to the fore who had that vision of where Anchorage should go.  So, now is the time.

Steve:  What are your top priorities?

Berkowitz:  We have to deal with the fundamentals, make sure Anchorage is a safe community, a secure community, a strong community, and that is public safety, making sure our fiscal house is in order, and houses are available for people to move into, and when you talk about a strong community you need the right kind infrastructure for the 21st century, and you also have to make sure our education system is, sorry, I’ve got kids running by, speaking of the educational system, robust enough so they’re able to compete and succeed in the 21st century
OK, that’s a lot of general kinds of things, what are the specifics, like, what about housing?

So, with housing, I don’t need to lead or reinvent the wheel.  There are studies which talk about how to provide affordable housing for folks who want to move into it.  There are all kinds of studies about how we address the homeless issue.  It’s time to implement these plans instead   of studying.  Anyone who’s hung out down in Fairview and seen the tent city that’s sprung up there, knows we’ve got a major problem that’s gotten worse in the last six years.  You’ve got to actually lead if you want things to change.  So that’s what’s going to happen.  You have to do  more Housing First models, you have to make sure you have denser housing in the core areas where people want to live.  So that’s just a question of making those things happen.

When it comes time to provide safer streets, lets just hire more cops.  This insane notion that you can do more with less, is just that - insane.  If you want more cops, we gotta find a way of bringing them on and there’s ways we can do that.

We can pay for them by taxing marijuana, which is now a legal substance.  We can do it by finding savings in our municipal budget, One saving, for example, is we have 20,000 lightbulbs in Anchorage, we put LED lights on 5000 of them.  That saved $2 million a year.  Let’s go save another $6 million and put LEDs on the other 15,000. 

I can go up and down the city budget, there are opportunities to find efficiencies, to find savings, but we’ve gotta to know where we want to go. 

Steve:  All right.  One of the questions I’ve asked the other candidates I’ve talked is:  there’s $20 million sitting there to build a road through the university.  All the community councils in the area have voted overwhelming against the road.  Where do you stand on this?  Can you use that $20 million for something else?

Berkowitz:  I’ve got to see if there’s a tail on that $20 million, if it has to be there, but I’m not in favor of that road.  And my feeling about any of these infrastructure projects is before you get to the merits of whether you like the road or don’t like the road, whether you like the Knik bridge or you don’t like the Knik bridge, how are you going to pay for it?  You wouldn’t go to the bank and say, “Hey, I’ve got enough for the foundation of the house I want to build, I don’t know how I’m going to get the rest constructed or how I’m going to pay for it once I move into it, but give me a load for the rest.  That goes no where for an individual.  The Municipality has to be held to the same standard. Don’t start a project unless you know how it’s going to be finished.  Don’t start a project if you don’t know where the operations and maintenance money are coming from. 

Steve:  All right, any other issues?

Berkowitz:  There’s a LOT of other issues.

Steve:  Well, give me two. 

Berkowitz:  If we want to compete in the 21st century, we need more robust broadband, so I think that’s a major factor  Right now we have 6 mb per second coming down the pike.  We ought to have 100 like they have in Korea . . .  That’s one example.  We need to have the ambition to be much more energy efficient.  We ought to produce more energy locally, geothermal, the wind, tidal, we need to be on the cutting edge of that.  We need to integrate our school with our university system more than we have.  We have to make sure the cultural vibrancy of Anchorage is as robust as it can be - the food scene, the culture scene.  There’s a lot going on here.  We just have to do more of it and make it more accessible to more people.

Steve:  How are you going to be different from the other major candidates.

Berkowitz:  I bring a different vision, and I don’t know where they are on these things.  The vision I have is of an active mayor    I also believe on relying on smart people, intelligent people, informed people, who live here and see what they want, following the plans they crafted  We just need to do things.  I’m so sick and tired of studies.  It’s time we just start doing things and we’ll be fine when we do that.

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