Anchorage mayor candidate Q&As: What’s your assessment of how Anchorage’s city government has responded to the pandemic over the past year? What, if anything, would you have done differently?

In advance of the April 6 Anchorage municipal election, the Anchorage Daily News asked candidates running for Anchorage mayor a series of issue questions. These includes questions suggested by readers. Read all the mayor and school board candidates’ responses here.

I would not have had capacity limits or mask mandates. The city has created an environment where people look at each other as risks and not a community. Suggesting that your neighbor doesn’t value human life because they celebrated the holidays during a difficult year is so damaging to any kind of community. Pointing out that business must continue doesn’t mean you value money more than life. The economy is more than money, it is food on tables and socks on children’s feet.

When the pandemic first happened, and the lockdowns started, it was quickly apparent that small businesses were unfairly suffering while large box stores were thriving. The economic heart of our city is the small business community. First, I would not have shut down our Assembly, our small businesses, or our churches. I would have focused on those who were most susceptible to serious complications, those who had multiple comorbidities, like our elderly. I would have encouraged safe social distancing, the wearing of masks and staying home. Our larger share of our Federal COVID funds would have been awarded to small businesses, instead of purchasing hotels.

The response of the municipality has been very effective. We have low infection numbers and low death counts. The proof is in the numbers, and I think the steps taken have been effective. Soon, the pandemic will be in the rear view mirror and I think the precautions taken and the mandates made were justified and reasonable and have prevented many people’s untimely deaths.

We have made tough calls and taken tough votes this past year. In an unprecedented time, the residents of Anchorage have sacrificed and lifted each other up — as a result, our community has had far lower rates of hospitalization and death than many Lower 48 cities. During our first round of federal aid, I fought for funding for child care relief, rental and mortgage assistance funds and small business grants, particularly to the hospitality and tourism industry. Those should continue to be priorities as more aid becomes available. I wish the municipality had been able to distribute funds faster, and I know that the current administration is still working to ensure the entirety of funds are disbursed. My administration will work to simplify disbursal processes and get the next rounds of federal aid out faster, while continuing to target those funds to the industries most impacted by the pandemic.

The administration faced a situation for which they had no playbook. While I disagree with their approach, I believe they did what they believed to be in the best interest of the city. First, I would have invested heavily in a robust contact tracing regimen. Timely and effective contact tracing coupled with quarantining is a very effective way of reducing the rate of spread without significantly damaging the economy. Second, I would not have involved CARES Act funds in the purchase of the buildings this past summer. The administration attempted to fix a long-term problem (lack of shelter space) by taking advantage of the short-term influx of CARES funding. At a time when businesses were hurting and being forced to close, the CARES funding should have been concentrated on keeping Anchorage businesses alive and Anchorage citizens out of poverty. Failing to do so cost the Assembly and Administration the trust of the community.

The city appropriately prioritized public health, kept our first responders and health care providers adequately supplied with PPE, slowed disease transmission and helped Alaska achieve best-in-the-nation levels of testing and vaccination, all while preventing our hospitals from being overwhelmed. Getting the virus under control is key to our economic recovery: until COVID levels are reduced, travel, in-person dining and general economic activity will not fully rebound. Our decisions should be based on the best available science, the lessons of history and news from the front. On those metrics, the best available information suggests that the paths that lead to the best economic outcomes are the more public health-protective paths. That said, I do think the municipality should have done a better job with affected industries. Several emergency orders were announced at Friday press conferences without much advanced warning or coordination; that would not have been my approach.

Beyond the original two-week quarantine, I would have shut down inbound traffic with the exception of shipping. I would have prevented non-residents with jobs in Prudhoe Bay from leaving and bringing the virus back with them into our villages, given Anchorage is the airport to which they would pass through while we were still in this situation.

The pandemic revealed that Anchorage is woefully underprepared for a prolonged disaster and has misaligned priorities. From the very beginning, we didn’t do enough to address the preexisting equity issues in our community concerning education, health care and the economy, which were made worse by the pandemic. First, I would have prioritized public education, outreach and mitigation support for our community’s most vulnerable members. Then, I would have then proactively provided technical assistance for small businesses, including disadvantaged business enterprises, making sure that every eligible business applied for the maximum amount they qualify for.

The city has over-responded to the crisis. In March last year we knew very little about this virus, but by May, we knew much more. Even with the additional information, the mayor and the Assembly continued the use of lockdowns and mask mandates. A Robbins administration would have paid closer attention to the developing science. We would have approached the management of the pandemic from a glass-half-full perspective. We would have balanced the needs of all of our citizens against the science.

Overreaching legally and controlling of the people of Anchorage without the properly-based scientific medical factors. Not properly disbursing federal COVID-19 funds to the people and businesses of this city. Utilizing a portion of federal COVID-19 funds received inappropriately.