As an alarming rash of shootings in Anchorage continue, public safety is one of the biggest issues in the city’s mayoral election. Candidates are hoping an endorsement from officers will give a stamp of approval to their calls for more police academies and a renewed focus on community policing.
But the union representing officers is staying strategically neutral in the race. At least for now.
Of the 11 candidates in the mayor’s race, the Anchorage Police Department Employees Association is focused on four: Ethan Berkowitz, Dan Coffey, Amy Demboski, and Andrew Halcro. All four put public safety at the top of their list when it comes to priorities. Improved staffing levels and an emphasis on community policing are a common theme.
But for for APDEA, none of the proposals have clear enough road maps to get behind.
“We ended up making a decision, at this point, to remain neutral on any sort of endorsement of a particular candidate,” said Gerard Asselin, president of the APDEA. “And, we feel like if we were to pick individual candidates at this point it might stifle the open conversation.”
For Public Safety employees, the shadow of AO-37–the contentious effort by Mayor Dan Sullivan to reign in public employee benefits packages–looms large. Arguments over the measure left the relationship between unions and the mayor’s office practically nonexistent. Asselin wants to make sure whomever takes over city hall on July 1st can be approached as a partner on public safety concerns.
However, that does not mean the union is forgetting which candidates supported the policies at the heart of AO-37, described by Gerard as, “One of the most contentious pieces of local legislation that this municipality has seen in probably a generation.”
“We talked a little bit about staffing levels, because that’s a pretty important issue for us,” Gerard said of interviewing candidates last week, “and how they see public safety employees in terms of their right for collective bargaining and binding arbitration.”
Though the union is not saying who they support, candidate stances on AO-37 are essentially a measure of asking ‘who has been on our side in the past?’ Dan Coffey and Amy Demboski were against the repeal of AO-37. Ethan Berkowitz and Andrew Halco have Legislative records that Asselin says buoy public safety.
With a crowded field of candidates, everyone expects the mayor’s race to head into a run-off in May, with a conservative-leaning candidate pitted against a more moderate contender. Though the neutral endorsement at this point ensures the police union isn’t alienating any future administration, they do hope to to be able to “provide a clear endorsement” once the field is narrowed down.
A candidate forum on public safety is being held this Thursday at the Wendy Williams Auditorium starting at 6:30pm.