Anchorage assembly says goodbyes and hellos to members

Bill Evans gives a farewell handshake to Forrest Dunbar during his final Assembly meeting (Photo: Zachariah Hughes, Alaska Public Media)

During a meeting Tuesday night, the Anchorage Assembly certified the results of this month’s municipal elections. It was also the last time the body’s current members will all share the dais. Though the Assembly deals mostly with the nuts-and-bolts of municipal governance, the occasion was a rare glimpse of personality and sentiment.

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Of the 11 people on the Assembly, four are saying goodbye. All but one of those departures are due to term-limits. That includes Chugiak/Eagle River representative Bill Starr, who used his remarks to wax sentimental about what his nine years on the Assembly have meant.

“This is the things that we changed our little world by,” Starr said, recounting budget deficits solved and code revisions made. “Pretty much non-sexy stuff.”

The Assembly’s work is highly technical and mostly thankless. The regular meetings in midtown’s Loussac Library are the most public display of the body’s work, but it can be hard to follow what’s going on because of all the technical jargon and procedural rules flying back and forth. While there might be little bits of banter, it’s rare to see displays of collegiality or friendship.

“Let’s talk about comic books for a second,” said south Anchorage member John Weddleton during the start of his remarks, his motorcycle helmet sitting beside his elbow. Weddleton owns a comic book store, and last Christmas gave each of his fellow members “a little jar of tasty jam” along with custom made buttons featuring a fictional character speaking to a likeness in the recipient.

“Bill Evans was Magneto,” Evans explained, referring to a character in the X-Men franchise.

“Lotta people loathe him, lotta people champion him. Magneto doesn’t care,” Weddleton went on. “But where ever Magneto is, you know big things are going to happen.”

Going down the list, outgoing downtown representative Patrick Flynn was Loki, chairwoman Elvi Gray-Jackson of midtown was Storm. And Bill Starr was Iron Man.

“”Not just because he’s a rich guy who likes to fly,” Weddleton said to laughter. “But also, one way or another he ends up fighting really hard for what he thinks is right, and that’s important.”

Though the Assembly is technically non-partisan, it’s hardly immune from political divisions.

However, on Tuesday night, even members who have sparred in the past reflected sentimentally on working with one another. Eagle River representative Amy Demboski, a champion of conservative causes on the body, cried as she recalled passing her first piece of legislation with the progressive Gray-Jackson.

As for Gray-Jackson, she found a way around tearing up during her final remarks.

“I’m tired of crying,” Gray-Jackson said. “I’ve been crying all day.”

With that, Gray-Jackson handed prepared remarks to Municipal Clerk Barbara Jones to read on her behalf.

“The only words of wisdom I have for all of you is to remember why we’re here,” Jones read. “We’re here to represent the citizens of Anchorage. To all, thank you for making the last nine years some of the best of my life.”

Shortly afterwards, new members were sworn in, and the full body rearranged its leadership. Dick Traini was voted in as chair, a position he’s held multiple times over the years. And former congressional candidate Forrest Dunbar, who represents east Anchorage, was picked as vice Chair. The newcomers will have their first full meeting next week.