The Anchorage Assembly voted against confirming Sami Graham as the city’s library director on Tuesday night. Then, in a dramatic twist, Mayor Dave Bronson immediately appointed her as his chief of staff.
“Madam Chair, in respect to the Assembly, I thought it’d be a good time to introduce my new chief of staff, Sami Graham,” Bronson announced to cheers from audience members at the meeting, after the Assembly denied Graham’s appointment as chief librarian in a 7-4 vote.
Graham appeared to be aware that Bronson would name her chief of staff. She rose from her seat to take the place of Craig Campbell, the previous chief of staff, on the dais at the Assembly chambers.
In a statement, the Bronson administration said that Graham will “manage the day to day administrative operations of the mayor’s office” but also said that the mayor “delegated his authority to oversee the Anchorage Public Library to Mrs. Graham.”
Graham will have an office at City Hall and at the Loussac Library, according to the statement.
Assembly members said they were taken by surprise when Bronson named Graham as his new chief of staff.
South Anchorage Assembly member John Weddleton said he thought the move was a way to teach the Assembly a lesson, but he called it “fair.” He had voted for Graham’s nomination to library director.
Downtown Assembly member Chris Constant also voted for Graham’s nomination. But he described Bronson’s decision to name her chief of staff as “awesome.” He said he thought Graham was better qualified for that job than head librarian.
“I hope what they take away from this is that the library needs a special person, and that specialty needs to be an expert in the library,” he said.
In the statement from the Bronson administration, the mayor called Graham “exceptionally qualified” to be library director, and said the Assembly’s vote was “blinded by partisanship.”
He said he was impressed by Graham’s leadership as acting director of the Anchorage library system.
“I’ve grown increasingly impressed with Sami Graham’s political insight, organizational leadership and ability to navigate complex challenges,” he said in the statement.
Graham has worked both in the public and private school system, including most recently at Grace Christian School.
Earlier at the meeting, some Assembly members had raised concerns about Graham’s qualifications for the job as lead librarian. She has two master’s degrees in counseling and educational leadership, but opponents flagged that she did not have a master’s degree in library science like the former top librarian. They also raised concerns that her lack of experience could put some grant funding at risk.
Craig Campbell, the previous chief of staff, will serve in a new role of director of policy and programs, according to city officials.