Anyone who spent much time watching meetings of the Anchorage Assembly, Mat-Su Assembly or Anchorage School Board, likely knew Eugene Carl Haberman.
A devoted attendee and testifier, Haberman frequently lectured public officials on following process.
“When the public process is done appropriately, the decision made by the governing body is more likely in the public interest,” he often said.
Haberman was a self-appointed and dedicated parliamentarian in public meetings in Southcentral Alaska for the better part of 20 years, attending almost all of them. But his history in Alaska went back even further.
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Born in Newark, New Jersey, Haberman worked at the Department of Commerce before he hitchhiked to Alaska in the fall of 1977. He was 26. From then on, he got into publishing, forming his own company, Alaska Media Productions, and working on local pamphlets and publications.
Eugene’s brother, Howard Haberman, described some of the publications he’d seen when visiting.
“When you get off the ship or an airplane, you’d get one of these personal guides to Anchorage, or something like that,” he said. “And he did that for a long time, among some other things.”
Other publications included “Gay Alaska,” which documented the gay community in the state in the ’70s and ’80s.
Since 2001, the year his father passed away, Eugene Haberman transitioned his work to accountability, becoming a regular, and sometimes contentious, voice in public meetings. It’s believed that he had attended almost every public meeting in the Anchorage and Mat-Su area from 2012 on.
Rabbi Joseph Greenberg said he first met Haberman after he had criticized then-Mayor Ethan Berkowitz during an Anchorage Assembly meeting.
“And he gave the mayor a hard time,” Greenberg recalled. “And, you know, I was very close to Ethan, and was feeling bad for Ethan. And then he came over to me and said, ‘Listen rabbi, I’m also a member of the Jewish community. Don’t worry. I’m not trying to be hard on Ethan. I’m just trying to make sure that it’s done right.’ So from that time, I got to know him, and we became friends. And we will all miss him very much.”
Greenberg officiated Haberman’s funeral last week at Anchorage Memorial Park Cemetery. Dozens of people attended. Greenberg said he found the timing of Haberman’s passing to be rather serendipitous.
“By divine providence, he passed away during the weeks when all the Jewish people around the world where we read in the five books of Moses, we read the first Book of Genesis, the story of Abraham,” Greenberg said.
According to Greenberg, the first Abraham is said to have contributed the values of education, social justice and charity, three values Greenberg said Haberman also tried to spread in his work. Greenberg said the fact that both Abraham and Haberman, almost homonyms, travelled far from their homes to reach that enlightenment wasn’t lost on him either.
Assembly members past and present also spoke at Haberman’s funeral. Many of them described Haberman’s tenacity. If there was a procedural rule that wasn’t being followed, Haberman let them know. Current Assembly member Forrest Dunbar, who is Jewish, likened it to an old principle.
“There’s a Jewish principle called Tikkun Olam,” Dunbar said. “It means to heal the suffering of the world. And I think that Eugene, although he was controversial sometimes, that was very much what he was trying to do. He was dedicated to the public process and the public interest, and he was just dogged in that pursuit.”
That dogged pursuit meant, in at least one instance, Haberman showed up to an Assembly meeting, even though he’d been in a car accident just hours earlier. He had hit a moose.
“I did not realize it until several hours later that I still had fragments of glass from the car crash in my hair and even in my ears,” Haberman wrote in the Mat-Su publication The People’s Paper.
Haberman’s last months were spent in Anchorage Assembly chambers, which saw some of the most combative meetings in memory over the subject of a mask mandate. He was often one of a few audience members wearing a mask, and he spoke in support of the health precautions.
At his funeral, Assembly Vice Chair Chris Constant spoke of Haberman’s enduring commitment to others, even up until the day he died.
“I think his departing message was while everyone was talking about rights, they forget about their responsibility as a community, and that to me is the takeaway,” Constant said.
Howard Haberman lives in San Francisco. And he said he learned of his brother’s passing when friends reached out to him. He said he was taken aback by the kindness of the people who knew his brother, who had arranged his funeral. Howard said the only thing he had to do was say “yes.”
“It’s just so gratifying to be the brother of somebody who has made such a difference in so many people’s lives,” he said.
Eugene Carl Haberman died on Oct. 21 in his Palmer home at age 70. Officials say he died of natural causes.