Results from the Anchorage municipal election continue to come in, but in the race to replace incumbent Crystal Kennedy of Eagle River and Chugiak, a victor has all but been decided.
Kevin Cross had a 27-point lead over his closest challenger Gretchen Wehmhoff by Friday night. Cross said he’s grateful that Eagle River and Chugiak voters supported him in his first run for public office.
“I’m glad that the campaign’s behind me, because I really just want to get to work,” he said. “And the other part of that is there’s a heavy weight of responsibility, that now this is where the tires meet the road.”
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A political newcomer, 48-year-old Cross has worked in construction and real estate, and served as president of the Anchorage Board of Realtors. Cross will replace Kennedy as part of a small conservative bloc on the mostly progressive Assembly that’s often at odds with the city’s mayor, Dave Bronson.
Speaking at his Eagle River campaign headquarters last week, Cross said he’s already preparing for Assembly work. On his desk, he had binders of papers detailing various strategic plans for Eagle River.
“First thing that’s going to happen when I get on the Assembly is we’ve got to deal with the budget. I mean, I’m going to be approving the budget like the new guy,” Cross said. “I’ll be in there for like 30 days and they’ll be saying, ‘Here’s the budget,’ which it’s interesting how they strategically do that. Which is why I’ve got this big stack of books here, trying to make sure I’m aware of what needs to happen.”
Cross comes to the Assembly after two years of growing discontent between some members of the public and the body. The most contentious Assembly meetings in recent months saw numerous people arrested for disorderly conduct, and many people appropriating the Star of David to compare COVID-19-related mandates to the Holocaust, which local Jewish leaders called anti-Semitic.
While Cross admits that some actions from the public were out of line, he said the Assembly’s approach to the pandemic was harming businesses, and helped drive that anger.
“They allowed certain businesses to thrive and other businesses to shut down,” Cross said. “You’re going to tell me a little restaurant that can serve 20-30 people is a health hazard, but Costco shoved full of thousands of people isn’t? Like, no, it doesn’t make any sense.”
The Assembly’s last emergency mask mandate was a response to local hospitals seeing record high rates of hospitalization from COVID-19, and operating at crisis standards of care.
While health mandates have expired, Cross said he still thinks there’s risk for future overreach from the Assembly, and he hopes to curtail that as a member.
In recent weeks, the Assembly and Bronson have shifted focus to topics that include revitalizing local business and addressing the growing homelessness problem.
Cross said he’s happy about the steps taken by the mayor and the Assembly to amend city titles and codes to foster new business, and he hopes to add his expertise.
“My intention on working with the Assembly is to try to create an environment that makes it very easy to have a business and employ people,” Cross said. “It should not be hard to give people jobs. It should not be hard and it should not be overly complicated to provide opportunities for people. And when you provide those opportunities, those opportunities shouldn’t be met with a bunch hurdles and delays and restrictions.”
Another hot topic Cross will have input on is on the millions of dollars the city is putting toward a large navigation center to address the homelessness crisis. Cross said he’s skeptical of large homeless shelters, and he’s hopeful that treatment options will be at the forefront of homelessness solutions.
“The individuals that don’t want to get better, they’re not thankful and stuff like that… my heart hurts for them, and it hurts me,” Cross said. “The door is always open when they want to change their ways, but that’s a decision that they make. So I’m all about treatment, because treatment is how you find out if the individual has it in their heart and is compelled to change.”
The conservative Assembly bloc Cross will join includes fellow Chugiak/Eagle River Assemblywoman Jamie Allard. Both Allard and the outgoing Kennedy endorsed Cross for the Assembly. Cross praised Kennedy’s methodical approach to governing and Allard’s outspoken and boisterous candor, and says he hopes to take a bit from both.
“I understand and I recognize first that strong opinions can both be very good and also detrimental,” Cross said. “Because if they close your ears to learning about the plights of others or understanding that you have a responsibility, and that as an Assemblyperson, you represent everybody, I think it’s critical to be curious and stay curious.”
More results are continuing to come in for the Anchorage election, and the final results will be certified April 26.