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Anchorage can prosper with the right leadership

Anchorage can prosper with the right leadership

Mike Robbins is the best choice for Mayor in 2021

By Frank Dahl

September 23, 2020

It sure seems like those of us who follow the news in Anchorage haven’t gone without a pejorative commentary of Mayor Ethan Berkowitz or negative coverage of municipal affairs over the last six months.

Some suggest our polemic environment is attributed to this year’s COVID outbreak and global pandemic. Others point at the admin of the Municipality of Anchorage and assert there’s been failing leadership and a capricious attitude towards the hospitality industry.

Headlines ensue, from costly homeless shelter and rehab center renovations to a $17-million-dollar budget shortfall, which amounts to more than 3% of the general government operating budget in the Municipality. Data indicates arbitrary closures and hours-of-operation limitations in the bar and restaurant world certainly diminished commerce.

I look at leadership, whether in the capacity of mayor, or as the owner of a business like a restaurateur, as a responsibility involving numerous considerations.

First, you’re dealing with human beings, so respect and courtesy should be integral. Then, there’s the mission, which typically includes operating efficiently, responsibly, and with metrics that can be evaluated. There are community and cultural considerations, and growth-opportunity variables; even a pandemic or crisis could be part of a management calculus. The factors that revolve around success in business – and government – are myriad.

Ultimately, most of us can tell when an organization runs smoothly and generates respect and attribution, and – when it doesn’t.

In the case of Anchorage, which includes robust communities from Eagle River and Chugiak to JBER and Girdwood, I recall the days of plenty when residents were proud to live here and appreciated municipal leadership. Mayors like George Sullivan, Tony Knowles, Tom Fink and Rick Mystrom, in particular, were engaged in the community and produced positive results. Veterans felt appreciated; homeless folks were around but also controlled and didn’t overtly panhandle and cause mischief; crime was much lower while business development abundant; construction and new homes were a steady sight, while churches and our faith-based community had a voice that was at least recognized, if not respected and considered. Best of all, in my entrepreneurial world, the hospitality industry was celebrated, patronized, and owners and staff felt welcomed.

Unfortunately, today, if you chat with a business person, especially restaurant, bar, and hotel staff, you’ll find a very different attitude in Anchorage.

People are tired of big government bullying them. The employees who still have a job are struggling to make ends meet. Prospective entrepreneurs scoping opportunity feel dimmed from the lackluster mentality that permeates throughout our city when it comes to economic development and the fact the Mayor pushed an alcohol tax on us during COVID. I guarantee at a very minimum, our business community feels underappreciated and somewhat violated. Anchorage doesn’t feel open for business.

The good news is the lack of optimism shouldn’t be discouraging.

Many have lost their morale under our current Mayor and Assembly, but that doesn’t have to last forever. We have a change of the guard thankfully, as Berkowitz terms out, and campaigning for the April 2021 municipal election begins with candidates surfacing across the political spectrum.

In this editorial I convey my faith in, and support of, the one mayoral candidate who I believe can end the demoralization and close the fractures our city suffers. He’s earned my vote because of his life experiences, heart, and business acumen, and for other reasons.

His name is Mike Robbins.

The first question I asked Mike when he informed me he was running for mayor, and wanted my support, was whether or not he was guided by faith. I didn’t necessarily care about his religious affiliation or what church he attends, but did hope he underpins his political motivations with a faith in God. And he does! He’s a practicing Christian and his campaign manager is a credentialed pastor, educator and businessman. Mike explained to me he wants to bring the faith-based community to the policy-making table. He cares about faith-based advocacies and principles, respects them, and listens to them. That’s a good start for our next mayor.

I asked Mike if he plans to bring our retired and currently serving military veterans to the decision-making table. JBER is vital to Anchorage, and so is its inclusion in local policy development. Veterans deserve the highest respect. Our mayor is not just an administrator, but an ambassador to the military. Mike agrees and is 100% committed to our military and veterans, as well as to our law enforcement and first-responder professionals. He’s genuinely a leader of inclusion. This is a critical step for the next mayor.

Anchorage can prosper with the right leadershipThe elephant in the room of any municipal policy debate these days is a future mayor’s intent on rebuilding commerce and economic development; getting businesses open and thriving. I view Mike Robbins as the most seasoned businessman in the Anchorage mayoral race. I’ve worked with him and we’ve teamed up on projects. His knowledge of economic centers and the dimensions of commercial activities ranging from housing and transportation to communications and utilities is substantive. What he doesn’t know, he researches and learns quickly. That’s what we need in a mayor for 2021 and beyond. Mike is the definite business candidate in the field.

There’s more to Mike Robbins. He wasn’t always a businessman. He told me he grew up in Spenard in the 1970s when things weren’t so prosperous. Mike had his low moments, and even briefly lived on the streets in his darkest adolescent hours. Like many of us, he’s suffered divorce, celebrated marriage, struggled to pay bills and raise his children, and he’s faced the obstacles that everyone in business does with payroll, taxes, growth, bottom lines, and surviving down economies. I can relate. Most of us can whether you write the paycheck or receive it. Mike gets it. He’s “one of us.”

When it comes to ego, he’s humble, which is a rare commodity in public service these days. Mike is accessible, compassionate and a rationally-based decision-maker. This is a good trio of character traits.

I learned Mike has never run for any public office. This is his first time being a candidate. He stepped up with a developing, engaged, intuitive plan to bring our city back on track. He told me his motto, if one labeled such, is to make Anchorage safer, cleaner, and more prosperous. As his plan unfolds, it’s clear he has the best sense of direction for us.

Mike’s endorsements are impressive too, and they appear to be building. I don’t typically put stock in endorsements in-and-of-themselves, but when a candidate earns the support from a hard-right conservative like me, and then some of my like-minded law enforcement and building trades colleagues, and then from the likes of Lt. Governor Mead Treadwell, retired State Senator Lesil McGuire, sitting lawmakers (and military veterans) Representative Laddie Shaw and Senator Mike Shower and other respected elected officials, and then a mile-long list of successful business leaders, veterans, faith-based stalwarts, and community and neighborhood advocates… suddenly the momentum is palpable. He’s the real deal.

Let’s face it:  Damage has been done to our businesses, faith-based community, veterans and neighborhoods because of the present municipal administration. I’d bet the pain echoes in voters’ minds this very moment.

I’m hopeful residents of Eagle River-Chugiak, Anchorage, JBER and Girdwood research, inquire, attend events, and scrutinize who best can lead our communities back into a period of optimism and success.

Do your homework and ask candidates questions, because informed voters matter.

After you do this, I have a hunch you’ll feel the same way I do and support Mike Robbins. He’ll definitely lead us on the right path to prosperity, and when we need it more than ever.

Frank Dahl has owned bars, restaurants and lodges throughout Alaska and in the Lower 48 for over five decades including Blues Central at the Chef’s Inn. As the founder of Anchorage CHARR and a former Board Member of Alaska CHARR, he has been active in hospitality and tourism industry policy development for years. He is a member of Rotary and a recipient of an Alaska Legislative citation for public service.

It's Time to Support the Hospitality Industry
Anchorage can prosper with the right leadership

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