The two candidates vying to become Homer’s new mayor fielded questions about their platforms and views Tuesday during a forum hosted at Alice’s Champagne Palace by the Homer Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Center.
David Lewis, a former member of the Homer City Council for nine years, and Ken Castner III, an active community member, are both running for the mayoral seat. Current Mayor Bryan Zak did not re-file to run for his seat again.
The forum was the second in a planned series of candidate forums the chamber organized. A third forum for state representative and Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly candidates scheduled for Sept. 25 was cancelled.
Lewis cited his years of experience in city government, serving not only on the council but on various task forces and commissions, at the forum Tuesday, while Castner pitched himself as a “citizen mayor” and offered his experience as a community organizer as “a substitute.” Castner was one of the founders of the Homer Foundation, is heavily involved in the Homer Nutcracker Production, and also has served on task forces throughout the years.
“I’ve never run for office before, but that doesn’t mean that I have not been involved in building this community,” Castner said.
He and his wife, writer Nancy Lord, arrived in Homer in 1973.
“And right from day one, we were engaged in the community and became involved in whatever the topic of the day was,” Castner said.
Castner said he would be a different kind of mayor. He pledged to never use his power as mayor to vote to break ties during council meetings. Homer’s mayor is not a voting member of the council, according to the city code, which refers readers to Alaska statute. Castner cited the part of Alaska statute 29 that states “the mayor may not vote” except in the case of a tie. He said before the forum this does not mean a mayor must vote to break a tie, only that one can.
Castner said he would refuse to break ties in hopes of forcing the council to come to more of an agreement and come up with the necessary votes to pass measures at meetings. He said it’s about building consensus.
“I really believe that we’re at a point in our history where we need to lower the rhetoric and get together and really work together hard,” he said. “Everybody knows that we live in a divided town. Everybody knows that we have a divided council. … I can do something that no other mayor has ever dared do, and that is to not vote, not be the seventh vote on the council.”
Lewis, on the other hand, said he thinks the mayor of a city has a responsibility to break ties when they come up on the council.
“If you don’t break a tie, somebody loses,” he said, referring to the fact that tied votes result in whatever measure is being voted on failing. “And someone wins. … I feel the job of the mayor is to break a tie. It is a divided council; it usually is three and three, and depending on what the topic is, you’ve got to pass it or you’re going to spend a lot of time hashing out something that needs to probably get passed in a timely manner.”
Lewis was also a teacher for many years, both in the Alaska Bush and in multiple Homer area schools, from the high school to West Homer Elementary.
Lewis said one of the things he’s most proud of from his time on the council was getting the plastic bag ban passed, though it was overturned shortly after through a citizen initiative.
“We were a leader in the state, and now in that area we are sitting on the sidelines,” he said. “… I know it’s a little bit controversial, but I think that is something that we should look at again, especially as being a tourist town, an eco-tourist town, you know. It’s not going to change the world, but every journey starts with a first step.”
The chamber has a tradition of allowing children and teenagers to ask one question of the candidates. During the mayoral debate, a young girl asked Castner and Lewis what superpower they would want, if they could have one, and why.
Castner said he’d like to be able to read people’s minds. Bringing some levity to the already relaxed forum, Lewis said he’d choose the ability to fly in order to avoid going through TSA in the future.
The race for the two city council seats is uncontested. Both Donna Aderhold and Heath Smith are running for re-election. Parks, Art, Recreation and Culture Advisory Commission member Deb Lowney will also appear on the ballot, but she recently announced she is no longer actively running due to a recent family tragedy.
A young progressive, Connor Schmidt, mounted a short write-in campaign when Lowney announced she was pulling out. However, he discovered he had not changed his voter registration address to be within city limits in time. Schmidt has been a city resident for two years, but because he did not change the voter registration address 30 days ahead of the election, he is not eligible to run.
Both Aderhold and Smith spoke to their interests as current council members and why they want to keep serving during Tuesday’s forum. Smith, born in Anchorage, described himself as a working man and a family man, and said his wish to see Homer keep supporting those kinds of families is what motivated him to run the first time three years ago.
Adererhold works as Science Coordinator for the Gulf Watch Alaska Program, supporting the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and other agencies in long-term monitoring of the Gulf of Alaska ecosystem funded by the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council. She said her main interest on the council is creating and maintaining good policy, as well as ensuring that policy creation stays with the council while policy enforcement falls to city staff.
Both Aderhold and Smith said sheer geographical and population size is a big factor in Homer’s business industry. Smith said he thinks there’s a misconception that Homer is not business friendly, and that the city needs to find a way to work around that.
Another of Smith’s concerns is that the city gets what it pays for, especially when it comes to big projects like the new Homer Police station.
All four candidates urged the public to get out and vote, even when a race is uncontested.
Residents can vote for city council members, Homer mayor, Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly members and more at the regular election on Tuesday, Oct. 2.