Diverse field of six candidates runs for two council positions

In this year’s Homer City Council race, the buzzword might be “diversity.” Several candidates cited the desire for a more balanced council as why they’re running.

“I want to see more of an evened-out council,” said candidate Joni Wise, 35 and the mother of five children. “I believe you need all of the views.”

Previous councils had been criticized for having mostly middle-aged, public sector workers or retirees. The tenor of the council began to change when small business owner Beauregard Burgess, then 27, got elected in 2012, followed by auto repair shop owner Gus VanDyke, then 60, in 2013 and working mother Catriona Reynolds, then 47, in 2014.

Six candidates are running for two, 3-year seats on the council in the election to be held Oct. 6:

•   Donna Aderhold, 53, a wildlife biologist;

• Incumbent Beauregard “Beau” Burgess, 30, an entrepreneur;

•   Robert “Bob” Howard, 73, a retired civil engineer;

•   Heath Smith, 50, a United Parcel Service driver and father of five children;

•   Tom Stroozas, 63, a semi-retired natural gas company sales manager and publisher of a restaurant guide, and

•    Joni Wise, 35, a homemaker and bookkeeper and the mother of five children.

Candidate Micheal Neece’s name will be on the ballot, but he said this week that he is dropping out of the race. Neace said some things have come up since he filed in August that demand more of his time and energy and he didn’t think he could now commit to being on the council if elected.

“I just don’t want to let people down,” he said on Monday. “The best option for me and for everything is to withdraw.”

To win on the first ballot, a candidate must receive at least 40 percent of the votes cast. The top-two candidates win the two seats. 

Depending on the quality of diversity desired, the six candidates offer choices in several categories:

• With three-term council member Francie Roberts not running for re-election, Wise and Aderhold present a choice of women.

• Howard and Stroozas both came to Homer to retire after long careers working in public utilities, although neither could quit working. Howard ran a sport-fishing charter business before retiring again and Stroozas works part-time as publisher of America’s Cuisine: Anchorage, a job that keeps his summers free.

• Wise and Smith both are longtime, second-generation Homer residents with connections to pioneer Alaska families. Both also have large families and are running to represent families struggling to balance a budget in a town known for its high cost of living.

• Smith comes from Generation X, the generation born after Baby Boomers like Howard and Stroozas, and Aderhold is at the tail end of the Baby Boomer generation. Wise and Burgess are Millennials, the children of Baby Boomers.

• Burgess and Stroozas also bring an entrepreneurial perspective. Stroozas is the only candidate endorsed by Homer Voice for Business, the business advocacy group that backed VanDyke in 2013. Wise also works as a bookkeeper in her husband, Marty Wise’s, electrical contracting business.

• Burgess considers himself and Howard the two pragmatists on the ballot.

Burgess installs alternative energy systems and brings an ecological perspective to the slate, something also shared by Aderhold with her wildlife science background.

No matter who wins, the victors might regret election. At the top of the council’s agenda the next three months will be making the hard choice of finding revenues to fill a $900,000 fiscal gap in the city budget or making harsh cuts, including layoffs and reductions of programs. City Manager Katie Koester said on Oct. 12 she will present two such budgets: one with no cuts in services but with new revenues, the other a bare-bones budget with significant reductions in services. How candidates respond to those fiscal realities will be the big issue in the campaign, Burgess said.

“The two hyperbolic solutions offered will be ‘remove and gut completely, slash spending, everything will be better’ or ‘let government step in to protect us and the environment from ourselves and that will solve problems,’” he said.

With such a large field, a run-off could be likely. To figure the 40-percent threshold goes like this: To calculate percentage of votes, the number of votes total cast in the election is divided by the number of seats. For example, if 2,000 votes are cast, the candidate must win 40 percent or 400 of 1,000 votes cast.

If the top-two candidates win 40 percent, they win the two seats. If no candidates win 40 percent, a run-off is held among the top-four vote getters. If one candidate wins 40 percent, a run-off election is held among the second- and third-place finishers. 

Michael Armstrong can be reached at michael.armstrong@homernews.com.

Learn more about the candidates

• 6 p.m. Friday, Sept. 18, Homer Public Library, sponsored by Friends of the Homer Public Library
Michael Hawfield, moderator
Regular debate format. Candidates get some advance questions. Will be questions from audience.

• 5:30 p.m. Sept. 29, Homer Elks Lodge, candidate reception sponsored by the Homer Chamber of Commerce. Meet and greet. 3-minute stump speech.