Editor’s note: Today, the Daily News-Miner begins a series of stories looking at the candidates and issues on the Oct. 2 municipal election ballots.
FAIRBANKS — It’s a crowded race for the Fairbanks City Council seat now occupied by Vivian Stiver, with two familiar faces at council meetings joined by two newcomers to municipal politics.
The candidates for Seat A are Birchwood Homes site manager Renee Staley, Woodshed News editor Tim Sovde, IRS tax representative David Lerman and electrician Timothy Brannan. Stiver is not running for re-election because she has reached her term limit.
With expensive home-heating costs this year and several proposals in the works, bringing affordable natural gas to Fairbanks is the highest-priority issue for most candidates.
Timothy Brannan supports the creation of a municipal gas utility to
facilitate trucking natural gas to Fairbanks. He feels strongly enough about the issue he came to his first Fairbanks City Council meeting earlier this month to testify for the creation of the utility. Acting quickly on natural gas is important for rising energy costs and because it will create construction jobs, he said.
“You lower energy (costs), give me my money back and I’ll spend it at Safeway, Fred Meyer, other shops,” he said. “That’s really easy for me to see it; I don’t see why everybody can’t see that.”
Energy issues in general are important to Brannan, who said he got into politics last year to oppose Gov. Sean Parnell’s bid to lower taxes on oil companies.
Brannan works as an electrician for Fullford Electric and is a member of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. He worked on a number of large-scale Fairbanks projects, including the Fairbanks Memorial Hospital emergency room renovation and the new life sciences building at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.
He’s lived in Fairbanks for 30 years. He’s been campaigning door to door for this election, working his way through the Aurora Subdivision this week.
David Lerman got into city politics about five years ago when he went to a council meeting to complain about idling vehicles outside his home. Since then, he’s been a close observer of the council and a frequent but so-far-unsuccessful candidate.
Lerman’s biggest issue is the Polaris Building, the derelict beige high-rise on the corner of First Avenue and Lacey Street. Unlike his opponents, Lerman believes that it’s too early to look into demolishing the Polaris. Lerman argues the city should waive building fees to make it easier for owner Marc Marlow to renovate the building because it would be cheaper than the city paying to tear down the building.
“Marlow is not going to pay to demolish that building; he’s going to abandon it,” Lerman said.
Lerman has lived in Fairbanks for 10 years and works for the IRS, where he answers taxpayer questions. He’s a downtown resident and rides his bike year-round.
“My claim to fame is I don’t have a car on purpose,” he said.
He operates the website renovationfairbanks.com, which he describes as an “open-ended discussion board to enhance life in Fairbanks.”
Tim Sovde is vocal about municipal government, especially as an advocate for limiting its size. His take on many local issues appear frequently in the Woodshed News, an alternative monthly publication. Sovde also is a frequent public commentator at City Council meetings.
He ran unsuccessfully for a seat last year.
Asked why he’s running this year, he said keeping city spending down was a priority. Thanks to past tax caps, Sovde said city finances are now in line, but he said he wants to serve on the council to keep an eye on the budget.
“When you look at past history, the city was in pretty dire straits,” he said. “If it wasn’t for citizens willing to put in their time and effort to rectify that problem, we wouldn’t be in the position we’re in today.
Sovde opposes an ordinance to create a municipal utility. He wrote in the Woodshed this month he’s doubtful of public-private partnerships and does not think the utility’s purpose is well-enough defined. He does believe local government needs to pressure the state to subsidize energy in Fairbanks.
Sovde described himself as a farm boy from northern Minnesota who moved to Alaska in the early 1980s. He worked in construction until injuring his back and is now living off his savings while editing the Woodshed, he said. He serves on the Fairbanks North Star Borough Planning Commission.
Renee Staley has never run for office before, but she’s a long-term participant in civic life through committees and commissions, including Golden Valley Electric Association’s advisory board, the UAF school of management board and the borough’s Planning Commission.
She said energy costs influenced her decision to run this year.
“I recently got motivated because there are a lot of houses on the market and people are leaving,” she said. “I’ve heard people say they’re leaving because of the high cost of energy, and I want to be a part of the solution.”
In her Fairbanks Daily News-Miner candidate questionnaire, she identified a municipally owned utility as the way to pursue lowering energy costs.
Staley works as the site manager for Birchwood Homes, the former military housing off Trainor Gate Road that’s now a civilian development. She’s a West Valley High School alumna but lived outside Alaska the 10 years she spent working for American Express and while pursuing a master’s degree in business in Phoenix.
Contact staff writer Sam Friedman at 459-7545.