HEALY — The only thing that could take Denali Borough Mayor Dave Talerico away from home is a chance to help his community on a grander scale.
That is what he is going to do.
The 56-year-old Talerico, the longest running mayor since Denali became a borough 22 years ago, is joining newly elected state representative Doug Isaacson as Isaacson’s chief-of-staff.
“Back in August 2012, it started jokingly,” Talerico said. “He said, ‘boy, if I was ever gonna go down there, you should come with me.’ I said, that would be really good.”
The conversation took a more serious turn as the election approached and Talerico soon found himself seriously considering the job offer.
“This guy is very passionate about a lot of things. Not just his own area, but throughout Alaska, things that will impact everyone who lives throughout the whole state,” Talerico said. “They are concerns I’ve been concerned about for a long time, for my kids and my grandkids.”
“His passion was contagious,” he said.
Isaacson convinced him that his efforts in the Legislature would prove beneficial to the entire state, including the Denali Borough.
“I have a lot of relationships here that are really important to me,” Talerico said. “But I think this stuff is really important too.”
Timing is not always the best and that is the case here. Talerico’s mayoral term has two more years, until November 2014.
“It’s one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever made, for sure,” he said.
The Denali Borough Assembly will have to appoint someone to fill the vacancy until a special election can be held to elect a new mayor.
Talerico reflected on his long tenure as Denali Borough mayor.
“I’ve had the advantage of being in this community, where I think people are incredibly intelligent and pretty reasonable,” he said. “Most folks treat me better than I deserve, over time.”
He has been mayor for so long, some people don’t realize others have the ability to do this job as well, he said.
“They’ll probably do some things differently, better than I do, and there are some areas where they will struggle, because we all have different personalities,” he said.
Talerico’s first term began in 2002, after mayors Rick Brewer and Johnny Gonzales.
He figures some residents might resent the move and think he is “bailing out on them.”
“After 10 years, it isn’t exactly a bail out,” he said. “One of the hardest parts of making the decision was thinking of the capabilities of other people in the area. As long as people are willing to step up to the plate, everything will be fine.”
He leaves the Denali Borough in good financial condition.
“If we were upside down and in the red, that would take precedence, but we are no- where near that,” he said, then added with a laugh, “Because I’m cheap.”
He recalled memorable moments, including when he was forced to shoot and kill a marauding bear at the Denali Borough Landfill. The mayor regularly visited the landfill and often ran heavy equipment there to help out.
He is proud of the matching grant program, which has helped fund community projects like the McKinley Village Playground.
In his role as mayor, Talerico worked beyond office hours, regularly hitting meetings throughout the borough. He belonged to the Clear Sky Sportsman Club and regularly attended their gatherings. He also joined the Denali Sportsmans Association in Cantwell.
Talerico is just as comfortable in a Carhartt jacket and baseball cap as a suit and tie.
He represented the Denali Borough with the Denali Commission many years ago, bringing power to parts of the borough.
He helped obtain a significant amount of public safety equipment for the fire departments and emergency medical services. Working with the Denali Borough School District, he helped acquire new, better, energy efficient lighting for all the schools.
“Better facilities for kids means a better learning environment,” he said.
He served as president of the Alaska Municipal League and on the AML’s Joint Insurance Associations’ Board of Trustees. The governor appointed him to serve on the Alaska Safety Advisory Council.
He said he was honored to participate in community events such as Dancing With The Stars, Motion Sensors Dance Troupe and the Tri-Valley Community Mystery Theatre shows.
He’s also a member of the popular rock ’n’ roll band Loose Gravel.
“Out of all the things I would have liked to see done, I had about a 15 percent success rate,” he said. “You get used to that after a while. Maybe the funding isn’t available. Or it’s not necessarily an idea folks are crazy about or you get opposition, which is fine.”
He credited his staff for much of his success, saying, “You’re about as good as the people you are surrounded by.”
Talerico came to Healy from Washington state when he was 13 years old. He attended Tri-Valley High School and married his high school sweetheart in the school gymnasium 38 years ago next March.
“We had wild plans,” he recalled. “I was working at Usibelli. We were going to save a nest egg and move to Hawaii or something like that. A young person’s dream.
“But then, as I matured, I just never saw myself ever leaving. By the time I was 25 years old, I was locked in as a permanent fixture. I absolutely love it here.”
He has worked at Usibelli Coal Mine and ran a hotel in the Nenana River Canyon for eight years.
He said he lives close to the most beautiful place in the state — Cantwell — and near some of the best weather in Alaska, in Anderson.
He and wife Peggy have two children and seven grandchildren and they all live within 300 yards of each other.
The hardest thing about going to Juneau will be not seeing those grandchildren several times a week.
It was his family who urged him to grab the opportunity.
“They follow state politics,” he said. “They have a biased opinion. They think it’s important I have some involvement in these decisions.”