Between now and Oct. 2, Raven News will profile the candidates for municipal office. This week, we focus on the three people running for mayor, beginning with the incumbent, Cheryl Westover. All three candidates will appear live on Raven Radio the evening of Sept. 18, to answer your questions.
For Sitka Mayor Cheryl Westover, running for re-election was not an automatic decision.
But she says there were a few factors that convinced her to go after a second term. Not the least of which was her mother, Mardelle, who died in May.
“And it was real funny, she kept asking me if I was going to run again and I really, at that point, didn’t know,” Westover said. “There were points during her illness when we spent a lot of time talking. And she was proud of me and I thought, you know, I’m going to run again, and if the people want me, I’ll serve, and work as hard as I can.”
Westover is a lifelong Sitkan and says the city has undergone a lot of changes in her 61 years.
“We’ve become a little city instead of a sleepy little town,” she said, adding that part of that transformation means Sitka is now a collection of different communities, instead of one small one.
“And they represent a way of thinking and a way of life,” she said. “But I really think diversity is great. I don’t always agree with those little communities here, and they don’t agree with me, but that’s OK. I respect what they do and I hope they respect what I do.”
Westover has been mayor since 2010, when she won a close election against John Stein. After a series of recounts, Westover was named the victor by a two-vote margin.
In Sitka’s form of government, the mayor doesn’t oversee day-to-day operations, but serves as the ceremonial face of the city. She also sets the Assembly’s agenda and runs the meetings.
Her meetings tend to last longer than those of previous mayor Scott McAdams, sometimes running up against the city’s mandatory adjournment deadline, requiring them to be continued the next day.
“I’ve been told I let people talk too much,” she said. “But to me, I don’t want anybody leaving a meeting thinking they haven’t had their say. So if it takes a little longer to get a meeting done, they may not be happy, but they know they’ve had plenty of time to speak their piece.”
But she’s also cut off debate when it’s grown contentious. Twice, Westover has turned off the microphones on other Assembly members when they’ve refused to yield after being called out of order.
“We’re all going to have areas of disagreement, and that’s fine. But you don’t get obnoxious at the table. I sat on the Assembly when there were times when it got pretty obnoxious, and it was allowed to continue.”
Westover also has served on the Assembly, first elected in 2006. She says she wants a second term as mayor to focus on the challenges she’s been dealing with so far – how to get the Blue Lake dam raised, how to shore up Sitka’s economy, and how to pay for repairs to the city’s aging infrastructure.
“We’ve got to come up with ways to raise revenues without hurting the public too much, but we’re all going to have to share in the pain of fixing our community,” she said. “We can’t stop building our community. Some people say let it just die. Well, then we become unattractive and we don’t encourage other people to visit.”
And visitors are another area Westover hopes to focus on. She says the city needs to make itself appealing to cruise companies while at the same time catering to the independent traveler. She talks about expanded marine services for the fishing fleet. Enough energy from hydropower to meet the community’s needs. And she says one day, she’d like to see new life in parts of Sitka’s economy that have disappeared in the last few decades.
“I’d love to see logging come back to our community. I think we know how to be responsible with our industry. It’s a renewable resource,” she said. “To me, that would be success, if we could have some sort of timber industry that provided good-paying jobs for our young people.”
Westover says she’s optimistic about the future, but that there also are challenges ahead.
“I don’t think I’ll ever sit back and say, ‘Gee, Sitka’s doing great,’” she said. “I may sit back and say it’s somebody else’s job to do, but I think there’s always room for improvement.”