Between now and Oct. 2, Raven News will profile the candidates for municipal office. Today’s profile focuses on Thor Christianson, who has been on the Assembly since 2010. He also served from 1998 until 2004. All three candidates will appear live on Raven Radio the evening of Sept. 18, to answer your questions.
Thor Christianson sees the race for mayor as having three distinct candidates.
“It’s a bit of a left, right and center, and so I think we’re going to find out if Sitka has a center,” he said.
He sees Assembly member Mim McConnell on the left of the political spectrum, and Mayor Cheryl Westover on the right.
“I don’t think she’s done a terrible job, by any stretch,” he said of the incumbent mayor. “However, I think I can do better. I’ve obviously had some run-ins with Cheryl. We’ve also collaborated on some things. This is not a case of ‘We’ve got this terrible person doing this and this.’ That’s not it at all.”
During Westover’s term, the Assembly has conducted more of its business openly. Sometimes that means a work session with a city commission, and other times it means long meetings while Assembly members cobble together ordinance language at the table.
Christianson says he likes the openness and that he wants more work sessions, as opposed to more meetings. Doing so allows members to have a conversation instead of a strictly governed debate.
“Too many decisions come to the Assembly where we’ve only got yes or no, and where it’s too late to make changes,” he said. “A lot of good ideas either don’t come out, or get voted down because you can’t modify them.”
Having more public conversations among members and with citizens, he says, will allow the Assembly to be more assertive.
“There’s a number of things I’d like to see us do. I’d like to see us be much more proactive on the tourism front,” he said. “We’ve made some movements that way but we really need to be out there, looking under every rock.”
Christianson said the city’s recent discussion about a deep-water dock was good, but more conversations need to happen with the cruise industry and with charter operators.
“But we also need to be looking at our fishing industry,” he said. “That’s our backbone industry. It always has been. We need to work on ways to make that better, paying attention to the harbors, talking to the fishermen and the processors to figure out ways to make Sitka a better port, because the better we are the more boats will be in here, the happier our people will be, and the more economic activity, the more raw fish tax, and so on. It snowballs.”
Christianson was born and raised in Sitka, and spent time living outside the community. It didn’t last.
“I’ve never been able to leave for very long,” he said. “Every time I tried to go someplace else, the cement would close in and I just didn’t like it. I like it here.”
And he says running for mayor is a way for him to serve the community’s future.
“I would really like my kids to be able to talk about me, whether I’m still around or not, and say ‘You know, he really did good for our town.’ People remember me for things I did that helped make things better,” he said. “I think I can speak about my father that way.”
Warren Christianson was city attorney from the mid-1960s until the early 1970s. Thor Christianson says Sitka has become more cosmopolitan since then.
“It was a little more – and I kind of miss this sometimes – a little more free-wheeling,” he said. “I miss Porky Bickar for lots of reasons. He and other people of my father’s generation had a little more get-it-done attitude, which I’ve been accused of trying that a little too much myself.”
But he also says he likes what Sitka has become. He says it has a diverse economy, at least by Alaska standards, and that he’d like to see that continue.
“The day we sit down and say ‘We’re done,’ is the day we should retire,” he said. “It’s an ongoing process. It will never be done, and it will never be right, but we have to always work toward that.”