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John Stein came to Sitka in 1959 when his father took a job as the first administrator of the Alaska Pulp Mill. He moved to Wasilla in 1985, and then came back to Sitka in 2005 to serve as City Administrator – a job he held until 2008.
He says he’s running for mayor of Sitka because a number of people asked him to.
“And so I thought about it for quite a while,” Stein said. “But I’m pretty excited about being in a position to promote Sitka and help continue it to be the great community that it is.”
His experience in public service includes serving as Sitka assessor along with time on the Sitka planning commission and the Assembly, and several public jobs in the Mat-Su valley, including mayor of Wasilla from 1987 until 1996. He was unseated from that job by Sarah Palin. There were lessons learned from that campaign, he says.
“Sometimes you see the handwriting on the wall early on,” he said. “I ran against Sarah twice and I wondered, ‘Why did I run the second time?’ And I ran the second time because nobody else would challenge her. I felt it was reasonable to have some discussion and competition. I really value the public discussion and the competitive nature of running for office.”
Stein says a lot of progress has been made in Sitka over the last couple years in how the Assembly operates. He also says Sitka’s government is unique in its isolation – it requires its own electric department, its own jail – services some other communities don’t have to provide.
“So Sitka has a higher level of employment in the municipal sector than other communities, but, I think we need to continue to look at right-sizing our operations,” Stein said. “So every year as we go through the budget process, or as I would go through the budget process as has been done in the past, we look at what programs make sense for the city to continue on, and if there’s needs for cutback we do that on a rational basis. If there’s some things the city’s not doing very well, maybe we should get out of that business and turn it over to the private sector. That kind of thing.”
Sitka’s economy, though statistically better than other parts of Alaska and the nation, has slowed down in recent years. Declining sales tax revenues and lower numbers of cruise ship passengers have meant less money for city government. Stein says there are opportunities to improve the economy in Sitka that he’d like to see realized if he’s elected mayor.
“The new vision for the Tongass forest includes emphasizing some of the multiple uses of the forest, so I think we need to work closely with the Department of Agriculture and get more people out into the woods here, hopefully base managers in Sitka, bring in jobs, support our fishing industry – both sides of that, the tourist and the commercial end,” he said. “I think there’s opportunities here to really develop the human potential of Sitkans, with some of our really excellent internet connections. Some of the questions I’ve been asking is ‘Do you do internet sales?’ Maybe there’s some things we can do to do business on the web that we’re not doing, and develop our human potential.”
In addition to picking a mayor, Sitka voters will decide in October whether the city should buy and fix up the Hames Athletic and Wellness Center. If they approve the purchase, the next mayor of Sitka could have to figure out what to do with Hames. Criticism over the potential purchase includes the concern that Hames would be a burden on city coffers; one that doesn’t fit in to the city’s mission.
“I think it fits right in,” he said, “because we do maintain the ballfields, and we have a beautiful complex up there at Kimsham right now, and we do maintain the grounds and the parklands and the Crescent Harbor strip and Pioneer Park, and a number of those locations. I think having a nice large indoor space is really important, especially to a community that gets the kind of rainfall and weather that we do in the wintertime.”
The mayor in Sitka serves a two-year term. Stein faces Assembly member Cheryl Westover for the job, on the October 5th municipal ballot.
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