Bob Potrzuski is one of four candidates running for two open seats on the Assembly. The municipal election is Tuesday, October 6. (Emily Kwong/KCAW photo)

Bob Potrzuski is a former basketball and softball coach who taught English and Social Studies at Sitka High for over two decades. Now retired, he wants to transition from teaching government to taking an active role. This is the first in KCAW’s series of profiles of candidates for municipal office.

Downloadable audio.

Bob Potrzuski has two reasons for running for Sitka Assembly. The first is because last month he went for a walk in the woods and ran into Matt Hunter. Hunter is a former student of Potrzuski’s and at the time, was running for the Assembly unopposed.

“[Hunter] said, ‘Well you know, we need some other people to run.’ And in the back of my head I’m thinking, ‘Not a chance dude. There’s no way,'” said Potrzuski.

But Potruzski came around. And the real reason he’s running has to do with public service ideals he’s held since childhood.

“If you go back to 1968, I loved politics even as a 10 year old,” said Potrzuski.

“Robert Kennedy was assassinated as he was running for President. And one of the thing’s he’s known for saying–and I’m paraphrasing–is ‘Many people look at the world and say why. And I look at things that aren’t and say why not.’ And that’s always stuck with me.”

Potrzuski has been living in Sitka for 29 years and he said that attitude is part of the reason why he taught U.S. History and government at Sitka High School. “[I wanted] for young people to realize that there are solutions out there and we should strive to look at the world in a positive way and come up with solutions.”

And in Sitka, the problem foremost on Potrzuski mind is maintaining the city’s infrastructure, from school buildings  to clean water.

Potrzuski recalled on Assembly meeting in particular. “We had an Assembly member three weeks ago who seemed unaware of how old our infrastructure is. It was surprising to me, but it also opened my eyes. If an assembly member is unaware of that, then the average Joe on the street turns on the tap and the water comes out. They flush the toilet and water goes away. It’s all kind of magic. People aren’t that aware 20 years before I got here was when a lot of this infrastructure was put in and needs to be replaced.”

Portrzuski’s other big priority is financial stability and in his mind, that means a tax structure where every Sitkan pays for every service. He was critical, for example, of a measure by the Assembly last summer to levy a tax on motorists to register their vehicles.

“There was, what I thought, was a completely ludicrous discussion was a special tax on cars in order to pay for roads. There’s nobody in this town that doesn’t benefit from roads. That’s a shared thing,” said Potrzuski.

That reasoning informs Potruzski’s logic on taxes in general, whether it be electricity or use of the habors. He asked, ” So should we just charge only the fisherman for the harbors? I don’t have a boat, but Ill tell you what. That harbor means as much to me as it does to those fisherman. Because if we don’t have them, we’re in trouble.”

He also wants to generate revenue through the private sector. Potrzuski supports business development at the Gary Paxton Industrial Park, commenting that Silver Bay Seafoods is the biggest property taxpayer in Sitka.

“I don’t think that we’re in a situation where we can let land sit idle. I’m not for giving it away, unless it’s for less expensive housing,” said Potrzuski. “But if there’s a way to give a business stability, a reasonable business, let’s do it.”

Potrzuski says it can be frustrating living on an island sometimes. Things that are easy to find elsewhere — like jeans with a 36-inch inseam — aren’t readily available here. And town’s isolation can be expensive. But he also sees Sitka’s location as a boon, from the marketing of salmon and other natural resources, to the sheer beauty of the place.

This summer he hiked the Isle of Skye, off the coast of Scotland. He said it had “great vistas and beautiful views.” Upon returning to Sitka, his children took him to Starrigavan Ridge on a sunny day. “We hiked back to a couple of mountain lakes and we went swimming in those lakes. I look around and it was more beautiful on Starrigavan Ridge than on the fabled Isle of Skye in Scotland . There were people in buses on the Isle of Skye. This is a place that oeople – once they get here – they’ll recognize that there is nothing more beautiful than Sitka, Alaska. And we should encourage people to come up and see that.”

This is Potrzuski’s first time running for the Assembly and he hasn’t served on any boards or commissions in Sitka before. But he thinks now is a better time than ever to make a run for it.

“I’m doing this probably more because of what Bobby Kennedy said to a 10 year old, than because of what Matt Hunter said to an old guy.”

There are a total of nine candidates for municipal office this year — four running for two seats on the assembly, and five running for two seats on the school board. All are three-year terms. Raven News will feature a different candidate each day between now and the election on Tuesday, October 6.