While the results are unofficial, Sitkans have a pretty good idea of who will represent them on the local Assembly this year. They include a surgeon, a business owner, and a military veteran in a race where talk of Sitka Community Hospital took center stage.
Voter turnout was higher than anticipated, with 1917 ballots cast. At least 258 absentee votes must still to counted on Friday, October 6th at 6 p.m. in meeting room 3 of Harrigan Centennial Hall. The final results will be certified at the Assembly’s next regular meeting on Tuesday, October 10th.
Richard Wein, Steven Eisenbeisz, and Ben Miyasato had the most votes between Sitka’s two precincts as unofficial election results were calculated Tuesday night (10-03-17).
Wein led the group, with 1361 votes. The career surgeon is a political newcomer, who quoted the Cub Scout’s in saying he’d “do his duty to God and country” and thanked the community for upholding his candidacy.
“Sitka is an amazing town. Beyond amazing. The support and the friendship that I have received over this time period has been humbling and overwhelming,” Wein said.
As a former employee of Sitka Community Hospital, Wein has been a vocal presence during persons to be heard as the Assembly has tussled with the hospital’s future. In the spring, at the recommendation of an outside consultant, the Southeast Alaska Regional Health Consortium proposed merging with Sitka Community. The Assembly did not pursue the proposal, taking a step back to explore other management models while the hospital pursue it’s own strategy for financial sustainability.
All this uncertainty surrounding Sitka Community is, in part, what motivated Wein to run. “The hospital has suffered damage over this incredibly long period of time of trying to figure out a path. I think what has to happen now is we need to go full steam ahead and make this hospital work for Sitka,” he said. He said that’s his number one priority once he’s sworn in on October 10th.
The second person to generate the most votes has been working on the hospital issue for some time, as a liaison to the Sitka Community Hospital Board. Steven Eisenbeisz received 1030 votes, which he interprets as a sign from Sitkans to continue holding the seat.
“It’s well-molded to me now, so I don’t need to make a new seating groove!” Eisenbesiz joked. “So it’s back to work and handling business as usual.”
Business as usual – with a sharpened focus on introducing policy to encourage construction of affordable rental properties. Eisenbeisz also wants to assure the success of the city’s new administrator Keith Brady, who the Assembly hired this summer from Utah. “[Brady] needs to be brought into our culture here and the way we do things. I’m looking forward to continue to work with him on that,” Eisenbeisz said.
Alongside Wein and Eisenbeisz will likely be the familiar voice of Ben Miyasato, who captured 845 votes over Sheila Finkenbinder’s 773. That makes him the unofficial winner for that third seat, though 258 absentee votes must still be counted on Friday.
Should Miyasato prove to be the winner his term would last for one-year, which suits the seasoned official. He served on the Assembly from 2013 to 2016 and knows the hard work that follows this moment of victory.
“I know what goes into serving on that Assembly. It is time consuming. You don’t get a lot of praise,” Miyasato said.
Bu he does get to serve the community and that’s what Miyasato is all about. He’s already encouraged newcomers to consider running for next year in the hope that the Assembly will see a female representative at the table.
“The demographics that we have on that Assembly does not match what we have here in our population. We need to have some women on this Assembly,” Miyasato said.
Along with Finkenbinder, Jaime Ackley, Sonya Smith, and registered write-in candidate Kitty Sopow entered the race, but it looks like the Assembly will have all-male representation this year. The fact that four Sitka women ran and none won a seat was not lost on Sopow.
“I am kind of surprised that Sheila [Finkenbinder] didn’t get it. Out of all of us women, even she was not electable? I was like, “Dang.” Out of all of us, I thought for sure she would get on,” Sopow said.
Finkenbinder brought a variety of political experience to her pro-business platform, focused on broadening Sitka’s tax base. She’s a former legislative aide, former candidate for state office, and current chair of the District 35 Republican Party.
As for Ackley, she received 470 votes and ran with an interest in making Sitka more affordable for young families. Smith received 263 votes with a focus on Alaska Native rights. Like Wein, she was a vocal opponent of any merger between SEARHC and Sitka Community and entered the race in part to have a hand in how Sitka manages healthcare.
As a write-in candidate, city staff had to count Sopow’s votes by hand and discarded those with where voters wrote just “Kitty” or just “Sopow” on the ballot. The unofficial count for her was 339 votes, of which she was quite proud.
“There were a lot of actual Kitty Sopows. It was so cool. It was almost as many friends as I have on Facebook that came out and voted for me tonight!” Sopow said.
If the evening was one of surprises for the Assembly race, the outcome for the Sitka School Board was predicted from the start.
Voters solidly endorsed the unopposed candidates Elias Erickson and Dionne Brady-Howard. Both were one-year incumbents: Brady-Howard, a Social Studies teacher at Mt. Edgecumbe High School was appointed last year to fill a vacant seat, and Erickson was the student body representative. Now to serve a full term, the 18-year old senior is the youngest elected official in Sitka in recent memory.
Sitka Assembly Results
Richard Wein (unofficial winner) – 1361 votes
Precinct 1 – 686 votes
Precinct 2 – 675 votes
Steven Eisenbeisz (unofficial winner) – 1030 votes
Precinct 1 – 491 votes
Precinct 2 – 539 votes
Ben Miyasato (unofficial winner) – 845 votes
Precinct 1 – 401 votes
Precinct 2 – 444 votes
Sheila Finkenbinder – 773 votes
Precinct 1 – 412 votes
Precinct 2 – 361 votes
Jaime Ackley – 470 votes
Precinct 1 – 241 votes
Precinct 2 – 229 votes
Kitty Sopow (official write-in) – 339 votes
Precinct 1 – 142 votes
Precinct 2 – 197 votes
Sonya L. Smith – 263 votes
Precinct 1 – 134 votes
Precinct 2 – 129 votes
Sitka School Board
Elias Erickson – 1460 votes
Precinct 1 – 717 votes
Precinct 2 – 743 votes
Dionne Brady-Howard – 1447 votes
Precinct 1 – 700 votes
Precinct 2 – 747 votes