Mayor candidates (l. to r.) Aaron Bean, Ben Miyasato, and Gary Paxton field questions from a full house at the Sitka Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday (9-26-18). Alana Peterson is moderator. (KCAW photo/Robert Woolsey)

Sitka’s three candidates for mayor met in a final campaign event before next Tuesday’s municipal election.

Aaron Bean, Ben Miyasato, and Gary Paxton answered questions in a forum held by the Sitka Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday (9-26-18).

For many voters, choosing Sitka’s mayor may come down to a candidate’s age, philosophy, or opinion about salmon habitat.

Downloadable audio.

Listen to the entire September 26 Mayoral Candidate Forum before the Sitka Chamber of Commerce. For more election coverage, visit the 2018 Sitka Election Hub, where you’ll find all the candidate forums, profiles of each candidate and what they stand for, and voter information for next Tuesday’s municipal election.

On most issues the candidates were in agreement: Sitka needs to incentivize business development, open up land for housing, and rein in spending in order to keep user fees — like moorage and electrical rates — down.

39-year old Aaron Bean currently holds a seat on the assembly. Bean says that if he’s elected to the mayor’s chair, it will be a chance for the assembly to shift polarity, and do things differently than it does now.

“I will run the meetings a little differently,” said Bean. “I will have an agenda, and my agenda is to grow the tax base here in Sitka. We to be inviting new families, and using the resources that we have and the land that we’re not now, and I’m going to charge staff with that. If I’m elected mayor, some of the first things that I’ll be doing is sitting down with department heads and the administrator hopefully and ironing out some of the disconnects within the department.”

If he fails to win the mayor’s seat, Bean will remain on the assembly, with another year left in his term.

Winning the mayor’s chair for Ben Miyasato, however, is a case of all-or-nothing. The 54-year old’s assembly seat expires with this election. Miyasato has served concurrently on both the Sitka Tribal Council and the Sitka Assembly and is no stranger to governance. Given the number of difficult decisions the assembly has made recently, he emphasized that his strength was keeping engaged with the public through hard times.

“How you set the tone really does matter to the public,” Miyasato explained. “And this is one right now where there is a lot of dissatisfaction with the decisions we’ve been making. None of them are easy. That’s something that I’m hoping the public understands, that the decisions we make are not taken lightly. There’s a lot of thought put into them, and I think as mayor I definitely have the ability to listen to everyone. I’m approachable.”

All three candidates are lifelong Sitkans, but at 79, Gary Paxton leads the pack in seniority. Although he’s never been an elected office holder, Paxton served nine years working closely with the Sitka assembly as municipal administrator, and he was the the Southeast regional director for the state Department of Transportation.

His philosophy is simple: Let’s not do more with less, let’s just do less. He believes Sitka’s local government is spending too much. Paxton doesn’t specify how he’ll reverse that, but he believes Sitkans are capable finding solutions together.

“We all love this town,” Paxton said, “and I want to do everything I can with fellow assembly members to bring trust within the assembly, within our city staff, within our community, so that we feel good. We know who we are and where we are, and where we live.”

The only dramatic disagreement between the candidates on issues came on an issue that they’ll have no control over: state ballot proposition 1, or the Yes for Salmon Initiative. Asked by a chamber member how they’ll vote, Bean, a commercial fisherman, said he was undecided. Ben Miyasato was a solid yes. Gary Paxton was a no, saying that Alaska had sufficient regulations on the books already to protect salmon.

Raven Radio’s 2018 Election Hub