This story has been updated with more background, input from voters and reaction from candidates.
Haines chose experience over a new perspective in the race for mayor. Incumbent Jan Hill will serve her fourth term at the helm of borough government. In a six-way race for three assembly seats, there are two clear winners, and both are familiar faces: Brenda Josephson and Stephanie Scott.
The past year was a politically tumultuous one for Haines. Two assembly members resigned for political reasons. The borough went through a contentious manager hire. The division came to a head in an ultimately unsuccessful recall election.
Debbie Gravel reflected on all this after casting her ballot Tuesday. She thinks the heightened acrimony started with the small boat harbor project.
“Our last election when there was such polarization around expanding the harbor, a lot of it came from that,” Gravel said. “And the recall just added to it and added a level of unpleasantness, nastiness that I wish I’d never seen.”
The recall was an issue in the mayoral race. Challenger Joanie Wagner said incumbent Jan Hill was complicit in the division.
“I would like to see a more respectful approach,” Wagner said following Tuesday’s election. “I would like to see the good old boy mentality disappear.”
Wagner has also chastised Hill for public statements calling the community ‘hateful’ and ‘vindictive.’ Hill says in her upcoming three years as mayor, she’ll try to take a different tone.
“Those statements were harsh. At the time, that’s how I saw things were,” Hill said Tuesday night. “I might try to tone them down a little bit and hopefully our community won’t be so torn in the next three years. So I know there are better ways to offer my opinion and I would plan to do it better in the future.”
Hill won the mayoral contest with 53 percent of the vote in preliminary results. Wagner garnered 46 percent of voters’ support.
Hill says her focus will be on Haines’ economy and supporting job creation.
“Most of the people that spoke to me are supportive of responsible mining and resource extraction and things that will help provide jobs,” Hill said. “Many of us who have lived here for a long time have watched young people get a good education and practical training and they can’t come home because there’s no work here.”
One of the biggest questions Haines is facing right now is what to do following the withdrawal of the local state trooper. The assembly is considering a police service area expansion.
Volunteer firefighter Roc Ahrens is against that idea. Outside the polls Tuesday, he said it’s one example of government-driven — rather than public-driven — decisions.
“I think that’s up to the people,” Ahrens said. “I think the people should speak to the service they want and if they’re willing to pay for it, then a tax is something they agree to. And otherwise it’s an unfair burden that’s being cast on us from the government.”
The top vote-getter in the assembly race was the most outspoken against police service expansion. Brenda Josephson says the government needs to get better at taking its cues from the public.
After learning of her victory, Josephson said one of the biggest issues on her mind is the Lutak Dock. The dock is Haines’ lifeline for freight and fuel. It’s at risk of catastrophic failure. Josephson said she was alarmed after a recent meeting where people who regularly use the dock said they worried about it collapsing under their feet.
“I was very concerned at the meeting, hearing the concerns of the workers,” Josephson said. “So I certainly hope that that needs to be number one on our conversations. And just truly jumping in and taking a hard look at our budget and making sure we address it directly.”
Josephson garnered 600 votes in preliminary results, earning one of three open assembly seats.
Stephanie Scott took the second seat, with 551 votes. Scott is currently serving in an appointed assembly position. KHNS was unable to reach Scott following the election. In an interview prior to the vote, Scott, a former mayor, said it wasn’t any one issue that motivated her to run.
“It’s pretty much an intellectual interest in public service and the laws that are behind us,” Scott said.
There is a third assembly seat with a shorter, one-year term up for grabs. It’s still an open question who will fill that spot.
Sean Maidy, who is serving on an appointed seat, has the most votes right now. But former assemblywoman Diana Lapham and political newcomer Michael Fullerton are close enough that absentee and questioned ballots could alter the outcome.
We’ll know for sure next Tuesday, after the Canvass board counts the 50 or so ballots remaining.
Original story 10/3 10 p.m.:
Haines reelected Jan Hill as mayor and chose two longtime residents in a six-way assembly race. A third assembly seat is too close to call.
After a year marked by two assembly resignations and a painful recall effort, Haines voters are ready to move on. The August recall election against three assembly members was unsuccessful, but it’s still on voters’ minds.
“You know, we have so many opportunities here in Haines, so many resources, but when we all feel like we have to protect ourselves, protect our rights and protect the things we care about, we can’t really enhance anything,” said Sylvia Heinz after she voted Tuesday afternoon.
To lead Haines in the coming three years, voters chose an experienced mayor over a political newcomer. Jan Hill was re-elected by a comfortable margin, according to preliminary results.
Hill’s opponent, Joanie Wagner, criticized the mayor’s leadership style, saying she tacitly supported recent divisiveness.
“Our leadership styles differ from person to person and I don’t feel the need to defend mine,” Hill said after finding out she won reelection.
Hill said she’s ready to get to work in her fourth term as mayor. She said residents are concerned about Haines’ economy.
“We want to be able to see our kids come home,” Hill said. “And that was one of the loudest things I heard, was we need jobs and we need them to be good enough so our kids can come home and bring young families here.”
Brenda Josephson agrees. She topped a six-way race for three assembly seats. Josephson ran on a platform of fiscal responsibility.
“I really think we need to take the focus back on what is the core responsibility of local government,” Josephson said. “We need to be concentrating on our infrastructure, our schools and our public safety. We’ve got to start working on getting jobs back in Haines.”
Former mayor Stephanie Scott came in second place in the assembly race. KHNS was unable to reach Scott Tuesday night.
As for the third open assembly seat, it’s too close to call. Political newcomer Sean Maidy has about a 30-vote lead over former assembly member Diana Lapham. Michael Fullerton is two votes behind Lapham. The contest between those three candidates will be decided when about 50 questioned, absentee-by-mail and special needs ballots are counted Oct. 10.
Turnout for this election was 47 percent. That is one percentage point lower than August’s recall election, but higher than the past two regular elections.