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Newcomers ‘step in to the breach,’ run for Delta Junction City Council

VoteLocal2021

Longtime council member says ‘I’ve done my time,’ but urges area residents to participate in local elections

Voters in Delta Junction will elect four City Council members during Tuesday’s municipal election. But they’ll have to write-in three of those candidates, because they didn’t decide to run in time for their names to appear on the ballot.

DeltaCityHall.AML
Alaska Municipal League
Delta city officials sent a letter in August to residents informing them of the Oct. 5 local election in hopes it would encourage voter turnout and more City Council candidacies.

Back in early August, when it seemed that no one in Delta was interested in running for the four open Council seats, City Clerk Pat White mailed more than 500 letters to local residents informing them about the election in hopes that would generate some interest.

“Encourage voter turnout, but more importantly to encourage interest in serving on the council,” White said.

One of the four seats were left open by the resignation of Mayor Freda Degnan. The rest were because council Members Lou Heinbockel, Charles Lester and Erin Catterson all decided not to run for re-election. But soon after the letters went out, Catterson changed her mind and decided to run for the seat, to which she was appointed in December. White’s letter also caught the attention of Delta resident Emily Dove.

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“I was looking at that and looking at who I would be able to vote for this coming election, and I saw that there were like three open seats that didn’t have anyone campaigning for,” Dove said in an interview Wednesday.

Dove works as an office administrator at the local Public Health Clinic. She’d never run for office, nor had any experience with local government. But she says the letter got her thinking.

“And I thought, well, my conscience kind of got to me,” she said. “I thought, ‘Well, if I care, I should step in (to) the breach.’ ”

That’s what’s supposed to happen, says Heinbockel, who’s 80 years old and has spent a total of 26 years on the council, since he was first elected back in 1976.

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“I don’t want to be there anymore,” he said in an interview Wednesday. “I figure I’ve done my time. But I’m also concerned about our community and having nobody show any interest!”

That’s what Heinbockel said earlier this year after nearing the end of another three-year term, during which he again served as mayor after Degnan quit. But when it looked like there’d be no other candidates for the three remaining open seats, he agreed to serve another year if he wins as a write-in candidate. But, he said he’d run on one condition…

“I don’t want to be mayor again. I’ve already told them!” he said. “And if I’m elected, I will not be mayor!”

Another long-time council member who’s agreed to serve if elected as a write-in is J.W. Musgrove. He’d been on the council for 14 years and was serving as mayor when he resigned late last year, citing health problems. But Heinbockel says that former mayor who’s in his seventies also was motivated by a concern over the lack of candidates for the seat.

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“And that’s the same thing J.W. Musgrove is doing, I’m sure,” he said.

Heinbockel says he’s glad there are four candidates now, even if three of them are running as write-ins. But he’s disappointed at the community’s lack of interest in serving on the council and voting in local elections, which usually draw about 60 voters. He longs for the days when there were many candidates and voters attracted by hot issues like a sales tax proposed back in the early 1980s.

“And, if you look at those election results,” he said, “there were hundreds of votes cast.”

That’s the kind of enthusiasm that Dove, the 40-something newcomer, hopes to help generate.

“I was thinking it would be really good to see some new faces,” she said, “and to see a few women on there, too.”

Also in Tuesday’s election, four incumbents on the Delta Greely School District board are seeking re-election. And six board seats are up for grabs on the Deltana Community Corporation, which represents people outside of Delta city limits.