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A first, in recent memory: all open Delta City Council seats contested

Three Delta Junction City Council seats are up for election on Oct. 4, and each is contested by two or more candidates. The City Clerk says it's the most competitive city election she's seen in her 20 years on the job.
Alaska Municipal League
Three Delta Junction City Council seats are up for election on Oct. 4, and each is contested by two or more candidates. The City Clerk says it's the most competitive city election she's seen in her 20 years on the job.

Every Delta Junction City Council seat on the municipal election ballot is being contested by two or more candidates. The city clerk says it’s the most competitive election cycle she’s seen in the 20 years she’s held the job.

Three council seats are up for grabs this year, and unlike any city election over the past 20 years, each seat is contested -- including one with three candidates. Pamela Rawson and Stormie Mitchell are running for Seat B; Lou Heinbockel, the incumbent, and Igor Zaremba seek election to Seat D, and Mary Leith and Travis Reisner are vying for Seat G. Lance Stricklin is running for Seat G as a write-in.

“I’m impressed with that, with the number of people (who) have shown interest,” says City Clerk Pat White.

White has overseen municipal elections since she started the job 20 years ago. And she says last year’s races were more typical of those held in recent years. In 2021, only one person signed up to run for one of the four seats up for election that year. So, not surprisingly, that person, Erin Catterson, was unopposed and won by a landslide. The other three seats were filled by write-in candidates Emily Dove, Heinbockel and J.W. Musgrove, all of whom won by around 30 votes each. Heinbockel and Musgrove were current or former council members.

“We’ve always had someone fill a seat,” White said, “but it’s not a lot of interest -- until lately.”

She says this year’s election is different. She says she’s never run one in which all the seats are contested.

“It’s exciting. It’s really exciting,” she said in an interview Friday.

A possible sign of growing interest in local politics

Exciting, because it may be a signal that there’s a growing interest in local politics among Delta’s 977 registered voters. That may be in part because of growing concerns over issues like funding emergency services, which the City Council is now deliberating over. But White says she thinks candidates are more motivated by what’s going on far outside of city limits.

“I think a lot of it might have to do with what’s happening on the national level,” she said. “People are interested.”

White suspects ongoing investigations into alleged wrongdoing by former President Trump has motivated at least some local candidates to step forward. That includes those who consider themselves conservative, and others who see things differently.

“I’ve talked to the candidates, and I would say both” types of candidates were motivated by the Trump investigations and allegations of rampant voter fraud in 2020.

Other possible explanations: ranked-choice voting, 'keep Delta the same' advocates

White says ranked-choice voting also may be a motivator. And also the usual conflict between Delta residents who don’t their small town to change, and others who believe it’s time to better manage a city government that provides services to the whole Deltana area.

“You’ve got the ones (who) want to keep Delta the same, the way it’s always been,” she said. “And there’s the others that (say) ‘Hey, there’s no way that we can support ourselves here.’ ”

White says she’s hopeful that the number of candidates will translate into a higher turnout among voters. She can’t predict how many, but she hopes it’s more than the 74 who went to the polls last year. And she’s encouraged that there’s already been a couple of early ballots submitted.

“Because there’s a contest, I’m hoping that there’s a better turnout,” she said. “And I’m actually printing more ballots, in preparation of that.”

There’s an even more contested seat on the local school board: four candidates are running for Seat E – Chris McCarrick, Shaun Noling, Eric Ruse and Sherman Stebbins. Two incumbents seek re-election to the school board – Julia Phelan and Dana Mock, both of whom as unopposed.

Voting for those seats on the Delta-Greely School District board, which operates within the Regional Educational Attendance Area, will be conducted along with the city election at the Delta Community Center on October 4th. Polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Tim Ellis has been working as a KUAC reporter/producer since 2010. He has more than 30 years experience in broadcast, print and online journalism.