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City Council Seat D: Swartz, Wheeler Challenge Incumbent Andersen

Incumbent Stan Andersen (left) faces challengers Sarah Swartz and Chuck Wheeler for Nome City Council Seat D. Photos: Andersen by Matthew F. Smith, KNOM file; Swartz, Wheeler photo provided by the candidates.

Nome’s Oct. 6 city election is just a week away, and beyond voting for mayor, school and utility boards, and a local representative on the NSEDC board, voters will also decide who will fill two seats on the city council for the next three years.

Three candidates are competing for City Council Seat D: incumbent Stan Andersen, and challengers Chuck Wheeler and Sarah Swartz.

Despite being a newcomer to city politics, Swartz said public service is important for her: she spent eight years in the U.S. Army—half as a firefighter, the other half as a nurse—and she continued her nursing career for more than a decade, including work at Norton Sound Regional Hospital. Now working at Nome’s Animal House pet care facility, she says her time as a nurse has made public safety a priority.

“Changes I would like to see [in Nome] are increases in public safety, in regards to a more efficient police department,” Swartz said, when asked about her priorities for the city should she win the election. “Maybe more officers, and better funding for the training that they need.

“I’ve been a nurse in the community for several years, and I see a lot of problems with substance abuse and with alcoholism, and if we have more increased police force, we can get some help with that,” she added.

While he said substance abuse is an important issue to his outlook on the city, fellow Seat D candidate Chuck Wheeler said he’s more focused on city administration and the port. Born in Nome after World War II, Wheeler moved to Tanana for grade school and Mt. Edgecumbe for high school. He studied engineering at the University of Alaska-Fairbanks before joining the military. He spent a career in the aviation industry for now-defunct Munz Northern. Wheeler said a key issue for him is Nome’s port, specifically, reigning in what he sees as misguided efforts to expanded it.

“We don’t have a port,” Wheeler states. “We’ve got a small boat harbor. It’ll never be, in my opinion, a deep water port. Although the feds seem to think so, and the [Mayor Denise Michel’s] administration.”

Wheeler said the obstacles to Nome’s port are many. “There’ll never be a major fuel transfer facility here because you can’t get it any cheaper than you can in Dutch Harbor. The proposed cost is in excess of $150 million, that the City of Nome will have to come up with. We can’t afford it, they’re not going to come here if it’s built anyway. No, the Seward Peninsula, as far as infrastructure and getting stuff in and out, the way to do it is either Port Clarence [near Teller and Brevig Mission] or Cape Blossom [near Kotzebue].”

Seat D incumbent Stan Andersen sees the port differently. The son for a past Nome mayor, Andersen first sat on the council in the 1970s. He moved over to the utility board in the early 80s, and returned to the city council in 1988. He says the port’s expansion in the 80s was an achievement the city should be proud of, and he said expanding it further will be key to Nome’s future.

But Andersen believes the millions of dollars needed for that expansion will require partnerships, both federal and private.

“My thoughts are getting the feds to come up with more money, wherever it comes from, but also privatizing the causeway. So, private enterprise can pick up our share, we’ll still have control of the inner harbor, but having somebody else run the outer causeway. And that relieves the citizens of Nome of bonding for millions of dollars.”

It’ll take a worldwide effort, Andersen concluded. “It’s going to be servicing international people, so I think international people ought to step up and put some money up.”

Local elections happen statewide on Tuesday, Oct. 6.