I’m not enjoying writing this in mid-November, in advance of events I expect to occur prior to my posting it, but I’m not sure I can avoid writing it, either. When I do publish this it will be on the heels of an announcement that Governor Sheffield is no longer Director of the Port of Anchorage, perhaps assuming a post like congressional liaison, but resigned from the post he’s held since the Wuerch administration.
(December update: I am told Sheffield will announce his resignation at a fundraiser he is hosting for the mayor on December 28. I won’t be there to see it – I wasn’t invited – but I’ll publish this shortly thereafter on the presumption my information is correct.)
But let’s back up a bit. Regular readers know that the port expansion project is rife with problems, many of which were uncovered during my tenure as chair of the Assembly’s ad hoc Port Committee. Following the axiom that success has a thousand fathers while failure is an orphan, blame has been cast in dozens of directions without anyone truly willing to shoulder it. Nonetheless a consensus emerged that Governor Sheffield has/had sufficient responsibility that he should be replaced. And while the mayor continued to publicly defend Sheffield, his continued support actually precipitated the end of Sheffield’s tenure.
To be clear, I have a lot of respect for Governor Sheffield. I’ve known him most of my life and he’s often been kind to me (not recently, of course, but that’s to be expected). He’s a guy who could’ve spent the last 20 years living a life of leisure but that’s not in his DNA – instead he kept pushing to improve his adopted state. Many of my former railroad colleagues gave him credit for saving the Alaska Railroad by helping it access federal funds to rehabilitate infrastructure on the verge of collapse. That’s a sentiment I share, though it still rankles some legislators who would prefer the railroad be dependent on state capital dollars and adopt the sense of fealty they prefer.
But despite his political acumen, and a lifetime of cultivating loyalty on a variety of levels, when Sheffield convinced the mayor to include a request of $350M in capital budget dollars for the Port in the city’s legislative program decision-makers across the political spectrum reacted with the same sentiment – that ask could not pass the red-face test unless there were changes to the Port’s management team.
What followed was almost comedic. The quiet outcry led to threats from Sheffield acolytes that legislators would punish the city if he lost his job. Meanwhile the mayor, ever-sensitive to the perception that anyone but he be managing his administration, dug in his heels and continued to publicly protect Sheffield. (Though when Sheffield was not present for a work session on the legislative program it was clear his days were numbered.) Even when he came to the conclusion that Sheffield needed to go the mayor demanded that certain people (like yours truly) not be informed, lest the information leak. (I knew anyway, but kept quiet out of respect for Governor Sheffield.) And all of this was exacerbated when a Democratic legislator publicly called into question whether the project was truly being scaled back. Ain’t no way in heck a partisan like the mayor will ever allow an opposing partisan to appear to be influencing his decisions.
So here we are – no one admits defeat, no one accepts blame and we press forward trying to ensure a vital piece of Alaska’s infrastructure, Anchorage’s port, remains viable. What saddens me about this is that it didn’t have to be this way. We could’ve embarked upon a more modest project, we could’ve saved taxpayer dollars and we could’ve better preserved the reputation of a man who’s given a lot to our state.
That’s something to think about when contemplating the Next Big Project.
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