Candidates face-off in Homer City Council race

Sep 28, 2020

Candidates for Homer City Council, from left, incumbent Rachel Lord, challengers George Hall and Raymond Walker, and on the screen, incumbent Caroline Venuti.
Credit KBBI

The four candidates for Homer City Council all took part in a forum Thursday night sponsored by the Homer Chamber of Commerce. It was the second time in two days that KBBI listeners heard from the incumbent candidates, Caroline Venuti and Rachel Lord, but the first opportunity to hear from challengers Raymond Walker and George Hall, who declined invitations to appear on KBBI’s The Coffee Table on Wednesday.
    Hall, a California internet entrepreneur, said he moved to Homer five years ago after visiting on vacation. He currently operates a company that broadcasts municipal meetings in several states, which he says has given him valuable insight.
    “I have been heavily involved in government broadcasting, government meetings, what's involved in getting things done at the government level, and I actually enjoy it,” Hall said. “The most important thing the thing that I think I can contribute to the city council is to put focus on things that will help with economic development.”
    Walker said he moved here about three decades ago, but spent most of that time working out of town.
    “My family and I moved here about 31 years ago. It didn't take very long for me to figure out that my rug rat kids was eating the caulking out of the windows and I couldn't make a living in Homer. So I started going away. And every time I turned around their shoe size doubled. So I had to move away. And work in the North Slope Borough work at Red Dog, work all over the state,” Walker said. “I would like to run for city council because I would like to see a balance in the city council. I believe that there's a lot of people here that have not got their voice heard and represented, and I plan to represent those people.”
    Candidates were asked a variety of questions in pairs, so not all of them got the same question. Walker and Venuti were asked about support of the police and thoughts on sanctuary cities -- relevant questions given the national debate over police brutality and immigration.
    “We just built them a new police station for crying out loud. Why wouldn't I support the police? Blue Lives Matter. As a matter of fact, All Lives Matter,” Walker said. “I am totally against sanctuary city. I think it's a bunch of hogwash. I cannot imagine why anybody would want to create a sanctuary city for illegal people.”
    “I have to say that I'm from a family of immigrants. My parents came here as Canadians. I guess I'm an immigrant,” Venuti said. “I don't see anything wrong with being a sanctuary city. And I guess it could be a circular argument. And so I'm going to just say yes, they would look into it. And if that was what the people of Homer wanted, and it was for the betterment of our community, that I would probably support it.”
    Venuti added that she can’t imagine anyone not supporting the Homer Police Department, and praised them for their work in the community, especially with youth.
    When asked about housing for Homer’s large seasonal workforce, both Hall and Walker said the solution was to pay workers more.
    “How do you create temporary housing? If you pay people enough money, they can pretty much choose where they want to live. If you don't pay them enough money, they're not gonna come here in the first place,” Hall said.
    “I've asked other people about cheaper housing rates, how we can have affordable housing, and I haven't found a contractor yet that wanted to do the work for free. And I haven't found an owner that wanted to give their land away free,” Walker said. “So I don't really know what we can do for affordable housing, other than pay them some more money.”
    Both Walker and Hall liked the idea of building a new deep-water dock at the end of the spit, as did Venuti and Lord, who works part time for the State Harbormasters Association.
    “This is a topic that's near and dear to my heart. It's part of my professional life and has been for a very long time. The harbor expansion, the large harbor expansion is a very large project. This is not a project that's city can go into a alone and it is not something that's going to happen quickly. It is something that a lot of time has gone into already, and we continue to chunk through this,” Lord said. “City of Homer has put our share away. We are ready to take this next step. We also need to make sure that the marine trades are brought alongside that the fleet is brought alongside because this is not an inexpensive project. And so to make sure everybody is, is continuing to feel like over the long haul, this is what is best for the economy of Homer, for the trades, and really for the economy of Alaska as a whole, because this really is a regional statewide project.”
    “I really do believe the need to develop a deep water dock that would accommodate large Coast Guard ships particularly continues,” Venuti said. “And we want to keep focused on the Coast Guard because they need to have adequate facilities to be housed here. And the Guard has been a very, very important part of our fishing community and our community and whole.”
    The four candidates are running at large for two open seats. The municipal election, which also features a race for mayor between incumbent Ken Castner and current Councilmember Donna Aderhold, is October 6.