New JACC newspaper ad sets off debate over campaign messaging days before Juneau election

An ad that ran in the Juneau Empire on Sunday, Sept. 29, 2019 lists names of people and organizations who apparently signed a statement of support or contributed money to the The Partnership for a New JACC. (Photo by Adelyn Baxter/KTOO)
An advertisement that ran in the Juneau Empire on Sunday, Sept. 29, 2019, lists names of people and organizations who apparently signed a statement of support or contributed money to the New JACC Partnership. (Photo by Adelyn Baxter/KTOO)

Some Juneau residents were surprised to find their names included in an advertisement that ran in the Juneau Empire on Sunday, just two days before the city’s municipal election.

While the sponsors say the ad wasn’t intended to be political, those upset by it feel the ad implied their support for a contentious ballot proposition.

The full-page ad thanking businesses, organizations and individuals who support the initiative to build a new Juneau Arts and Culture Center features hundreds of names in tiny print, set around an image of the new building’s design.

But some Juneau residents were surprised to see their own names or those of their family members on the list, implying that they support Ballot Proposition 3, which asks voters to approve a city grant for the project.

Nancy DeCherney is the executive director of the Juneau Arts and Humanities Council. She said the names came from donors to the project and a petition that has been circulating for years.

“We were trying to show that we were working in good faith on behalf of many, many people in our community,” DeCherney said. “These people did either sign or give money, so that’s where that came from.”

In some cases, the signatures came from so long ago that people didn’t remember signing a statement in support of a new JACC. DeCherney said she apologizes to anyone who was upset about finding their name in the ad.

Although the ad made no explicit mention of Proposition 3, another ad on the previous page in Sunday’s Empire urged voters to vote “yes” on that question.

The ads have a similar color scheme and were both sponsored by the New JACC Partnership, a nonprofit group that has been fundraising for the project for years. DeCherney also serves as secretary for the group.

“Our intention is to get a building built for the community, and it has been heartwarming, up until the last month or so, to see the enthusiastic support from so many people,” she said.

Anyone concerned about having their name included can call the Juneau Arts and Humanities Council to request that it be removed from the New JACC website, which also has a list of names included in the printed ad.

But some of the names used belong to people who have died.

“People who were deceased are not going to call, obviously. But their relatives were pretty upset,” said Rosemary Hagevig. Her name did not appear in the ad, which makes sense since she’s been an outspoken opponent of Proposition 3.

She called the ad “an unfortunate political mistake.” It’s not clear if it violates any state election rules.

DeCherney said the ad was not meant to be political, but Hagevig said it looks a lot like political advertising to her.

“Why would you buy a full-page ad just to say thank you to people, two days before the election? That doesn’t make sense,” Hagevig said.

The ballot measure has been widely debated online and offline. More than a dozen op-eds urging voters to vote in favor or against Proposition 3 have run in the Empire in the past month.

The measure would redirect $4.5 million in sales tax revenue previously earmarked for renovations to Centennial Hall. Supporters say it would encourage more private investment in the New JACC.

But the ballot language specifies that the money will not be released to the New JACC until the New JACC Partnership has raised 90% of its $26.4 million goal.

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