One Juneau candidate for local office appears to have fundraised more than all others combined

Voters stand in line at the Mendenhall Valley Public Library on election day, Tuesday, October 6, 2020. There are 14 candidates for Juneau Assembly and the Juneau Board of Education in the 2021 municipal election. Mayor Beth Weldon is up for re-election and running unopposed. (Photo by Rashah McChesney/KTOO)

Of the 14 candidates for seats on the Juneau Assembly and Board of Education this year, one person has a remarkable lead in fundraising. According to campaign finance filings, this candidate appears to have raised more money than all of the other local candidates combined.

Barbara Wáahlaal Gíidaak Blake
Barbara Wáahlaal Gíidaak Blake is a candidate for a District 1 seat on the City and Borough of Juneau Assembly. (Photo by Brian Hild/Courtesy of Barbara Blake campaign)

Juneau Assembly candidate Barbara ‘Wáahlaal Gíidaak Blake has raised just shy of $25,000, according to her Sept. 7 campaign finance report.

About half comes from Alaskans who don’t live in Juneau. It includes current and former state legislators, Alaska Natives leaders, Anchorage Assembly members and a lot of former coworkers from her time in Gov. Bill Walker’s administration. Walker donated, too.

Blake said she is blessed to have a strong network. She said Walker held a fundraiser for her over Zoom early on.

“We had over 40 people show up to that fundraiser, and every single one of them, they essentially just went around the room and just talked about how much they appreciated me and believed in me. I was crying like a baby through the whole process because I was just — I was overwhelmed. … It was a beautiful moment,” she said.

The scale of her campaign finances is more typical of a competitive statehouse race than for Juneau Assembly.

“You know, traditionally BIPOC people don’t raise as much as white people do in these races. And then my numbers just went through the roof. And I was like, ‘Well, you know, maybe I’m just an exception,’” she said with a chuckle.

Blake is Haida, Lingít and Ahtna Athabascan.

A lot of the money is going toward campaign signs. She said they’ve been popular, she thinks in part because of the attractive design by local artist Ricky Tagaban.

“So many people are like, ‘I want a sign! I want a sign!’ So many people want the giant signs, and like, those are crazy expensive! … They’re almost $400 a sign. … I’m sure I could have gotten it cheaper but I really wanted to support Juneau business and those are printed here in Juneau.”

Blake has two opponents in the District 1 Assembly race: Paul Kelly and Troy Wuyts-Smith.

Kelly said Blake’s campaign cash gives her advantages with staff, signs and last-minute outreach. But Kelly said he may have made up for it by starting his campaign early, putting in time at events and pounding the pavement.

“However I’m playing the long game. I have knocked on over 1,200 doors so far and I continue to knock on doors,” Kelly said. “I think it’s anyone’s guess as to whether that gives her an advantage overall.”

Kelly’s campaign had raised nearly $10,000 as of Sept. 7.

Troy Wuyts-Smith is mostly self-funding his campaign. He said it’s been difficult to build a team as a relative newcomer to Juneau and with a campaign focused on mental health issues. He said that without the previous government experience that Blake and Kelly have, people may think he’s unqualified.

“That’s not the case at all. I mean, you’ve seen this all around the country of Ilhan Omar, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez — it’s not about who has the most experience … or the — whatever you deem are the best qualifications. It’s about who has a great voice, who can listen to the people and, you know, push Juneau in a forward direction,” Wuyts-Smith said.

Many candidates for local office never intend to raise or spend more than $5,000 combined. State law says, if you stay under that threshold, just file a letter saying so and you’re mostly finished with disclosures for the season.

In the Juneau Assembly District 2 race, incumbent Michelle Hale opted to do that. Her opponent for the District 2 seat is Kelly Fishler, who raised about $4,800 as of Sept. 7.

And incumbent Mayor Beth Weldon is unopposed. Her campaign only reported $714 of activity as of Sept. 7.

Of the eight candidates for Juneau Board of Education, all but one opted to stay below the $5,000 threshold. Wiljordan V. Sangster is the exception. Sangster is past due to file paperwork with the Alaska Public Offices Commission, the state agency that serves as the clearinghouse for campaign finances. Sangster did not respond to requests for comment and may be subject to fines.

Juneau’s local election is being held by mail. Ballots should have arrived in local mailboxes last week. Ballots must be dropped off or postmarked no later than Oct. 5. Ballots are also available in person at city vote centers through Oct. 5.

Disclosure: Two members of KTOO’s board of directors are among Barbara ‘Wáahlaal Gíidaak Blake’s campaign donors. The board isn’t involved in daily newsroom decisions. 

Jeremy Hsieh

Local News Reporter, KTOO

I dig into questions about the forces and institutions that shape Juneau, big and small, delightful and outrageous. What stirs you up about how Juneau is built and how the city works?

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