Here’s the quote that seems to have caught a lot of people’s attention. Mayor Sullivan uttered it concerning the gentleman sitting on the sidewalk across from city hall protesting the mayor’s actions regarding our homeless population. “ ‘I try to limit my discussion with first-degree sex offenders,’ he told reporters. Sullivan said the man would have to ‘clean up and make himself presentable as a good self-worthy human being would do,’ as well as filling out a form in the mayor’s office if he wants to have a legitimate meeting.” Wow. I mean, I get the sex offender part. But that crack about self-worthy?
It caused me to flash back to one of my earlier memories of life in Alaska. It was the late 1970s and I was on a Wien plane from Barrow to Anchorage with the head of the North Slope Borough’s health board, an amazing lady named Mary Edwardsen. As always, the flight stopped to pick people up in Fairbanks.
When the flight resumed, I noticed a man making his way to the bathroom. As he walked down the aisle he greeted people in just about every row. Since this flight had stopped in Prudhoe Bay prior to Barrow, I assumed the man was one of the pipeline workers on his way out to R&R. He looked familiar, though, and I kept wondering if I’d met him through my work with the borough health department, especially when I noticed he stopped to chat with Mary who was sitting a few rows ahead of me.
The plane arrived in Anchorage and this gentleman stood in line with the rest of us to pick up his baggage and carry it out to the curb. As he passed us, I nudged Mary and asked her who he was and why did he look so familiar. She smiled and allowed as how that was Governor Hammond.
That’s how I think about Alaskan politicians – accessible to everyone and not too good for anyone. Mayor Sullivan seems to want to break that mold by introducing a sense of elitism into our elected officials that I find disturbing. After all, Alaska is a wide and diverse state in which not everyone has access to running water and flush toilets, clean clothes and store bought food. So some Alaskans might just be a tad messier than others. I’ve always reveled in the idea that we are not only this diverse but embrace the diversity that includes people from every walk of life, every income level, every social stratum. I love that I can go to a statewide awards banquet for Alaska media and find people dressed in everything from long gowns to Carharts. That, to me, is the essence of this state.
So for Mayor Sullivan to claim that someone has to meet some sort of “self-worthy” standard in order to have the honor of being in his presences is more than a little disturbing. I mean, exactly who gets to decide what constitutes “self-worthy”? Is it the smell that bothers the mayor? Then he’d better never go into bush Alaska because showers there tend to be few and far between and the aroma of some traditional foods might indicate to him that these people are not “self-worthy”. Is it that the guy is a sex offender? Every day both government and private sector workers are required to deal with all kinds of people in a civil, polite and respectful manner. Apparently, though, when you get to the top, that civility is replaced by what can only be called elitism at the thought that a commoner feels he has the right to address his government.
So much for that trite old poem on the Statue of Liberty about bringing the tired, the poor, the huddled masses to our shores. So much for the miracle of the loaves and fishes, which was apparently done without the requirement of showing evidence of being self-worthy before being fed. So much for Christ washing the feet of the poor without the poor first having to get a permit and a bath.
Can you imagine those words coming out of Wally Hickel’s mouth? Jay Hammond? Arliss Sturgulewski? Tony Knowles? I can’t. And I hope we never hear them coming out of the mouth of an Alaskan politician again.