When politicians start quoting numbers on the campaign trail, a little scrutiny should be the logical next step. Unfortunately, it is a logical next step that very often does not happen.
I try to take that rare second glance and put those words into context. So it would make sense to do some research when incumbent Mayor Dan Sullivan said, “Anchorage was just rated by Businessweek the tenth best city in America. Forbes said we were the number one city for jobs, we were voted the number one winter city in America by Livability.com.” according to an article from the KTVA Channel 11 News website.
It only took a few minutes for his statement to turn from vague to misleading. Let’s start with Businessweek.
True, Businessweek rated us #10 among large cities, but how did they judge us? Let’s look at four key categories on how they voted. The first two categories are population and violent crimes. Anchorage has roughly 290,000 people whereas the other nine Top 10 cities are averaging 501,000 people each. We sit at less than 60% of the population of these other major cities, yet our crime is nearly doubled. Anchorage recorded 878 violent crimes last year, compared to an average of only 462.5 crimes for the other nine cities. When you factor in the number of crimes per capita, on average our crime rate skyrockets to 382% above average compared to the other 9 cities. So far it doesn’t appear we are among the top cities in America.
Wait, hold on a minute?
Businessweek put stronger emphasis on parks and recreation. What about the number of acres of land per 1000 people? We come in at a staggering 1,753 acres with the next highest cities in at 77.7 acres and an overall average of merely 31.9 acres per city. That’s quite a jump in the plus column for Anchorage. We have 54.95 times or 5,495% more land per person than the other top cities. Throw in our air quality rating of 69 bettering an average of 92, from the other nine cities, by some 34% and we are back towards the top of the list.
I am disturbed by how these numbers were used. Though I do agree that Anchorage is a great place to live and should be toward the top of the list of cities in America, it seems that Mayor Sullivan is attempting to take credit where no credit is due. Anchorage will likely remain at the top of the list for air quality because we are spread out; and with the Chugach in our backyard we will always be at the top of the list for average land per person. Mr. Sullivan has no control over these two categories. Simply put, if our crime rates weren’t through the roof compared to those other top ten cities where might we rank? Better yet, how bad would Anchorage be on the list without the Chugach as our backyard?
Next let’s jump to Anchorage as the #1 Winter City by Livability.com. Once again I asked myself how we were ranked.
First, winter cities by their definition are those that have an average temperature of less than 32 F during the month of January, thereby removing all of the destinations we Alaskans visit to thaw out in the winter. Livability.com then ranks how well people embrace the cold through the number of various activities available during the winter. For those in Anchorage, the sky is the limit for winter activities. Cross country and downhill skiing, snowshoeing, dog sledding at the tracks off Tudor, ice skating on our city lakes and at Westchester Lagoon, ice climbing, ice fishing, snow machining, and even photography of the northern lights. All of these possibilities push us ahead further in their next category which is taking advantage of the weather to better our quality of life.
Winter Festivals and events are almost an everyday occurrence in Anchorage, with an abundance of options from taking in performances at the PAC to watching our Alaska Aces dominate the ECHL, to Fur Rendezvous and the Iditarod start; residents of Anchorage are rarely plagued by a lack of options on any given night during the winter months. However, what surprised me is what Livability.com said:
“Dark winter nights bring a chance to glimpse the Northern Lights – by far the city’s most impressive outdoor attraction.”
I beg to differ. What about Snow-Zilla or the ice sculptures downtown, or maybe a moose in the lobby of the hospital? Anchorage is a great city in the winter. But, yet again, there are some things not taken into consideration. Crime rates are still through the roof. Each year the bodies of homeless people are found as the snow piles melt, and bodies found floating down river as citizens are walking the trails. Once again Mayor Sullivan takes credit for the beauty of our city, shadowing the problems we hear of seemingly daily in the news.
And while the Mayor has been quick to offer criticism of former administrations, he is silent when it comes to his predecessor’s improvements – the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail, Rick Mystrom’s “City of Lights” beautification project, and Mark Begich’s various downtown improvements for pedestrian traffic. Surely those factor into the municipality’s prominent placement in these lists.
Lastly, the Mayor said, “Forbes said we were the number one city for jobs…” This took even less time to look up as Forbes ranks metropolitan areas, as well as, cities based on the number of jobs as small (less than 150,000), mid-sized (less than 450,000) and big (more than 450,000).
In 2010, only 13 of the 387 metropolises that Forbes tracked recorded growth. The numbers went up slightly in 2011.
Simply put, Anchorage is not at the top of any of these lists.
Texas ran away with these titles in all of the categories. Austin won the metropolitan as well as big city titles. El Paso took home the mid-sized city title. Finally, Fort Hood took home the title for small city. Anchorage does rank at #3 in the mid-sized list of cities (defined by Forbes as less than 450,000 jobs), but ranks overall at #22. Which is relatively impressive, but not number one by a longshot, and not consistent with the Mayor’s repeated claims. And it’s even less impressive when the ranking list shows we’ve actually dropped four slots since 2010.
When contemplating whether or not you choose to re-elect Mayor Sullivan I urge you to ask yourself this: If he takes credit for what he has no control over, masks what he has failed to do, and is able to lie to us like he has here; do you think he is the honorable choice as our Mayor?
(This is a response to a KTVA article titled “Mayor Sullivan Talks About Future of Anchorage if Reelected.”)