Dunbar: Anchorage should be made friendlier to rural Alaskans

Cordova-raised Anchorage Assembly member now running for mayor

Anchorage Municipal Assembly member Forrest Dunbar addresses constituents. Oct. 6, Dunbar became the first candidate to register for the 2021 Anchorage mayoral election. Photo courtesy of Joshua Corbett
Anchorage Municipal Assembly member Forrest Dunbar addresses constituents. Oct. 6, Dunbar became the first candidate to register for the 2021 Anchorage mayoral election. Photo courtesy of Joshua Corbett

If elected, Anchorage mayoral candidate Forrest Dunbar would establish a “rural coordinator” to make the city more accessible to rural Alaskans, he says.

The 35-year-old Anchorage Municipal Assembly member became the first candidate to register for the 2021 mayoral election when filed Oct. 6. Though Dunbar’s résumé is replete with Ivy-League bona fides, he often reminds constituents of his rural Alaska origins. Dunbar lived in Cordova from 1991-2002, working on fishing boats, in local canneries and at The Cordova Times as a paper delivery boy. Before Cordova, Dunbar resided in Eagle, a Yukon River community with a population of 83.

Now, Dunbar has put himself forward as a candidate to bridge the divide between city and countryside.

“I became the person I am in Cordova,” Dunbar said. “There’s no question that that perspective that I gained growing up in rural Alaska has helped shape my worldview… But it does go both ways. I think it’s really unfortunate when you hear people from rural Alaska say, ‘Anchorage is a nice city; it’s very close to Alaska,’ and things like that. That’s nonsense. Anchorage is Alaska too… I want to work to heal that divide a little bit, and to make it so people understand that we’re all Alaskans and we’re in this together.”

Dunbar says he would select an Anchorage resident with experience living in rural Alaska to fill the post of rural coordinator. The rural coordinator would be in charge of reforms such as improving signage in Anchorage’s downtown, along parks and trails and near Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport.

“Some of my friends who come to Anchorage find it to be a confusing place to get around, and not a very welcoming place,” Dunbar said. “I hear people from rural Alaska talk about how they don’t like to come to Anchorage because they don’t feel safe. Improving public safety in Anchorage would benefit both the people of Anchorage and people from rural Alaska coming in to Anchorage. You should be able to know when you come here that the Anchorage Police Department will be respectful, will be knowledgeable… and, also, will be able to answer basic questions about the city.”


As an assembly member, Dunbar has also prioritized developing the Anchorage Police Department. In 2018, Dunbar worked with Mayor Ethan Berkowitz to expand the department and to move its headquarters into a larger facility.

A supporter of the campaign to recall Gov. Mike Dunleavy, Dunbar says that Dunleavy’s cuts to the Alaska Marine Highway System have harmed the interests of urban as well as rural Alaskans. Long-term ferry service outages will also deprive Anchorage businesses of revenue from visiting shoppers, Dunbar pointed out.

“Getting rid of critical infrastructure like the marine highway system is just shooting yourself in the foot,” Dunbar said. “We sink a ton of money into our roads and highways around the state and, if we were to just close one of those highways, people at the end of that road would understandably be furious. People won’t stand for it, and they shouldn’t stand for it.”

Despite his withering criticism of Dunleavy’s budget cuts — criticism that Dunbar himself describes as “strident” — Dunbar has not styled himself as a political pugilist. His most touted achievements are in uncontentious areas like infrastructure, traffic safety and snow removal, and he carefully points out that several Republican legislators share his dissatisfaction with Dunleavy.

As well as serving in the Anchorage Municipal Assembly, Dunbar works part-time as a corporate attorney, and serves as a judge advocate and captain in the Alaska Army National Guard. He previously served as vice president of Scenic Foothills Community Council in the southern part of Anchorage’s Muldoon neighborhood, and co-founded the Muldoon Farmers Market.

In 2014, Dunbar challenged Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, to represent the state’s at-large congressional district. Dunbar lost to Young by 10 percentage points. In 2016, Dunbar was elected to Anchorage Municipal Assembly Seat H, serving East Anchorage, defeating Terre Gales by 24 percentage points. Dunbar was reelected to the assembly in 2019, running unopposed.

Dunbar is unique among the assembly for his social media savvy, using Twitter to mix updates on municipal business with snapshots from the Muldoon Farmers Market and lighthearted musings on pop culture.

“Anchorage is my home now, probably for the rest of my life, but Cordova will always have a special place in my heart and in my family’s history,” Dunbar said.