Meet First-Time City Council Candidate Mary ‘Beth’ Hessler
KYUK is running a series of profiles on Bethel City Council candidates ahead of the Oct. 5 election. There are six candidates running for four open seats, and each seat is for a two-year term. KYUK municipal reporter Olivia Ebertz spoke to candidate Mary “Beth” Hessler about her priorities for the city.
Although Hessler has been involved in city politics for just a few months, she’s learned a lot about the city in that time. About five months ago, she joined three committees and commissions at once after hearing that they needed volunteers. Now she sits on the port commission, the public safety commission, and the finance committee. Her interest in issues facing the city stem from her experience volunteering with those bodies.
Hessler has been influenced by two people who she describes as her local political role models: Bethel Police Chief Richard Simmons and Assistant Finance Director Xavier Mason. She said that Simmons is forward-thinking, and she hopes that by being elected to city council she can help support his department. Hessler said that she admires that Mason cleared the backlog in the finance department during his tenure in Bethel.
Hessler said that two issues she would like to see the city address are pool maintenance at the fitness center and a problem with the seawall at Brown’s Slough.
“That seawall could fall into Brown’s Slough. And to fix this would be millions of dollars, but why wait until we have to beg because of a disaster? We should at least have the integrity to be trying to do something about it,” said Hessler.
During her interview on “Coffee at KYUK,” Hessler spoke to another issue facing the city. She said that she’s not vaccinated against COVID-19, which makes her the only candidate who is unvaccinated. The city’s new COVID-19 vaccination mandate goes into effect today, Sept. 27, and requires personnel under the city manager, like employees, volunteers, and contractors, to be vaccinated. However, the new mandate doesn’t apply to council members and wouldn’t affect Hessler if she were elected. It also wouldn’t affect her membership in city committees or commissions. That’s because the city manager doesn’t supervise those bodies. Hessler said that she would attempt to overturn the mandate if she could.
“Personally, my feeling would be if I could do anything about it, I would reverse that policy. But I know that I myself can't do that. And like the Bible says, in the council of many, there is wisdom, and it takes all of us together to make decisions. But I do think that all of us, we need each other for balance. And just like I need the other side, they also need my views,” said Hessler.
Hessler has been a Bethel resident for nine years, and a Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta resident for a decade, having first lived in the lower Yukon River community of Marshall for nine months. Originally from a suburb of New York City, she comes to the region via the midwest and said that she loves the culture here. Hessler describes herself as a team player, and said that as a city council member, she would prioritize supporting Bethel’s department heads and “getting them the resources they need for success.”