In Historic First, Half Of Bethel City Council Candidates Are Women

Sep 10, 2019

Three out of the six candidates running for Bethel City Council this year are women.
Credit Greg Kim / KYUK

Three out of the six candidates running for Bethel City Council this year are women. That’s the second time since at least 2006 that three women have run, and the first time that half the candidates have been female. KYUK’s Greg Kim asked some former council members what they thought about that.

Mary Peltola served on Bethel City Council from 2011 to 2012. She says that she can’t remember a time when half the candidates were women. 

“And they’ve done studies nationwide that show the same percentage of women who run, win. There are just a lot fewer candidates who are women,” Peltola said.

Some people called 2018 another “year of the woman” in national politics, and Peltola says that movement could be making its way into Bethel.

“You do see a lot of the national trends playing out in rural America, and across Alaska as well,” Peltola said.

Another former council member, Bev Hoffman, called the increase in female candidates a progression.

“We have stronger voices today because of women yesterday,” Hoffman said.

Hoffman says that it’s a good thing more women are running. She doesn’t want to paint an entire gender with giant brushstrokes, but she suggested women bring a sensitivity that men sometimes don’t. 

“As a woman you are maybe more emotional, hello, okay, I’ll say that,” Hoffman said.

Peltola illustrated this with an example. When she was on council, she served alongside her husband, Gene Peltola Jr.

“What was funny to us was that very rarely would we approach the same issue the same way,” Peltola said.

She said that was most evident when they evaluated the performance of city staff.

“He was very, ticking things off of a paper and giving, I think, much more accurate evaluations, versus mine where I was much more concerned about this person’s feelings,” Peltola said. “But I still don’t think that being kind is in any way a disservice.”

Peltola says that aside from the perspectives women bring to the table, there’s the simple matter of fair representation. 

“Half of the population is women; I definitely think half of the people in public service should be women,” Peltola said.

But not everyone thinks gender balance on the city council is the most important thing. A former mayor of Bethel, Agnes Phillips, says that there are other important aspects to consider when voting.

“I’m voting on the issues and not just the gender,” Phillips said. “I think it’s based on whether they listen to the people, and whether they’re voting on important issues the way we want them to be.” 

She also said that if it’s a matter of fair representation, the city should strive to have more Yup’ik people on council.

“I know that four or five of them were Native at one time, and that number has dwindled,” Phillips said

Bev Hoffman agrees with Phillips’ first point. 

“It shouldn’t be about male, female, Native, non-Native,” Hoffman said. “It should be about people working hard together to make Bethel a better place.”

All three former council members are glad that there are six candidates running for the four open seats on Bethel City Council this year. Voters will choose who they think will best lead Bethel’s local government on October 1.