Interview #13: Anchorage, AK Assembly Chair Elvi Gray-Jackson (with podcast)

Big news! For the first time, you can now listen to a City Council Chronicles interview in podcast form. Follow this link to City Council Chronicles on iTunes or click play:

It’s a very special interview, in which we travel way, way up to Anchorage and talk to the chair of the city’s assembly, Elvi Gray-Jackson. She told me about the betting pool she runs on the council and how she cold-calls audience members for the Pledge of Allegiance.

Q: How many people usually show up to the assembly meetings? And because this is Alaska, how many grizzly bears show up?

A: How many grizzly bears? You mean rude people?

Q: I didn’t know that was the euphemism. I was talking about actual grizzly bears. Either one.

A: Literal bears, no. On average we have an audience of about 100, maybe 120. For every meeting I’ll estimate what time I think we’re gonna end the meeting. There’s about six of us–when I get to the meeting tonight I’ll say, “okay, what’s your guess?” We have fun trying to guess what time the meeting’s going to end. And somebody wins.

Q: You run a betting pool for the meeting end times?

A: It’s just for fun.

Q: Who usually wins?

PA: I win a lot. Lately, some of my colleagues are getting pretty good at it. I like to make the meetings lively and fun. What I do different than what any other chair has done–usually after roll call we do the Pledge of Allegiance. And every other chair usually asks one of our colleagues to lead us. What I decided I was gonna do is, every meeting I’m going to arbitrarily pick somebody in the audience to come up to the podium and lead us. I like to engage the public.

Anchorage, AK Assembly Chair Elvi Gray-Jackson

Q: It’s Alaska, so I’m assuming people are allowed to bring guns to the assembly meetings?

A: That’s an interesting question…yes. People are allowed to bring guns.

Q: So how many guns do you have on your person while chairing the meetings?

A: I don’t have a gun. I’m terrified of guns. Dick Traini, who’s my vice chair now, when he was chair, he had the dais area bullet-proofed. And I was thankful for that.

Q: Are there some council members who are thorns in your side?

A: I’m a dolphin. Dolphins could kill sharks. Dolphins always have a dolphin expression on their face and the sharks are constantly doing things to try and change that personality. But the dolphins just maintain it and the sharks finally calm down. In that respect, there are human sharks. I don’t let people push my buttons.

Q: …That’s an analogy I have never heard from anyone else before.

A: And I have a dolphin tattoo on my left shoulder.

Q: Last September you missed an assembly meeting because you were introducing Michelle Obama at the White House. Looking back, do you regret not being there to vote on the contract for the reservoir mixer phase II upgrades?

A: Absolutely no, I don’t regret not being there. I was representing Anchorage. I plan my entire life around my assembly meetings because I don’t want to miss them. We have the opportunity to do the assembly meetings by phone. I HATE doing assembly meetings by phone because you get elected and you need to do your job.