Fred Sturman hurriedly shuffled across the foyer of the Peninsula Center Mall.
“’Scuse me Ma’am, I’m Fred Sturman and I’m running for the borough mayor,” he says confidently.
He reaches into his back pocket and hands the woman a brochure and they exchange pleasantries. She pauses for a moment after the two finish, flips over the brochure, smiles and continues on her way.
For Sturman, the interaction isn’t anything new. For months, he has traveled all over the borough meeting and speaking with residents in hopes they will trust him — a never-elected Soldotna businessman with a passion for conservative government — to run the Kenai Peninsula Borough.
“Well, I’m not perfect,” he tells a couple a few minutes later. “You’re not going to agree with everything that I do. But the things that we do agree on, we work on. The things we disagree on, let’s you get on your side, I’ll get on my side and when we are all done, we will take each other out for a cup of coffee and we will pick up the rope and we’ll pull it in that direction.”
Sturman, who many considered a dark horse candidate, said even he was surprised by the results of the Oct. 4 election that placed him in a runoff election with former borough mayor and state legislator Mike Navarre.
He said he thinks borough residents are ready for a change.
He contends the key to his success so far — which landed him more votes than the other four candidates besides Navarre — has been interacting with residents on a personal level.
“I pulled through the way here and pulled up to the window there,” he said pointing to a coffee shop on the side of Kalifornsky Beach Road, “and said, ‘Hey I am Fred Sturman and I am running for borough mayor, I’d appreciate your vote, would you help me?’”
Sturman doesn’t want to take up all their time, but often he is surprised by the result of his daily efforts, he said.
“I’ve stood in some businesses for two hours listening to them to talk,” he said. “We are only looking at one vote, you know what I mean, but ... I don’t think it is one vote. It could be 50 votes and it could be no vote if you don’t make the guy happy, but I am going to spend the time that I need to.”
The silver-haired man with thick glasses has been a regular presence at borough meetings for years, often testifying on financial and policy matters. He ran unsuccessfully for the position several years ago, but, he said he hasn’t always been so politically outspoken.
“Basically the working people don’t have time to get involved in government,” he said.
But, something changed after getting a glimpse at his tax bill — it “started getting bigger and bigger,” he said with a groan.
“I wouldn’t spend my money that way, so I need to stop the government from spending my money the way I wouldn’t spend it,” he said.
Sitting in his truck — the one with two giant signs affixed to the back reading “Putting people before politics” — Sturman reminisced on the way the area used to be. He’s seen a lot of changes in the area in 46 years, he contends.
“Right here where you are sitting, I used to live on Redoubt right straight up on here and this used to be big tall nice willows ... and I shot a moose right here,” he said.
He used to know all of the “old timers” and homesteaders who worked with “their hands and sweat.” He never locked his front door and has had the same post office box and phone number, too, for decades.
“I knew those people that sweated and worked their buns off for basically nothing and now we have people moving in that want stuff more or less, ‘Gimme, gimme, gimme,’” he said readjusting his ball cap with a pro-Fred message on it. “Most of those people there, if you would have talked to them and said, ‘Here’s you some Welfare checks, and here’s you some of this,’ them people would have been shocked and I want to see the opportunities for the people here to live and all that that. The homesteading, those people are not going to be here, but we need to remember them people and we need to keep this place so the younger people can live here and work here.”
Sturman has six grandchildren — three of whom are adopted from China, he said.
“Wonderful, wonderful kids,” he said. “I have enjoyed the heck out of them.”
He and his wife had three children, but one was killed in an accident. He has started and been involved with several businesses including a fish company, ATM machine operation, movie making and financing, and various forms of construction.
At 73 years old, Sturman said he doesn’t feel his age is a hindrance. He cites his ability to continue commercial fishing.
“I still have a lot of ambitions,” he said. “For an example, I was up at 6 this morning, got dressed, checked the stock market and a few things that I usually do. I was at the coffee shop at 7:15 talking with people and visiting with people.”
Even though he acknowledges his lack of higher education, he cites his experience in learning other life lessons.
“I have paid a lot more for my education than if I would have gone to college because I have made some mistakes and they have been kind of costly,” he said, noting those are the mistakes “you only make once.”
However, he admits he is likely “not the smartest guy in the world.”
“I know that,” he said quickly. “I know my weaknesses and my weaknesses I have got over the years, I have always found someone that’s really strong in that field, hired them and I went and took care of my strengths.”
“Yes, I am a little dyslexic. I don’t read, nor spell very well. But, I got a heck of a memory. I remember all the numbers and stuff. I think I am as capable as anybody with numbers and percentages.”
He is a charitable man with a big heart and a bigger smile. He’s attended several fundraising spaghetti dinners and purchased hotel rooms for homeless residents from time to time.
“If you will show me a person that is hungry and needs something bad, I am more than willing to help that person,” he said.
“But, I just as soon rather keep it more what I want to give, whenever I want to give it,” he said.
He contends he wouldn’t be a micro-manager if hired for the job, rather he’d be a sort of proactive problem solver.
“Whenever I am borough mayor, I am not going to be the guy that sits up there in the office all day long,” he said.
“I am going to set up appointments in Seward and Homer and I want to talk to people and see what the problems is. You can’t solve a problem if you don’t know what the problems are.”
After shaking a few more hands at the mall, Sturman strikes up a conversation with a resident about the economy and business. Both seem pleased with each others’s comments and Fred offers his hand for a parting shake.
“What are you going to do when they start calling you Mayor Sturman?” the resident asked with a laugh.
“Oh, well, I say, ‘What’s wrong with just Fred, you know?’” he said with a laugh.
Brian Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.