Three candidates tossed their collective hats into the ring at the last minute to make the number of people seeking the mayor's position in Soldotna five.
Kristin Lambert, John L. Smallwood and Michael E. Beals all signed up to run for mayor just before the 5 p.m. Friday deadline. They will join current Soldotna City Council member David Carey and former mayor and council member A. Kearlee Wright on the ballot.
In a race where some candidates have spent nearly 50 years in Soldotna, Beals is a relative newcomer, buying property downtown four years ago where he and his wife, Michelle, built Timber Wolf Lodge.
"I've always wanted to go to Alaska. ... (A)fter many, many years in the high-tech business, I pulled out a map and asked the family where they wanted to go on vacation," he said.
Later he returned to Soldotna to buy the land.
Beals is from Austin, Texas, where he was a vice president of marketing and sales for a company that designs microprocessors. He is a golf buddy of country music singer Willie Nelson.
Beals said he waited until the 12th hour to register for the mayoral race.
"I looked at the candidates who were running and felt I could bring a bit more structure," he said. "If I felt any of the other candidates were more qualified than me, I wouldn't run."
Beals has several planks in his platform.
"If I'm elected, I'm quite sure the first thing I would do is bring light industry to Soldotna," he said.
Though he's never held public office, Beals said that administratively, the job of mayor is one he can handle based on his past experience.
"What I'd like to do is get the voice of the people before the council. I'd like to work with the council and bring back more of a small town feeling -- with a bit of growth behind it. I never want to lose that small town feeling. That's why we live here."
He's quick to add that he is not in favor of the status quo.
"Soldotna has some of the greatest resources in the world, and we can bring a lot more charm and beauty and a lot more attractions to Soldotna with a little more effort," he said. "Take a look at any vacation-driven community, and you'll find that what they've done is try to keep a small-town feel with a lot of charm."
Lambert is the executive director of the Central Area Rural Transit System and a three-time Soldotna council member between 1980 and 1990. She also served on the Alaska Municipal League board for two terms, the Kenai Peninsula Economic Development District board for two years, and a combined four years on the Cooper Landing and Soldotna school advisory boards.
Lambert moved to Soldotna in 1954 when her parents, Loren and Terry Heath, homesteaded there. She graduated from Kenai Central High School in 1964. Her three grown children all graduated from Soldotna High School.
She said now is the time for Soldotna to have strong leadership, and her years on the council, being involved with almost every major construction project the city has undertaken, will serve her and the city well.
"My experience in elected office and my historical memory of events that happened in Soldotna and how we got where we are," will be valuable, she said. "I'm running partly because I did not run for mayor in the past, (since) I felt I needed to acquire more maturity and strength. I'm ready now."
While she's happy it will be a short campaign -- the election is on Feb. 27 -- she said public memory is short.
"A lot of people won't remember me and what I do and what kind of politician I'm like," she said. "So my job in the campaign is to get the word out."
The winner of the election must have 40 percent of the vote, but Lambert predicted that with five candidates slicing up the ballot pie, there could very well be a runoff election. Barring one, the new mayor will be sworn in March 14.
Smallwood was unavailable to comment for this story, but he is not a stranger to city politics.
Smallwood has butted heads with city officials in the past over the city's firearm policy in city parks.
City Manager Tom Boedeker instituted a ban this summer on firearms, something Smallwood described as unconstitutional.
"The city has no business telling citizens they can't carry guns when they are involved in legal activities. The signs are illegal because there's no ordinance behind them," Smallwood told the council at a meeting in late October.
"The city is guilty of a Class A misdemeanor for depriving others of their constitutional rights."
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