Petersburg’s Municipal Election is on the horizon, and four candidates are running for two seats in the Borough Assembly. In August, Assembly Member Jeff Meucci announced his intent to run for reelection. The three remaining candidates are Jeigh Stanton Gregor, Rob Schwartz, and Rick Perkins.
KFSK’s Shelby Herbert spoke to new candidate Rob Schwartz and returning candidate Jeigh Stanton Gregor about their respective visions for the assembly.
Both Jeigh Stanton Gregor and Rob Schwartz say they’re reluctant candidates for the highest office on the ballot this October. Stanton Gregor lost his assembly seat last year, and he says he was still licking his wounds when people in the community started asking him to run again.
“I got asked that a lot over the course of the last year,” said Stanton Gregor. “And when people would ask me that in November and December, I’d get a little salty with them. I’m like — it’s just ended, you want to give me a bit of space here?”
Eventually, his supporters wore him down.
“I took it as an honor people wanted me — lots of folks reached out,” said Stanton Gregor. “We’d been down in Montana visiting some family here over the last three weeks. And on Saturday when we got back on the Milk Run, I saw a whole bunch of texts, because the filing deadline was on Tuesday. In the end, I decided: ‘Might as well.'”
Stanton Gregor says the other primary motivating factor is his desire to maintain the quality of life for families in Petersburg.
“I feel very lucky that my kids can go to school here. And I think my role on the assembly helps give a voice to a lot of families who also care deeply about the education of our children and the importance of good healthcare.
Rob Schwartz says he doesn’t feel naturally inclined to politics — but he has his finger on the community’s pulse. He says he’s stepping up on behalf of all the folks he runs into as he goes about his daily business.
“[They] ask me, ‘How’re you gonna run a campaign?'” said Schwartz. “I said: ‘What’re you talking about? We’ll go through my day and it’s a campaign. I’m going into NAPA, I’m talking to fishermen on A, B, C, D float — people are asking me questions. I think there’s a segment of people in town that have a lot of questions. There’s a feeling among people that are talking to me that… Are they being listened to? Or are they being heard?”
Some of those questions he hears are about Petersburg’s infrastructure.
“They had some concerns about our sewer or water, and so forth,” said Schwartz. “When you’re looking at the wants and the needs — that we have a strong hospital, strong medical care, schools, the infrastructure of our town. Can we budget that out? Can we look at the budget really closely? And people want input on that.”
One big budgeting question ahead of the assembly is how the Borough should support the school district.
This summer, the Borough increased its funding to local schools for the first time in 20 years. This followed line-item budget cuts from the state, which administrators say threatened their ability to operate normally.
Schwartz coached wrestling and taught social studies for decades in the Petersburg School District. He doesn’t have a definitive solution to its financial woes, but he says he wants to keep the line of communication with school administrators open.
“People are moving in here from the Lower 48 because they want to get away from chaos,” said Schwartz. “I’ve talked to a lot of them, and one of the things that will be attractive to them about Petersburg is the school system. So, how do we fund the schools? And then who budgets that out?”
Stanton Gregor stood fast in his support for helping to fund the school district.
“We’ve had such a great local public school district for so many years, and being able to really fund it the way it needs to be funded [so we can] have generations of well-educated kids in our community,” said Stanton Gregor.
Stanton Gregor also made clear his support of the Borough’s controversial project to build a new hospital. According to Petersburg Medical Center CEO Phil Hofstetter, the old one is quickly falling out of code.
“I strongly support what Phil Hofstetter and the hospital board and the assembly had been doing in terms of moving that forward,” said Stanton Gregor. “Because without a fully functional hospital, we don’t have a fully functional community.”
Schwartz is more skeptical of the project, and of the hospital’s communication with the rest of the Borough. He says he feels like trust was broken during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Why can’t we have an open forum about that and ask about it?” asked Schwartz. “[They say] ‘Well, the meetings are open.’ Well, they weren’t for a while under COVID. You know, and eventually people kind of shrug, but there’s a lot of questions I think could be clarified. With a schedule where people are in town and not out fishing, it might help build some trust. You know, if they look up and what do you mean $100 million — maybe more?”
The latest estimate for the new hospital is $85 million, which would be paid for by government grants. Schwartz says he wants to build bridges and promote transparency.
“I think with some respectful and open communication, people won’t think that it’s a smoke-and-mirrors deal,” said Schwartz.
He says, part of that could look like scheduling important informational meetings and elections around the fishing season — keeping fishermen more involved in the conversation.
“They’ve hired a guy to build a new hospital… What?! Well, I’ve been fishing six, seven, or eight months, you know,” said Schwartz. “Holy smokes. Can we have any input on this? Right? And what’s wrong with our other hospital? Well, they say it’s broken down and the repairs would be too much. What?! Who made that decision?”
Stanton Gregor also wants to use his voice in the assembly to support the local fishing industry, which took a big hit this year with low prices, and a lawsuit that almost stopped the troll fishing season.
“The fishing industry is the economic engine of our community,” said Stanton Gregor. “As always, I want to support that any way we can as an assembly. Obviously, I’m bummed that fishing prices have been so low for jumps here towards the end. And amongst other things, the struggles of the fishing industry.”
You can hear both of these candidates answer community questions at the Borough Assembly candidate forum on Thursday, September 21st. Rick Perkins is also running for Borough Assembly, and he declined to be interviewed.