Environmentalist elected mayor of oil spill town

Oct. 3, 1991
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CORDOVA, Alaska -- Final election results returned Thursday showed that an environmentalist has been elected mayor of one of the towns hardest hit by the disastrous Exxon Valdez oil spill.

Kelly Weaverling, 45, was elected mayor of this fishing town of about 2,500 people, beating four other candidates to become the first elected official of the Green Party in Alaska.

Weaverling organized the wildlife rescue after the March 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill, becoming famous in Alaska and beyond as the world's attention riveted on the plight of thousands of oil-coated birds and sea otters dying and suffering in Prince William Sound.

Newsweek magazine later declared Weaverling a hero for his wildlife rescue efforts.

Weaverling is a vocal opponent of the pending Exxon Valdez $1 billion settlement -- he thinks some of Exxon's assets should be seized to punish the oil giant for causing the nation's worst spill.

The new mayor also opposes a road to his isolated Prince William Sound town, now accessible only by ferry or airplane. He also campaigned against pro-development Gov. Walter Hickel's plan to carve a highway through the wilderness.

Clearcut logging, bankruptcy of some Cordova fish processors, the troubled salmon fishery and other economic and fishing issues also face the town and its new mayor.

But Weaverling said, 'I wouldn't call this a pro-environment vote, though I'm in the Green Party. I'm not a single-issue candidate and the Green Party is not a single-issue party. I hope it was a rational vote.'

The election was Tuesday, but Weaverling was only declared the winner after the final vote count and his victory was certified by the six- member city council that he will chair. He also will become the council's tie-breaking vote.

About 60 percent of Cordova voters cast ballots. Weaverling got 201 votes, 51 votes more than runnerup Dick Borer. Stanley Samuelson got 143 votes, incumbent Mayor Robert Van Brocklin received 127 votes and Scott Novak got 108.

Although the election was non-partisan, Weaverling has played a prominent role as leader of the newly formed Alaska Green Party.

Weaverling noted that he was a newcomer to Cordova compared to the others.

'The 'sourdough' factor definitely was against me,' he said, using the word that refers to long-time Alaskans. 'I've been in Cordova only 4 years. Most of the candidates have been here for 20 years. Even though I haven't swum the Yukon or kissed a polar bear, I have done some significant things here.'

Weaverling, who with his wife owns Cordova's only bookstore, Orca Book & Sound Co., lived in Anchorage before Cordova and for 10 years ran a kayak guiding business in Prince William Sound before the Exxon Valdez caused the biggest spill in U.S. history in those waters.

Crude oil from the 11-million-gallon spill never reached Cordova, and in fact drifted the other way, but Cordova's economy is tied to fishing and the spill ruined the fishing season, though many fishermen became high-paid oil spill cleanup workers known as 'spillionaires.'

Cordova and its population of fishermen were against the 800-mile trans-Alaska oil pipeline from Prudhoe Bay to Valdez 20 years ago, before it was built, warning that a spill would devastate the fishing industry.

Cordova still hasn't recovered from the spill, Weaverling said, noting unresolved legal case against Exxon has kept the wound fresh.

The state and federal governments have proposed a $1 billion settlement of civil and criminal cases with Exxon. An earlier settlement fell apart after a federal judge rejected the proposed $100 million fine that was part of Exxon's criminal plea bargain. The judge deemed it inadquate, but Weaverling said any fine would be inadequate for such a giant company that could pass costs on to cosumers. There is also concern that Exxon may get a tax write-off for court-ordered environmental restoration.

'I prefer to see a certain percentage of Exxon assets seized,' Weaverling said, 'perhaps a certain percentage of shares seized.'

But Weaverling said he would be happy when the Exxon case was resolved and Exxon money was paying to restore the environment.

Weaverling has played a major role in the Alaska Green Party, which organized last year and became an officially recognized political party in the state aftergarnering more than the required 3 percent of the vote in the last gubernatorial election.

Weaverling was the moderator for recent Green Party meetings, authored the party's organization plan and is a member of the Green Party state council.

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