Bristol Bay Borough candidates pitch experience and new perspective in runs for mayor and assembly

Sep 28, 2020

David Lax is running against Randolph Zimin to fill the borough's mayoral seat. Kendra Gottschalk is challenging assembly incumbent Russell Phelps for the open assembly seat.

Credit Bristol Bay Borough

The Bristol Bay Borough municipal election is underway. People can vote early or absentee in person through October 5, and election day is October 6.

The borough mayor's seat is on the ballot this year. Dan O’Hara, the current mayor, will not be running for re-election. Two candidates — David Lax and Randolph Zimin — are vying to replace him. 

Lax has lived in Bristol Bay for almost 40 years, and he’s a well-known businessman. He owns the LMI construction company and runs both the Naknek and LMI boatyards. He started the Red Line taxi service, which he has since sold, and he also owns three gas stations. 

Lax also supports building a bridge from Naknek to South Naknek, which is on the borough’s capital improvement project list and has been deliberated by the assembly and community for more than a decade. The project, currently described as a bridge that includes a hydro generator, would cost a total of $40 million.

Lax said he served on the borough assembly many years ago, when he replaced an assembly member who had died, and then won that seat in the following election.

“At the time I was in the construction business and there was a fair amount of potential for conflict of interest," he said. "After the amount of time that I’ve spent here and the amount of time I’ve spent going to assembly meetings, I began to realize in a small town there’s going to be conflict of interest and you can’t avoid it. It doesn’t mean you can’t contribute to the functioning of the borough and still do what it is you do for a living, just be careful you don’t cross that line.”

Lax said one of his biggest priorities if elected is to help borough assembly feel more approachable.

“A lot of times at a grassroots level like at Naknek and King Salmon and South Naknek, it’s a little bit intimidating so a lot of people with some good ideas are afraid to bring them forward because they’re not comfortable with that kind of setting,” he said. “When I was on the assembly years ago, I strived to let the air out of that pressure cooker and find a way to get to the bottom of what a person was trying to say without them having to be very eloquent about it.”

KDLG reached out to Randolph Zimin, but he did not respond at the time of this publication.

There is one assembly seat up for election this fall. Kendra Gottschalk is challenging incumbent Russel Phelps. Gottschalk is the administrative assistant for the Naknek Native Tribal Council. She used to spend winters in Nebraska. Three years ago, she moved to the borough full time. She says she wants to be more involved in the community and help the borough move forward.

“I think there needs to be a stronger infrastructure in the community that’s with growth and development and I think that there should be more attention to youth activities and the kids here,” she said. “Mostly I’m just trying to learn a lot along the process too, I think that there’s a lot of stuff that we could handle out here that we just haven’t had people delegating for.”

Gottschalk is 28, and she said she can also bring new ideas to the borough assembly.

“I kind of just want to represent a different demographic — I’m a little bit younger than everyone else on the board,” she said. “I think that having somebody younger in office or somebody who has different connections in town would be really beneficial in the borough.”

KDLG reached out to assembly incumbent Russell Phelps, but he did not respond at the time of this publication.

Election day is October 6. People can vote in-person and absentee now through October 5 at the borough assembly room from 8:30 a.m. – 1 p.m. and 2 p.m. – 4:30 p.m. Masks and hand sanitizer are provided. Call the borough clerk with questions at (907) 246-4224, extension 308.

KDLG's Izzy Ross contributed to this story. 

Contact the author at news@kdlg.org or 907-842-2200.