Pittsburgher could be Alaskan capital’s first Jewish mayor in 80 years
Saralyn Tabachnick, a Squirrel Hill native, says she is running on principals she learned from her service work with survivors of domestic and sexual violence.
If the locals warm to one of the “frozen chosen,” then Juneau may have its first Jewish mayor in more than 80 years.
Last month, Saralyn Tabachnick, a 31-year-resident of the capital city and a graduate of Taylor Allderdice High School and the University of Pittsburgh, filed papers with the state’s Public Offices Commission. If Tabachnick’s upcoming bid is successful she would become Juneau’s first Jewish mayor since Isadore Goldstein, an Iditarod Gold Rush miner, left office in 1937.
In a telephone interview from Juneau, Tabachnick, 61, explained that her campaign rests on a foundation established years prior.
After receiving undergraduate and graduate degrees from Pitt, Tabachnick headed west in 1985 for a job in Seattle. There, she noticed a newspaper posting for a Juneau-based offering. The job was to be a “counselor for children that had been abused, and that was my training in Pittsburgh,” she said.
So in 1987, the Squirrel Hill native joined AWARE, a shelter that provides services for women and children of Southeastern Alaskan communities “who have been subject to domestic or sexual violence.”
Fifteen years later, Tabachnick became the organization’s director. At that point “AWARE was primarily providing intervention services to survivors of domestic and sexual violence, and over time we have grown,” she said.
A prevention department staffed by nine professionals, expansion into gender-inclusive services and the construction of 12 units of transitional housing have highlighted Tabachnick’s leadership.
“Of course I have done none of this alone,” she said. Stakeholders, community members, “individuals who have ideas and commitments often coming with different perspectives and working toward a common goal” have collaborated to “get the job done. And I would like to bring that to the city and borough of Juneau.”
My roots to Pittsburgh and my roots to Judaism are significant parts of who I am and they inform a lot of my values and beliefs.
While the election for Juneau’s mayor is slated for Oct. 2, candidates have until Aug. 13 to file. As of now, Tabachnick is the only candidate to declare for the nonpartisan contest. According to KTOO Public Media, incumbent Mayor Ken Koelsch, whose term began in March 2016, has not indicated whether he will seek re-election.
Tabachnick, though a political neophyte, said her experience at AWARE, which stands for Aiding Women in Abuse and Rape Emergencies, has “really set the stage for this next step.”
“I have been at a job that’s been familiar, successful, and worked with a great team. Though I don’t know what will come up every day, I know that I will pretty much be able to handle it,” she explained. “In this new realm things are new to me so I’m really learning a lot and I have a learning curve, and it’s kind of fun to challenge myself in this way. … In life, sometimes, it’s important to challenge ourselves, which I think helps us grow, and it doesn’t always come easy.”
Tabachnick noted that the past four years have provided ample opportunity to derive lessons from difficulty; during that time the Juneau resident lost her brother, Kenny, and her parents, Gladys and Norman, all members of Pittsburgh’s Jewish community. (Tabachnick is the sister-in-law of Chronicle senior staff writer Toby Tabachnick.)
“I kind of want to give a shout out to my partner Swarupa Toth,” said Tabachnick. “It’s been incredibly helpful and important to have her support and have her by my side and reassurances, and it’s really meaningful.”
Tabachnick retains a strong connection to the Steel City through family and friends.
On visits back she often takes in a Pirates game at PNC Park, “because Pittsburgh has one of the most beautiful stadiums in the country,” or uses the time to “get a little bit of information on how Pittsburgh is changing and growing because that’s always interesting,” she said.
There are similarities between a city whose economic reliance on steel gave way to education, health services and technology, and Juneau, a city whose founding on gold and mining eventually ceded to tourism, transportation and trade, she explained. “I love both places. Part of it is the cities, and part of it is me and feeling invested in a place I call home.
“My roots to Pittsburgh and my roots to Judaism are significant parts of who I am and they inform a lot of my values and beliefs,” she added, “and I feel very grateful to have them and to carry them forward in this next phase of my life.” PJC
Adam Reinherz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow the Chronicle on Facebook and Twitter for the latest stories.