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Anchorage Assembly honors stalwart public speaker Eugene Haberman through its own resolution, public testimony

Haberman, who lived in the Valley, was known for his consistent presence and voice at public meetings in Anchorage and the surrounding area
Published: Nov. 24, 2021 at 10:28 PM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - For years, he would speak — no matter the hot-button topic at hand — as a constant presence at public meetings, including the many put on by the Anchorage Assembly.

Each evening, Eugene Haberman would take his allotted talking time to testify, primarily to advocate for the public process and what he saw as proper decorum of not only the hosts, but the visitors too.

“He would testify on each and every item coming in front of us,” said Former Assembly Chair Dick Traini, who is retired now but remains the longest-serving member to date, according to his tally. “He would attend every Assembly meeting, every work session. He would attend every commission meeting he could get to, every school board meeting, not only in Anchorage, but also in the Valley.

“He was unique,” Traini added. “In all the years I was on the Assembly, there was never anybody quite as consistent with their message.”

The 70-year-old Haberman died in late October, but on Tuesday, the assembly and public honored him in their own words during public testimony on a resolution dedicated in his name.

[RELATED: Prominent local government testifier Eugene Carl Haberman dies at age 70]

Resolution AR 2021-381 is “a resolution of the Anchorage Municipal Assembly, recognizing Eugene Carl Haberman for his years of support in the public process, and advocacy for appropriate decisions by government bodies.” The resolution would, as expected, go on to pass unanimously, but not without comment from many members of the community first.

“We get to share our thoughts with our elected officials,” said Mark Butler, of Anchorage, who spoke fondly of Haberman and emphasized the privilege of being able to testify, which some do not have. “Through it all, there was a man — in this corner — heavyset, in a charcoal grey suit, dressed better than anyone else I daresay. Eugene Haberman: self-appointed defender of the democratic process.”

Along with Butler, other frequent attendees of Assembly meetings also testified Tuesday.

“I wish I could go back in time, to talk to him about those early times,” said one speaker, reflecting on Haberman’s influence on him decades ago. “But more than that, I wish I could thank him.”

Andreas Alefantinos, who runs a local family business Haberman frequented often, spoke of their first meeting inside his Peters Creek restaurant Bella Vista, and how he soon became a friend.

“He wanted people to be more aware of the public process,” Alefantinos said, “and for most of us, all of us, to have a voice. And I sure do wish Eugene still had a voice here.”

A woman at the meeting, who said she didn’t plan on speaking about Haberman Tuesday but felt compelled to do so, focused on the things Haberman did not do during gatherings of the Assembly.

“He did not intimidate other testifiers, he did not make personal attacks when he disagreed, he did not speak out of turn,” she said. “He understood the decorum public meetings required. I appreciated the dedication and the time that he took to participate.”

Ron Alleva, of Anchorage, remembered Haberman’s extensive knowledge and, of course, his speaking so often to share it.

“Here was a guy who schooled everyone,” he said. “And he really schooled the Assembly. It’s amazing what he did. And he was punctual, accurate, succinct, well-organized — and he’s going to be missed.”

Just a few weeks ago, Haberman had spoken during public testimony to the behaviors recently seen at meetings, calling for calm during the gatherings.

“The public meeting is not a place for a rally; it’s not a place for waving flags,” he’d said on Oct. 12. “How can one achieve addressing any subject when we have this type of decorum?”

Away from the more recent meeting on Nov. 23, Traini described how precise and intentional Haberman was with his words, and his steadfast intent to protect the public and hold accountable those who serve in public office.

“His purpose was to have the public be aware, the Assembly members, the school board, whoever he was testifying to, they needed to keep the public in mind when they were doing public business,” Traini said, before describing Haberman’s practice of visiting a friend at Natural Pantry to work on his speeches, timing them to make sure they were right on target.

“Eugene was perfect on the three minutes,” Traini said, referring to the allotted time community members have to testify at Anchorage Assembly meetings. “He’d usually say, ‘I’ve got five seconds left!’ He was good.”

Traini also reflected on his longtime friendship with Haberman, and what it took to get there, including a one-time attempt to limit Haberman’s testimony allowances.

“There was no stopping Eugene,” Traini laughed. He noted Haberman had called him in the days preceding his death, asking if Traini could drop off dinner, as he wasn’t feeling well. Traini obliged.

“I think I still have his last recorded message of him on my phone. I’m gonna keep it,” he said, “because we did develop a friendship after I left the body. It’s just how things work out sometimes, you know?

“I’ll remember Eugene for a long time; he was a good man, a good person,” Traini continued. “He really cared about the public interest. And I grew to appreciate him.”

Haberman’s brother, speaking over the phone Tuesday night, expressed pride in his sibling, and said his life had changed knowing his brother had passed.

“I feel like I have friends now, in the community, because they treated me so, so well,” he said. “Which means they treated him well, because he was why I was there. So I just want to say, thank you very much for honoring him.”

The final vote of 11-0, with Chair Suzanne LaFrance, Vice Chair Chris Constant, and members Crystal Kennedy, Jamie Allard, Kameron Perez-Verdia, Austin Quinn-Davidson, Felix Rivera, Meg Zaletel, Forrest Dunbar, Pete Petersen and John Weddleton all in favor of passing the resolution, also received a standing ovation from the crowd.

To read the full resolution in honor of Haberman, visit the Municipality of Anchorage website.

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