PUBLISHED: 6:17 PM on Wednesday, September 17, 2008
Wasilla citizens speak out on Palin's past
Opinions differ on governor's qualifications to handle national role as vice president
WASILLA, Alaska - In the small town of Wasilla about 15 miles from Anchorage, views differ of hometown girl Sarah Palin, who was nominated recently as running mate for Republican presidential candidate John McCain.

Wasilla Mayor Diane Keller, who now presides over a $30 million budget for this city of about 7,000 residents, said the experience of serving as mayor gave Palin the administrative background she needs for the demands of such a national post.

Margaret Bauman, Morris News Service
  Anne Kilkenny discusses the national response from an e-mail she initially sent to friends and family laying out her opinion of vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin. Kilkenny, a soft-spoken Wasilla resident and self-described community activist, attended nearly every Wasilla City Council meeting during Palin's tenure as mayor.
"The budget priorities are set by the mayor," Keller said. "The assembly gives initiatives, but it's the mayor's responsibility to set the budget to meet those initiatives."

As mayor of Wasilla from October 1996 to October 2002, Palin presided over a budget that rose from $7.6 million to $13.6 million. Wasilla City Council member Dianne Woodworth, an accountant in private practice, said Palin was not conservative with the city budget.

"The true test of a leader is when there is not a lot of money and you have to work across the aisle," Woodworth said. "Likewise, when she was mayor of Wasilla, we were in a time of prosperity. I've never seen her pushed when a lot of resources weren't there."

The city's sports complex, which Palin championed, resulted in extensive litigation because the city started building on the property before it had title to all of it, she said.

"Some day she may be qualified, but I don't think she's been tested at this point," Woodworth said.

Margaret Bauman, Morris News Service
  Wasilla Mayor Diane Keller sits in her office. Keller, who oversees a $30 million budget for this city of about 7,000 residents, says she believes the work Sarah Palin started in this town has prepared the vice presidential nominee for the job. Margaret Bauman, Morris News Service
Dionne Chester, owner of McGill's Candy and Nuts in downtown Wasilla, is a strong Palin supporter.

"She has much more experience, if not more than the opposition," said Chester, who is now producing Neapolitan-flavored lollipops at her store urging people to vote to the John McCain-Sarah Palin ticket. "Anything she doesn't know now, she'll beef up on. She's a smart lady. I think she'll have our best interests at heart."

Retired educator David Schutt disagreed.

"I think she is drawing from her experience as mayor, which is minimal," said Schutt, who spent his career teaching kindergarten through high school all over Alaska. "We need a real change in our foreign policy, and we're not going to get that from a new Republican administration. It's not her; it's what the party stands for."

Another Wasilla businesswoman, Becci Freeman, said she liked Palin's "openness, honesty and fighting spirit. She tries to do right by our community," said Freeman, who said she is pro-choice on the abortion issue, and has a son in the Army Special Forces in Afghanistan.

Still, said Freeman, she hasn't decided who she will vote for.

Then there is Anne Kilkenny, a soft-spoken Wasilla resident and self-described community activist, who attended nearly every Wasilla City Council meeting during Palin's tenure as mayor.

Shortly before McCain announced that Palin would be his running mate, Kilkenny sent off an e-mail to her brother and two college classmates from the University of California at Berkeley, giving her observations of Alaska's governor. That message has since been forwarded across the country.

"She has hated me since back in 1996, when I was one of the 100 or so people who rallied to support the city librarian against Sarah's attempt at censorship" of books in the city library, Kilkenny wrote.

Kilkenny over the years took issue with Palin on a number of subjects, including Palin's claim of being a fiscal conservative.

"The huge increases in tax revenues during her mayoral administration weren't enough to fund everything on her wish list," she wrote. "Borrowed money was needed too. She inherited a city with zero debt, but left it with indebtedness of over $22 million."

Kilkenny also criticized Palin on a number of other issues from "her unbridled ambition and predatory ruthlessness" to her lack of leadership as governor.

"I want people to have a complete picture of Sarah Palin, not the one-sided one," she said. "I wanted to introduce her and her family. People need to have all the facts, so they can make a decision in line with their values and priorities."