Assembly wrangles over Begich successor

ACTING MAYOR: City charter says Claman takes over; election slated April 7 among many contenders.

November 19, 2008 

Mayor Mark Begich will be keeping his current job for the next several weeks, probably waiting until the first of the year to resign and turn over the keys to the city to an acting mayor who'll look after things until the next mayor is elected in April and takes over in July.

With the news still fresh that a vote count had given him a victory over 40-year incumbent Republican Ted Stevens in the U.S. Senate race, Begich said Tuesday night that he hasn't picked a day to step down in Anchorage yet. But he agreed it may well be in early January, just days before his Jan. 6 swearing-in ceremony in Washington, D.C.

Begich said he wants to see a number of pending city issues through, including his last city operating and capital spending budgets, now scheduled for a final Assembly vote next week, and four new labor contracts with city employee unions.

Meanwhile, Assembly members are quietly wrangling over who should serve as acting mayor after Begich's resignation.

The city charter says the Assembly's chair will become acting mayor until voters can elect someone new. But the current chairman, Matt Claman, is one of several people who have said they're considering a run for the mayor's job next spring, and some members question whether it's a good idea for a mayoral candidate to also be acting mayor.

Claman, however, is not among the eight people who have filed notice with the Alaska Public Offices Commission that they intend to run, and on Tuesday he said he is still undecided about a mayoral campaign. But he wouldn't rule one out.

Both Claman and Begich said they expect the West Anchorage Assemblyman to be the acting mayor, and Begich said his administration already is working on a transition plan to bring Claman up to speed before he takes over.

Assembly vice-chair Sheila Selkregg -- who is definitely in next year's mayor's race -- said she expects Claman to step away from the Assembly chair and the interim mayor's job if he decides to run. "I have every intention of stepping down (as vice chair) whenever the body is ready to discuss this," she said.

She said she and Claman agreed to do that, if Begich won the Senate seat and they were running for mayor, when they took over the top two Assembly positions last spring.

"I have every intention of doing that and would assume Matt would do the same," Selkregg said Tuesday night.

Assemblyman Bill Starr, an unusual ally for Selkregg, said he also recalls that conversation among members. "The general sense was, we didn't want to give anyone a leg up in running for mayor," Starr said.

Claman described that as a discussion, not an agreement.

"There was no agreement," he said. "There was discussion, but there was no agreement."

Begich said he sees no problem with Claman becoming the interim mayor even if he decides to run. Incumbent mayors regularly run for re-election, he noted.

"I think him serving as acting mayor isn't relevant," Begich said. Holding the job can cut both ways, and might be as likely to hurt a candidate as help him, the mayor said.

In any event, Claman will remain chairman unless a majority of Assembly members decide to replace him. That could happen at any meeting between now and the time Begich actually resigns.

Claman said he expects to continue as chairman and to fill the temporary mayor's assignment.

Besides Selkregg, other candidates who have filed letters of intent to run with the public offices commission: former Assemblyman Dan Sullivan, former state Rep. Eric Croft, former police Lt. Paul Honeman, and four lesser known candidates: Merica Hlatcu, Jacob Seth Kern, Dominic S.F. Lee, and Melanie K. Leydon.


Reporter Don Hunter can be reached at dhunter@adn.com or 257-4349.

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