Naming an interim mayor throws Assembly in bit of a tiff

AT ODDS: Selkregg and Claman disagree over April commitment to resign positions in order to run.

November 22, 2008 

Deciding who will step in as interim mayor when Mark Begich resigns in early January to become a U.S. senator is tying the Anchorage Assembly in knots.

The city charter specifies the "acting mayor" job falls to whoever is the Assembly chair at the time the mayor steps down. Sounds simple enough.

But chairman Matt Claman and vice-chair Sheila Selkregg have very different recollections of commitments that may or may not have been made at a private meeting in April that led to their leadership positions.

At a contentious work session Friday that ended with Claman cutting her off in mid-sentence, Selkregg insisted that both she and Claman had agreed in the April meeting with four newly elected members to step down from their leadership jobs if they decided to run for mayor.

Selkregg is a candidate and says she's ready to step down now. Claman says he's thinking about running but hasn't made up his mind and doesn't want to give up the chairmanship.

In a letter to other members and at the work session, Claman said he agreed at that April meeting to step down only if he had announced for mayor by October, and if four newly elected members who composed the majority that made him chairman asked him to.

"A change in October would avoid public uncertainty about who would become Acting Mayor if Mayor Begich won the election," Claman says in the letter distributed to members Friday. "A change after the November election might cause the public to lose confidence in its legislature."

Whoever ends up taking Begich's place on a temporary basis will be mayor until July 1. After the April election, city laws require a three-month transition period before the new mayor takes office.

Several Assembly members say putting a mayoral candidate in as acting mayor would be an unfair advantage in the campaign. They'd rather replace Claman with someone who has no interest in the city's top job, at least in the upcoming election.

Assemblyman Dan Coffey pressed Claman for an answer Friday: "Are you running for mayor?"

"I don't know," Claman said.

"For what it's worth," said Coffey, "I'm not."

Eagle River Assemblyman Bill Starr said he voted for Claman as Assembly chairman, but might not have voted for him had he realized Claman would become acting mayor. The skills that might make someone a capable chairman aren't necessarily the same skills needed to run the city efficiently for six months, Starr said.

Regardless of Claman's recollection, Selkregg said she has no doubt that both she and he said they would give up the leadership if they were running.

"There were other people in that room," she said at Friday's work session, "but I can assure you I would never have supported Mr. Claman" had he not made such a commitment.

That's when Claman cut off Selkregg and ended the work session promptly at 4:15 p.m. The session had been scheduled to end at 4 p.m., but the group agreed to extend it by 15 minutes.

Assemblyman Mike Guierrez was at the April meeting. Who is right, Claman or Selkregg? he was asked.

"I think there is room for interpretation," Gutierrez said.

The October time frame was important, Gutierrez said, because the Assembly majority wanted to have a chairman firmly in place for the Assembly's normal budget review process, which begins in October and must be completed by early December.

Besides Selkregg, seven other people have filed paperwork announcing their intent to run for mayor. Two of them -- former Assemblyman Dan Sullivan and former state Rep. Eric Croft -- attended at least part of Friday's work session.

Voters will pick a new mayor at the April 7 city election. After a three-month transition period, the new mayor will take office July 1. The acting mayor will be in charge until then.

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