Sullivan, Croft headed toward May 5 runoff

SULLIVAN LEADS: Croft is second and Selkregg third with most votes tallied.

April 7, 2009 

Former Assemblyman Dan Sullivan led a crowded field of candidates for Anchorage mayor Tuesday night but he appeared to not have enough votes to avoid a runoff election May 5.

With almost all of the ballots counted, Sullivan had captured 43 percent of the votes cast. He needed more than 45 percent to win the mayor's race Tuesday and avoid the runoff with the No. 2 vote getter.

Former state Rep. Eric Croft will also be in the runoff, running second with about 20 percent of the vote. Assemblywoman Sheila Selkregg was third.

Nearly 2,000 questioned ballots and an undetermined number of early and absentee ballots will be counted next week, before the election results are final.

Sullivan was jubilant Tuesday night. He said he was ready to hit the runoff trail hard this morning.

"We'll compare ourselves favorably with whoever is in that second spot -- looks like it will be Mr. Croft -- and let the voters decide," he said. He particularly touted his years on the city Assembly as an edge.

Croft said the runoff will be "a really interesting race" that presents voters with "sharp contrasts."

He said their differences over city tax policy could be "the defining issue" of the runoff.

Early in the campaign, Sullivan said he was willing to consider adopting a sales tax if it was offset with an equal reduction in property taxes. Croft said he opposes a sales tax and attacked Sullivan's position. In the final days of the campaign, Sullivan changed to say he will support a sales tax only if property taxes are completely eliminated.

Elsewhere on the ballot, voters said a resounding "No" to going much more deeply into debt.

Voters turned down most of the eight proposals to sell up to $141 million in bonds to finance improvements to public buildings and other property.

In particular, two school bonds totaling $97 million failed to pass. The debt would have funded renovation of Service High School, extended water and sewer lines to Eagle River High and paid for lesser upgrades to schools across the district. Voters did approve $34 million in bonds for road improvements across Anchorage.

Voters also passed Proposition 9 -- a proposal to change the way the city calculates the property-tax cap. Supporters argued the change would lower how much property taxes can increase, although the city administration and others disputed that and said it could lead to higher taxes.

The mayor's race featured a record 15 candidates, the most since at least 1975 and perhaps the most ever.

A half-dozen candidates had reasonably good name recognition and the ability to finance a campaign.

Sullivan, son of former Mayor George Sullivan, launched his campaign nearly 18 months ago and made good use of the head start, collecting more than $360,000 by the end of March.

The other candidates were unable to match Sullivan's fundraising.

Croft amassed nearly $200,000, including $50,000 of his own money.

Sullivan goes into the runoff with about $140,000 in the bank, Croft with about $82,000.

All the mayoral candidates together raised almost $900,000 for this race.

Acting Mayor Matt Claman finished a distant fifth. He was the city Assembly's chairman and took over the mayor's job when Mayor Mark Begich resigned Jan. 3 to be sworn in as Alaska's new U.S. senator.

The increased visibility of the mayor's office raised Claman's profile -- especially after he discovered a $17 million deficit in the city budget a few weeks into the job. He announced cuts to the police and fire budgets and said Tuesday night that "the challenges I had to address" hurt his campaign.

Claman will remain acting mayor until the new mayor is sworn in on July 1. At that time he will return to his Assembly position representing West and Southwest Anchorage.

Sullivan, a Republican, largely had the conservative end of the race to himself. Under the municipal charter, City Hall and School Board races are nonpartisan affairs, but party politics has played a growing role in recent years.

Sullivan's conservatism earned him the support of some voters Tuesday. Steve Pyles, a 54-year-old carpenter, said he thinks Sullivan will scale down city government. "We need a reduction in services," he said after voting in Airport Heights.

Randy Roller, a 52-year-old retired glazer, said he voted for Sullivan because he didn't want Croft or Selkregg. He complained about his property taxes and thinks the Democrats will raise them.

Croft, Selkregg and Claman are Democrats and drew much of their support from the same pools of voters.

Finishing fourth was Walt Monegan, former chief of the Anchorage police department. His name recognition soared last summer after Gov. Sarah Palin fired him as her commissioner of public safety. That sparked the "Troopergate" hullaballoo about whether the governor improperly tried to get her ex-brother-in-law, a state trooper, fired.

Monegan said he enjoyed the campaign, or parts of it: "I did enjoy discussing the issues, and the questions, even the tough questions."

But after a lifetime of turning down offers of free coffee or a sandwich -- "police officers don't do that" -- getting used to asking people for campaign contributions took some doing, he said.

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