Runoff foes emphasize tax positions

MAY 5: Winner barely missed 45 percent vote for a clear victory.

April 8, 2009 

At least a few thousand votes remain to be counted from Tuesday's city election. That will happen on April 17 and 18.

Nearly 2,000 questioned ballots were cast, and will have to be verified before they are tallied. Questioned ballots include those cast by voters whose names weren't on precinct rolls, for example, if they voted outside their home precincts or had moved to a new precinct.

An undetermined number of absentee votes cast by mail and postmarked by Election Day are continuing to arrive and also will be counted, along with ballots of early voters who voted in person from last Friday through Monday, officials with the city clerk's office said.

Those late-counted votes shouldn't change the outcome of the mayor's race, but Proposition 6, a $1.3 million public transit bond, is passing by only two votes -- 25,857 yes to 25,855 no. In addition, Jeannie Mackie leads Mia Costello by only 360 votes in their race for School Board Seat B.

Dan Sullivan and Eric Croft set off Wednesday morning on a month-long drive to a runoff election finish, with the keys to the Anchorage mayor's office going to the winner.

Sullivan outdistanced 14 other candidates at Tuesday's election but came up less than 2 percent shy of the 45 percent plurality he needed to win without a runoff. Croft finished second, but with fewer than half as many votes as Sullivan, and will have to draw on voters who supported others if he hopes to turn the tables at the May 5 runoff.

The next leg of the mayor's race takes place in a town where many voters seem uneasy about rising property taxes and worried that a gut-shot national economy may threaten Anchorage's vitality.

Five of eight bond propositions failed Tuesday, including two school bonds totalling nearly $100 million, and 60 percent of voters passed an initiative that aims to tighten the limit on property taxes.

City races in Anchorage are non-partisan by law, but the runoff matches Croft, a 44-year-old Democratic former state representative, against Sullivan, 57, a Republican former three-term Assemblyman.

Sullivan is touting his familiarity with city issues and government, and he's positioning himself as a conservative tax cutter.

Croft is pounding Sullivan on sales taxes and says his opponent held down the most conservative end of the 15-candidate field in a voter climate that "should have been a perfect storm for him."

"It's significant that 57 percent of Anchorage wanted someone else," Croft said.

The sales tax issue became a focal point of campaigns in the days before Tuesday's vote.

Sullivan had advocated a sales tax that would reduce property taxes on a dollar-for-dollar basis. But he changed that stance at the end, saying he now supports a sales tax only if it completely replaces property taxes.

Replacing the $400 million-plus in property taxes for city and school services would mean a sales tax of 10 to 12 percent, Croft said Wednesday, citing a study for the Assembly a few years ago that said a 3 percent tax would raise $90 million.

"Who really wins off of that is the wealthiest homes, but more importantly the biggest corporate landowners," Croft said. "Ordinary homeowners, two kids and a mortgage, do very poorly because they pay a tremendous amount more in sales tax than they would have in property tax."

Sullivan labeled Croft's latest shot "a complete distortion."

"What I have said all along is what I want to do is reduce property taxes," Sullivan said, and he's now convinced that voters so distrust government that the only way they would consider adding a sales tax "is one that would replace property taxes 100 percent.

"Now, is that my preferred method? No."

The question is academic in any case, Sullivan said, because any new tax would require a 60 percent voter approval, which he described as an insurmountable hurdle.

Sullivan said he thinks voters will end up choosing the candidate they believe is best suited in experience and abilities to run the business of city government.

"They're going to look at the candidate's records as elected officials in addition to their private sector resumes, and see who actually has a record of fighting for the property tax payers, saying no to spending," he said.

Both candidates are hitting the fundraising trail too.

Sullivan said he ended the first stage of the race with about $100,000 left over, and Croft, who had collected a total of about $250,000 by election day, reported a surplus of $37,500 in a campaign report filed last week.

Croft said he now plans to call for support from people who donated to four candidates for mayor who lost Tuesday -- Assemblywoman Sheila Selkregg, Acting Mayor Matt Claman, former police chief Walt Monegan and retired cop Paul Honeman.

Sullivan, who raised a total of about $363,000 in an 18-month campaign, said he's confident he'll be able to draw on donors who contributed in 2008 but haven't given to him yet this year.


Find Don Hunter at adn.com/contact/dhunter or call 257-4582.

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