Voters sent Dan Sullivan into the mayor's office Tuesday with an overwhelming show of support, and the municipality's seventh elected mayor almost immediately started planning for a transition period that will end when he's sworn in July 1.
Sullivan trounced Eric Croft in a heated runoff race to become Anchorage's next mayor.
With all of the precincts counted, Sullivan had 28,866 votes to Croft's 21,527. That is a 57.3 to 42.7 percent split of the vote. Some absentee and questioned ballots still need to be counted, but the outcome won't change.
Sullivan, 57, is a conservative who ran on a platform of controlling city spending while seeking ways to relieve taxpayers. He is a businessman who recently completed a nine-year stint on the Anchorage Assembly, the city's legislative body.
At the Millennium Alaskan Hotel, where Sullivan backers crowded in the Redington Ballroom, the mayor-elect said he'll be meeting with campaign staff and advisers Thursday to discuss his transition. He'll meet Friday with Acting Mayor Matt Claman on the topic, he said.
A number of people have offered to help on his transition into the mayor's office, Sullivan said. Among them were former Mayor Rick Mystrom and Larry Crawford, who was a budget director and city manager when Sullivan's father, George, was mayor 30 years ago.
"They've offered to help, and by golly I'm going to take them up on it," he said.
Sullivan took center stage in the hotel ballroom to thank his supporters shortly before 10 p.m.
He was surrounded by many members of a large extended family but noted that one who was not there was probably watching. "My father, George ... he never misses the 10 o'clock news. Dad, thank you."
It might have been nice to win the race with 45 percent a month ago, he said, but his philosophy has always been that "if you're going to be mayor of the 70th largest city in America you better win by 50 percent."
"I'll do my best every single day to make this a better place to live."
He closed by encouraging the crowd: "Enjoy. Party. Have fun."
The crowd chanted: "Mayor Sullivan. Mayor Sullivan. Mayor Sullivan."
Croft, a former state legislator, gathered with a big crowd of supporters at the Anchor Bar & Pub in downtown Anchorage.
Croft, 44, called Sullivan at about 10:25 p.m. and congratulated him on a good campaign. "And I offered any help I could provide," he said.
Croft's only plans, he said, are to attend his daughter's school play this morning.
Croft and Sullivan were in Tuesday's runoff as the top two vote-getters four weeks ago in a record 15-candidate race for mayor.
Some of the campaigning centered on which candidate would be easier on taxpayers. Croft said Sullivan wanted to replace property taxes with a huge sales tax. Sullivan said that was a gross distortion of his stance.
Sullivan added he would hold down taxes by controlling city spending. Croft said he would push property-tax breaks for the middle class.
The tax talk seemed to resonate with some voters.
Christina Harris said she voted for Croft because she doesn't want a sales tax. "We can't afford it right now," she said after casting her ballot at the Loussac Library.
Craig Wood, who came with his daughter to Rogers Park Elementary School to vote, said he backed Sullivan because he didn't like the way Croft ran his campaign. "Sullivan seemed to run a cleaner campaign," he said. "Everywhere I saw TV ads saying Sullivan would impose a 14 percent sales tax. He must think I'm a dummy. I read the paper. I know only voters can approve that."
Randy Ruedrich, chairman of the Alaska Republican Party, was among those in the Sullivan camp waiting out returns Tuesday night at the Millennium. He said the voters' tightening of the city's tax cap and defeat of proposed bonds last month, as well as Tuesday's backing of Sullivan, all address one question: "Who's going to pay for it and how can we run the city for less money. I think Dan Sullivan is the answer to that question."
This year's campaign took place in the shadow of a global recession that Anchorage is forecast to join this year, and a local budget crisis. In mid-January, city officials disclosed they had a $17 million revenue shortfall, and they have been scrambling to cut spending since.
For most of the last three decades, Anchorage voters have taken a conservative course when choosing candidates to hold the city's most powerful office. Only two liberal candidates, Tony Knowles and Mark Begich, who stepped down six months early in January to become a U.S. senator, have interrupted that trend.
Past mayors Municipality of Anchorage
1975-1981 George Sullivan
1982-1987 Tony Knowles
1988-1994 Tom Fink
1994-2000 Rick Mystrom
2000-2003 George Wuerch
2003-2009 Mark Begich
2009 Matt Claman (acting mayor)
Source: Municipality of Anchorage