Voters sent Anchorage back to the future Tuesday, electing conservative Dan Sullivan as mayor by a comfortable margin and awarding him a three-year term in an office his father held 30 years ago.
With most precincts reporting, Sullivan held a commanding lead over former state legislator Eric Croft in the mayoral runoff, with 57 percent of the vote to Croft's 43 percent.
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 of supporting a sales tax only if it entirely replaces property taxes.
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 in an overflow crowd at a Millennium Alaskan Hotel ballroom. 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."
Croft and his campaign commandeered part of the Anchor Bar and Pub on Fourth Avenue. By 9 p.m., supporters were flooding into the site and Croft monitored the results while mixing.
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 replace Republican Ted Stevens in the U.S. Senate, have interrupted that trend.
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. Days after Begich left City Hall for Washington, D.C., Acting Mayor Matt Claman disclosed in mid-January that the 2009 budget he and other Assembly members had passed only a few weeks before was going to be $17 million short of revenue, largely because of smaller-than-expected returns on city investment accounts.
As Claman and Assembly members looked for ways to cut spending, a group unhappy with an upward trend in property taxes over the last several years launched an initiative drive to tighten the city's nearly 25-year-old tax cap.
The result, Proposition 9, passed on April 7 with more than 60 percent of the vote, at a regular election in which voters also rejected several pricey bond propositions, including two school measures worth almost $100 million.
Voters in that election four weeks ago also narrowed the record field of 15 mayoral candidates to just Sullivan and Croft, the top two vote-getters then.
Sullivan, a Republican former nine-year Assemblyman, had the conservative wing of that slate mostly to himself, and corralled 43 percent of the April 7 election vote. That was just short of the 45 percent required to avoid Tuesday's runoff.
Croft, a lawyer and a Democrat who served 10 years in the state House before retiring in 2006, finished second in the April balloting with 20 percent of the vote. He quickly won endorsements from two unsuccessful candidates, Claman and Assemblywoman Sheila Selkregg.
Both Sullivan and Croft have had their eyes on this year's campaign for a long time. Sullivan filed state paperwork allowing him to begin raising money for the race in November 2007. Croft followed suit in April 2008.
By April 25, Sullivan had raised about $460,000 and spent more than $375,000. Croft trailed in fundraising but still spent more than $300,000, and he had some last-minute help from the Alaska Democratic Party, which paid for robocalls from Begich asking voters to turn out for Croft.
Sullivan's campaign didn't overlook that opportunity, and had its own robots working the telephone lines for the Republican.
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