Facing hundreds of people in a packed Discovery Theater and sharing the stage with four decades of predecessors, Dan Sullivan took the oath of office at 4:30 p.m. Wednesday and became Anchorage's seventh elected mayor since the municipal government was formed in 1975.
As Sullivan moves into the eighth floor of City Hall, he finds a city government strapped for money. Minutes after being sworn in by Superior Court Judge Stephanie Joannides, he announced "an immediate hiring freeze" for the city's workforce. He said he plans to curtail all city travel and will impose strict controls on overtime.
He also asked citizens and businesses to help out where they can.
"Anchorage is famous for our charitable giving and for our volunteerism," he said. "Anchorage has always been very, very generous, and we're counting on that generosity again this year."
Much of the new mayor's first speech echoed his campaign platform: Along with cutting city spending, he said he would concentrate police where they're needed most and try to reduce crime, tackle what he termed "an energy crisis" brought on by dwindling Cook Inlet natural gas reserves, and focus his administration's attention on repairing and maintaining the massive new public improvements spearheaded by former Mayor Mark Begich.
"For example, when people pay hundreds of dollars an hour to use our ice rinks, they actually have the right to expect showers and bathrooms that actually work," Sullivan said. "Our maintenance division has a long list of priorities, and we will do our best to catch up."
Sullivan said he will name a sort of energy czar to take on the energy issues.
"Peak demand during the winter months, particularly when the temperature drops below zero, have put our entire system in jeopardy over the last two years and this is unacceptable," he said. "I will appoint an administration official to work at the top levels of government, the top levels of industry, to develop an energy plan that will lead to a secure ... future."
He also addressed the city's increasingly diverse population, and said he wants to engage Native leaders as Anchorage welcomes a shift of residents from rural Alaska to the state's largest city.
Sullivan said his administration will introduce a community celebration called "All Americans week."
"I want to take that celebration in a somewhat different direction," he said, drawing on shared "universal values" that draw people to America from all corners of the world regardless of their cultural or ethnic backgrounds.
"Don't we all want to raise a family in a secure environment, to get a good education, to worship freely, to have a job that is rewarding, maybe start a business ... to express our political views in a public forum?" he asked.
Sullivan told his audience that he's a fourth-generation Alaskan who has grown up among Native people.
"I want to pledge to our first people" that "a culture of mutual respect and dignity will be our standard and will be expected throughout this community," he said.
"I look to our Native leaders for your wisdom, for your advice, and as more people from rural Alaska move to Anchorage, we will need to work cooperatively to make sure these new residents don't just find a place to live, we're gonna make sure they truly find a home."
He also talked about two issues that have occupied the Anchorage Assembly for weeks this summer -- a proposed ordinance that would ban discrimination against gays, lesbians and bisexuals, and a move to delete or delay the Knik Arm bridge project from the city's transportation plan.
Sullivan said he had mentioned those discussions in a conversation last weekend with an ambassador from the Czech Republic.
"I told him how some people contend that this public disagreement tears our community apart," Sullivan said. "He ... reminded me ... that the essential element of democratic freedom is the freedom to disagree ...
"Sometimes the disagreement does get emotional and sometimes it does get loud," Sullivan said.
"But ... we are extremely fortunate to live in a country where public disagreement is not a crime but a healthy part of the process."
Seated behind Sullivan in the Alaska Center for the Performing Arts were eight former mayors, including his father, George, and Jack Roderick, the borough mayor who was George Sullivan's opponent in the first municipal mayoral race at the 1975 election that unified the old city and borough governments.
The others were Tony Knowles, Tom Fink, Rick Mystrom, George Wuerch, Mark Begich and Matt Claman, the former Assembly chairman who has served as acting mayor since Begich left office in January to become Alaska's new U.S. senator.
Afterward, George Sullivan, 87, said he is proud of his son.
"He'll be a good mayor," the municipality's first mayor said, with a twinkle in his eye.
"Just not as good as me."
Contact reporter Don Hunter at firstname.lastname@example.org or 257-4349.