Two West Anchorage House candidates, a Republican and a Democrat, called an unusual joint news conference Friday to assert that the District 20 incumbent, Republican Mia Costello, lives in another district.
The two challengers, Republican Tamara von Gemmingen and Democrat Michelle Scannell, said that in their months of canvassing the neighborhood, Costello's home in the Sand Lake area appeared vacant at different hours of the day and night. Her neighbors seemed not to know who she was, they said, and they never saw signs of Costello's two boys, ages 5 and 7.
The challengers suggested Costello lived in another house she owned on Esquire Drive near West High, in House District 19.
"If she doesn't live in the district, she needs to either withdraw or at least move into the district for the race," said von Gemmingen, whose kitchen, in an attached townhouse off 84th Avenue, was the venue for the news conference. "We're just asking that she proves that she lives in the district and come Monday morning we will be filing with the Division of Elections, questioning the fact that she doesn't live in the district."
A few minutes later, at the 2,098-square-foot single-family house in question on Yukon Charlie Drive, Costello said there was no truth to the allegations, and public records don't contradict her.
"This is the only place I live, except for when I'm in Juneau," said Costello, wearing casual clothes, her cat Atlantis in her lap. "The claim that I don't live here is ridiculous."
Costello is a one-term incumbent who beat a sitting Democrat, Bob Buch, in 2010. She claimed the Yukon Charlie Loop home as her residence then too, without a challenge from Buch.
Costello said she and her husband, Andrew Billings, bought the house on April 1, 2008, and they have lived there ever since.
"You can tell from the mess we've got years of accumulation here," she said.
Von Gemmingen, the daughter of a former Anchorage Assembly member, is facing Costello in the Republican primary Aug. 28. Scannell will run against the winner in the general election in November.
The two challengers said they met up in early June, putting aside their party differences to get acquainted.
"As we talked to each other, out of nowhere, Michelle just asked me, 'Do you think Mia Costello actually lives in our district?' " von Gemmingen said.
Scannell told her she had been campaigning since January and had seen little life at the house -- an unplowed driveway, no footprints in the snow, no lights at night. Von Gemmingen, a more recent entry in the race, said she had similar observations.
Costello said she grew up on Esquire Drive and inherited the house in 2000 after her parents died. But she said she's been renting the place out ever since.
A woman who answered the door on Esquire Drive Friday afternoon said she was the nanny for the residents, Will and Kelsea Vandergriff. Will Vandergriff works for the Legislature as spokesman for the Republican House majority caucus, which numbers Costello as one of its members.
Vandergriff said he and his family have been renting the Esquire Drive house for nearly three years.
Von Gemmingen and Scannell said the only public record they checked to investigate Costello was her voting registration, which lists her residence as the Yukon Charlie house.
Other public records back up Costello. Her husband gives that address for his pilot's license and it's listed as the mailing address for tax bills on all three Anchorage properties owned by Costello. Both Costello and her husband have been putting it on their fishing licenses since 2008. Vandergriff and his wife gave the Esquire Drive address on their fishing licenses in 2011.
Told about those records, Scannell said she plans to file a complaint anyway but von Gemmingen said she will reconsider.
"I want to find out directly from her," said von Gemmingen, who sent a joint letter with Scannell, registered mail, to Costello on Wednesday. "Today was the first time in 30 days I've seen a car out front."
Reach Richard Mauer at email@example.com or 257-4345.