Our View: Voters send a message that mayor should heed

April 7, 2013 

City voters delivered a stinging rebuke Tuesday to the way Mayor Dan Sullivan and his allies handled the new labor law.

Assuming Ernie Hall clings to his narrow lead over "write-in," the mayor will still have a 6-5 advantage on the Assembly -- although Hall last week stressed he's not an automatic vote for the mayor.

The mayor stressed the 6-5 split, but if that's a victory, it should be a sobering one.

Hall, a longtime civic leader, Assembly chairman and until late March unopposed, woke up Wednesday morning still on the bubble in his race with write-in candidate Nick Moe. "Write-ins," most of them presumably for Moe, trailed Hall by just 93 votes. Even given strong union support and little campaigning by Hall, that's a stunning performance by a young challenger without Hall's name recognition, experience or a printed name on the ballot.

That reflects the intensity of union opposition to the new labor law -- but also indicates wider public opposition to the political machinations by which the ordinance was proposed and passed.

Moe said he ran against Hall because Hall cut off testimony on the labor law. That angered many people, despite the testimony of 285 residents over several evenings. But a reasonable cutoff might not have riled so many if the mayor hadn't sprung his ordinance out of the secrecy of closed-door meetings and timed it to protect his political allies, especially Hall. The whole business reeked of a fast-track fix aimed at breaking the power of the city's eight unions -- and with a disdain that angered and motivated city workers to fight that much harder against the ordinance.

Moe's short campaign captured a lot of that frustration and anger with the administration -- over the labor law, and likely over Title 21 and other issues as well.

The write-in challenge wasn't a one-off performance, either. Unions, workers and others rallied to Tim Steele and Dick Traini, and both won by wide margins over their Sullivan-backed opponents, Cheryl Frasca and Andy Clary. Nor was it all about money -- at last report, Frasca had still raised more than Steele and Traini had a only modest edge over Clary.

In the Anchorage School Board races, the winners were Bettye Davis and Eric Croft, both public service veterans who don't generally share the mayor's philosophies -- or endorse his methods.

Tuesday's results encouraged the city unions and their allies to launch a referendum campaign to repeal the ordinance. If they get the signatures and have the referendum in order, its certification will suffice to suspend the labor law until there's a public vote.

Had the mayor trusted in tough, constructive negotiating, he might have accomplished a lot at the bargaining table. Had he trusted in a real public debate, one airing real issues and seeking a wide range of solutions, we might have made progress without lasting rancor now dividing the community. Unfortunately, he did neither.

Now he has a longer, tougher fight on his hands, one in which we all may end up with a worse outcome -- unless we find a way to have the honest, good-faith debate we should have had from the start.

BOTTOM LINE: The Election Day message is clear; the debate is far from over.

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