Sullivan takes pride in record of going against the majority

Don Hunter

One thing is sure if Dan Sullivan succeeds in his campaign to be Anchorage's next mayor. He won't be setting any longevity records.

His dad, George Sullivan, made sure of that by holding onto the top office in City Hall for 14 years, eight under the old city government followed by six years as mayor of the new municipality voters formed in 1975.

"Getting involved in local government seemed like a natural thing," Dan Sullivan said Wednesday less than two weeks before the May 5 election. "You tend to get involved in things you know about, and quite frankly, having grown up in that kind of household I know about city government."

Sullivan was elected to the Assembly in 1999 and served the maximum three consecutive terms, stepping down last year. By that time his campaign for mayor was almost 6 months old. He filed paperwork that allowed him to start raising money for the race in November 2007, and he's still at it: Republican former U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens headlined a fundraiser for the 57-year-old Sullivan on Friday night.

Sullivan's nine years on the Assembly included one year as chairman and three in charge of the group's budget committee. He was usually pro-development, pro-business, skilled at running meetings, and not infrequently on the losing end of 10-1 or 9-2 votes.

Former colleagues divided across a political canyon when asked to evaluate his performance. Conservative Assembly members championed his skills.

"He'll have a good solid level of understanding and recognition that the Assembly and the mayor really need to work together," said South Anchorage Assemblyman Chris Birch, who was re-elected in 2008.

Former Eagle River Assemblyman Dan Kendall said he's known Sullivan for decades. They attended high school together.

"I found him very easy to work with," Kendall said. "He has a very good sense of humor; even when the votes were 9-2 he could make fun of it."

Different story from the liberal end of the table. Former member Allan Tesche found Sullivan "extremely hard to work with.

"He worked with his own group in his own way, but in terms of ... the normal wheeling and dealing, it simply wasn't there," Tesche said.

Former Assemblywoman Fay Von Gemmingen also remembers Sullivan as standoffish. "He seemed to be kind of a loner in my opinion," she said.

"One thing comes to mind, he does not work well with others."

Sullivan said in an interview last week he takes Von Gemmingen's observation as a compliment. "I think it refers more to the instances where I didn't vote with the majority," he said.

"Every now and then you have to make that very hard choice not to go along with the crowd."

Maybe he wasn't as chummy as some other members, Sullivan said, but he added that he felt constrained by public meetings and ethics laws that limit contacts among more than a handful of members outside noticed meetings.

"I felt if I hadn't made my case in a work session or on the floor of the Assembly itself that I wasn't really supposed to go beyond that in advocating for something," he said.


Sullivan's college degree is in political science. His work history runs from stints as box office manager in the early days of Sullivan Arena to managing an Alaska Club and serving as executive director of the Arctic Winter Games. Most recently, he and a group of partners opened a downtown bar and restaurant called McGinley's Pub. All those experiences served as good training to become mayor of a city with thousands of employees, he said.

Overseeing the preparations and execution of the winter games in the mid-1990s entailed directing a handful of employees and hundreds of volunteers, and making sure things were lined up for 2,000 visiting athletes and coaches, he said.

"And at the end ... I gave the city back their grant to the games, in total, 100,000 bucks. How many times have you seen that?"

Looking back on his Assembly years, Sullivan said he's proud of his work in sponsoring an ordinance that for the first time required people lobbying city government to identify themselves and disclose who they're working for. As Assembly chairman, he said, he ran efficient meetings, getting through agendas and ending on time.

"There's nothing worse than seeing an Assembly meeting drag out, drag out, because everybody wants to speechify," he said.

He said he's proud of "no" votes on a city budget in 2005 that relied on new revenue from an Anchorage Water and Wastewater Utility rate increase that was being challenged in court, and on labor contract extensions in 2004 that were a tradeoff for union concessions the preceding year, when newly elected Mayor Mark Begich found himself in charge of a government with a $30 million budget deficit.

Sullivan was the only vote against two of the contract extensions, and one of two no votes against a third. He said he opposed them because the deals not only extended but also added onto annual raises. "It didn't seem like a good thing for the taxpayers," he said.

Sullivan said he didn't like putting the new AWWU revenue in the budget in 2005 because they were uncertain, and still are. A lawsuit challenging the rate hikes has reached the Alaska Supreme Court, and the city could end up having to reimburse ratepayers over time.


He's also remembered for easing the conditions of an ordinance limiting the size, height and style of signs. The Assembly, with the encouragement of the Begich administration but without Sullivan's support, had passed a sign ordinance in 2003 that was to begin taking effect in coming years. Sullivan led a charge three years later to undo some restrictions and to allow businesses to continue using existing signs that didn't conform to all the new rules.

"We passed the most restrictive sign ordinance in the whole country," Sullivan says now.

"The sign ordinance I passed was actually a nice compromise," he said. "The key thing, we said, you've got an existing sign, you don't have to tear it down just because the government says so."

Sullivan said his time on the campaign trail this year has shown him voters don't like the way things are going in City Hall. That's demonstrated by the ballot box success this month of the property tax cap initiative, Proposition 9, and the failure of most of the bond propositions, he said.

"There's a little crisis of confidence right now in the city," Sullivan said. "I'm going to go to every conceivable forum that I can. And I'm going to let them know that I'm listening, that I'm going to be a leader that's not holed up in that eighth floor office."

Much of the runoff campaign has revolved around a sales tax. Sullivan has proposed or backed sales taxes in the past -- including a 4 percent tax on goods and services in 2005 -- but says his time on the stump has convinced him voters won't pass one now unless it completely replaces existing property taxes.

"So is that my proposal? No.

"Is that what I've heard from the public? Yes."

The way out, Sullivan said, is a long, consensus-seeking process. "Maybe it takes a year. Maybe it takes two years. ... You find out what does the public want? What are they willing to accept?"

A broad range of options should be put out for input and reaction from citizens and taxpayers as well as groups like the Chamber of Commerce and Commonwealth North, he said: A 3 percent tax? On goods only or goods and services? Four percent? With what kinds of exemptions? What about a summer-only seasonal tax? What if you just use a sales tax to pay for special projects, as Wasilla did to build a sports arena?

Only after he was sure of broad, deep support for any new sales tax proposal would he advocate putting another one on the ballot, Sullivan said.

• Party affiliation: Republican

• Date of birth: June 16, 1951

• Occupation: Consultant, business owner.

• Employment history: 1986-present, Sullivan and Associates, government relations and business development. 2006-present, Highwater LLC, d.b.a. McGinley’s Pub, restaurant and pub — founding partner. 1996-1998, Alaska Club North, general manager. 1993-1996, Arctic Winter Games Host Society, executive director. 1982-1985, Alpine Burtco, Ogden Facility Mgt., box office manager, Sullivan Arena.

• Previous public office held: Anchorage Assembly, 1999-2007.

• Previous unsuccessful runs for office: None.

• Education: Bachelor’s in political science, University of Oregon; undergraduate studies at UAA; George S. May International, business management course.

• Spouse name: Lynnette

• Children: Jennifer, college student

• Web site:

• E-mail:

Dan Sullivan Public forum Monday A coalition of Native groups and nonprofits are sponsoring a one-hour forum with Anchorage mayoral candidates Eric Croft and Dan Sullivan at noon Monday at ChangePoint, 6689 ChangePoint Drive. The candidates will be discussing Alaska Native and rural Alaska issues as they pertain to Anchorage. The forum is free and open to the public. The sponsors are the Alaska Native Professional Association, ANCSA Regional Association, Get Out the Native Vote, First Alaskans Institute, Alaska Native Heritage Center, Catholic Social Services, Alaska Native Justice Center and KNBA 90.3 FM .