Hall defeats incumbent Claman

BOB HALLINEN / Anchorage Daily News Anchorage mayor Dan Sullivan, and Assembly member Sheila Selkregg congratulate assembly candidate Ernie Hall and talk about working together at Election Central in the Egan Center for the Municipal elections on Tuesday April 6, 2010. 100406

Challenger Ernie Hall defeated a more liberal incumbent for the West Anchorage Assembly seat in the city election Tuesday.

Hall, who was endorsed by Mayor Dan Sullivan, trounced one-term incumbent Matt Claman.

"I think I had a message that resonated with the community," Hall said as the results became clear. "Now the work begins."

"To see an incumbent get defeated by such a large margin is unusual," said Sullivan. "But hey, it speaks to the fact that somebody like Ernie Hall really has respect in the community -- he's kind of even-handed, can work with both sides."

Claman attributed his loss to voters' desire for change. "There's a lot of talk nationally that incumbents have a tough road," he said.

Five of the 11 Assembly seats were on the ballot. Three new Assembly members elected Tuesday will change the mix. The Assembly approves the city budget and writes laws.

In Midtown, former Assemblyman Dick Traini was the apparent winner in a tight race with conservative Andy Clary -- also endorsed by Sullivan. Traini was ahead by 248 votes with absentee ballots still to be counted. Clary said he thought it was statistically possible for him to overtake Traini, but "remote."

The final vote count is scheduled for April 16.

Traini said the makeup of the Midtown district tends to lead to close races.

In East Anchorage, former police lieutenant Paul Honeman won over a limited-government candidate, Adam Trombley. Sullivan also supported Trombley.

Honeman said he's nonpartisan. "I'm no threat to either party."

Two incumbents, Debbie Ossiander in Eagle River-Chugiak and Jennifer Johnston in South Anchorage, easily won re-election.

Voter turnout was very low, with only the Assembly races, School Board, four bond propositions and one other proposition before all voters.

For the past two years, the Assembly has been split 6-to-5 on many issues, with a generally liberal group in charge. One of those majority members didn't run for re-election and another, Claman, lost Tuesday.

Sullivan, who has been mayor for nine months, hoped to shift more votes his way by Hall, Clary and Trombley winning their races. Hall won, Clary is in the close race with Traini, and Trombley lost.

Hall, a furniture manufacturer, was the only one of the three who had already made a name for himself in Alaska politics and through participation in a broad base of civic affairs.

Hall as board chairman for the Anchorage Fur Rendezvous winter festival helped revive it when it hit hard financial times three years ago. He also ran for lieutenant governor in 2002 with Democratic nominee Fran Ulmer.

Hall said he will be conservative on the budget, but hopes the Assembly will "come together and work as non-partisan."

Claman, a lawyer, was Assembly chairman in 2008.

When former Mayor Mark Begich left office early to become a U.S. senator, Claman became acting mayor for six months, starting in January 2009.

He was among a majority on the Assembly who approved controversial labor contracts with city unions in December 2008. Critics felt they were too costly as the country was mired in a recession and finally hit Anchorage less than six months later.

By the time Claman became acting mayor, city investments in the stock market had crashed, slashing city revenue. Claman cut $17 million from city spending to help make up the shortfall.

One issue between Claman and Hall was subsequent budget-cutting by Sullivan after he became mayor last July. Hall said the mayor has acted prudently. Claman said he believed Sullivan had gone too far in cutting police and fire budgets.

Find Rosemary Shinohara online at adn.com/contact/rshinohara or call 257-4340. Daily News reporter James Halpin contributed to this story.

Anchorage Daily News / adn.com