Mayor seeks $60,000 to hire Coffey to lobby for port

Rosemary Shinohara

Anchorage Mayor Dan Sullivan wants to hire former Anchorage Assemblyman Dan Coffey under a contract to lobby the Legislature and governor on a $350 million capital request for the city's troubled port-expansion project and to do other consulting work for the administration.

The pending contract, for $60,000, is up for a decision on Tuesday's Assembly agenda. It would be in effect from Nov. 15 to May 15.

The contract would be a non-competitive award based on Coffey's experience and the fact that he has the confidence of the mayor, Larry Baker, the mayor's chief of staff, said in a memo to the city purchasing officer.

Coffey's duties will augment those of the city's year-round lobbyist, Wendy Chamberlain, who is paid $100,000 per year, said Sarah Erkmann, the mayor's spokeswoman.

Coffey said if hired, he'll be working with Chamberlain.

"I'm 90 percent port. She's 90 percent the legislative package," he said.

Coffey won't be lobbying for anybody but the city, he said.

"I'm interested in the port. It's so critical to Anchorage."

Besides the port funding, Coffey will also help the administration develop a proposal for pedestrian improvements in the Ship Creek area, Sullivan said. And he'll do other projects as determined.

The mayor's request for $350 million to pay for the beleaguered port expansion project has already generated controversy, with at least one legislator, Rep. Les Gara, D-Anchorage, questioning whether the city is really scaling the project back from $1 billion to $350 million. Gara noted the port director, Bill Sheffield, has still been talking about moving ahead with the rest of the project after the current phase is done.

The city has been working for years to replace docks at the port and expand it. But the project stalled due to lack of funding, and construction problems. Steel sheets being installed in 2009 were bent and damaged, and project managers have been assessing and repairing the damage the last two summers.

Sullivan said the $350 million he's asking the Legislature for is all the money his office will be requesting for port expansion. It will go primarily to finish the north end of the project, which Sullivan said is the most vital section.

Sullivan also hired Coffey in 2010 and 2011 to make recommendations to him on proposed changes to Anchorage's land-use and zoning code.

Coffey's review of the code took place over about a year's time, and angered some activists who thought the mayor and Coffey were undermining years of public debate and compromises by conducting this private review.

Assembly member Elvi Gray-Jackson said she is opposed to the mayor hiring Coffey for the lobbying job. "He's going to pay an ex-Assembly member $60,000 to do what his chief of staff should be doing," said Gray-Jackson.

Two other Assembly members contacted by the Daily News supported the proposal.

"I think it's up to the mayor and I'm OK with it," said Assembly chairwoman Debbie Ossiander.

She said the city "desperately needs" money for the port.

Patrick Flynn echoed her comments. "God knows it needs the help," he said of the port project.

Reach Rosemary Shinohara at or 257-4340.

Anchorage Daily News