Honeman criticism of Sheffield called politically motivated

Kyle Hopkins

Embattled Anchorage port director Bill Sheffield says Assemblyman Paul Honeman quietly sought his political support and campaign donations last fall, then demanded his ouster from the port when he ignored Honeman's pleas.

The flare-up over Sheffield comes as Honeman tries to gain momentum in his bid for mayor against incumbent Dan Sullivan, who has supported Sheffield.

Honeman left messages on Sheffield's phone sometime between Nov. 7 and 10 asking for political and financial support, the former governor said in an interview Wednesday. "He wanted a check and he wanted my support for his election."

Sheffield did not respond to the requests, he said. "The next thing I remember was, while I was on vacation, he as an Assembly person ... announced he thought I ought to be fired."

Honeman on Wednesday said there was no connection between failed requests for political aid from Sheffield and his subsequent calls for Sheffield to be replaced. Honeman says Sullivan should have dumped Sheffield over the drastic budget overruns on a port expansion project.

Honeman said his messages to Sheffield were among countless fundraising calls he has made as a mayoral candidate. Honeman said Sheffield was on the list of donors to his 2010 Assembly campaign.

"I call thousands of people to get contributions and support for a campaign," said Honeman, a former police officer who represents East Anchorage. "That doesn't indicate that if you contribute to me, that that's going to get special favor or put you ahead of the line of anybody else."

His description of the timing of the phone calls differs from Sheffield's. He says the calls were months apart -- he left the first message for Sheffield in August or September, he said, and made a follow-up fundraising call in late October or early November.

Honeman sent a statement to reporters Nov. 21, calling on Sullivan to replace Sheffield as head of the port following a series of cost overruns and construction problems at the troubled port expansion project.

"If our municipality is serious about putting the Port of Anchorage expansion back on the right track, then the first step is for new leadership at the port," Honeman said then.

Sheffield announced his resignation Dec. 28 at a campaign fundraiser hosted at his Turnagain home for incumbent Mayor Dan Sullivan.

Honeman later accused Sullivan of "cronyism" and "wrongdoing" because of a $60,000 consulting contract Sullivan said the city would provide to Sheffield following Sheffield's departure from the port.

On Wednesday, Sullivan responded to Honeman's attack.

"It's a obviously a little hypocritical to accuse me of cronyism because Mr. Sheffield held a fundraiser for me when he was soliciting a fundraiser for himself," Sullivan said. "So I think that's a little duplicitous."

Sullivan said Honeman's actions set a bad precedent for interactions between sitting Assembly members and city department heads and may constitute a violation of city ethics rules.

"To ask for support, not receive that support and then shortly thereafter call for somebody's resignation and deride them publicly, sure looks like retaliation," he said.

Honeman said he was offended by Sullivan's suggestion that a complaint to the city ethics board might be warranted.

"I find it ironic that the guy who admittedly says, 'I'm the only one who can hire and fire executive, at-will, appointees of the mayor,' under the same circumstances is either allowing or asking for a fundraiser (from Sheffield)."

The dust-up began this week when an anonymously sourced report of Honeman's calls to Sheffield appeared Monday on www.northernright.com, a conservative website published by KFQD 750-AM host Casey Reynolds.

Honeman said that in his initial fundraising call to Sheffield, he gave the usual campaign message he delivers to past supporters, telling Sheffield to contact him if he was interested in donating or hosting a fundraiser. In the follow-up call, he recalled saying "haven't heard back from you, still love to talk to you about the campaign," or something similar, Honeman said.

"To this day, still haven't heard from him," Honeman said.

In one of the calls, Sheffield said, Honeman described himself as a port supporter.

"He always complimented me and said, 'doing a good job' and stuff like that," Sheffield said.

Honeman said he couldn't recall expressing his support for the port in the phone calls. His decision to urge Sheffield be replaced as port director came as he learned more about the port project as an Assembly member and candidate, he said.

Sheffield, who is 83, is scheduled to retire as port director this month.

Read The Village, the ADN's blog about rural Alaska, at adn.com/thevillage. Twitter updates: twitter.com/adn_kylehopkins. Call Kyle Hopkins at 257-4334 or email him at khopkins@adn.com.

Video: Interviews with Sheffield and Mayor Dan Sullivan
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