Q&A with Mayor Dan Sullivan

Kyle Hopkins

Daily News reporter Kyle Hopkins spoke with Mayor Dan Sullivan on Thursday, March 29. Here are excerpts from the interview:

Q. Is it fair to say there's been a reduction of services under this administration? I'm thinking of fewer police officer positions, the Dimond branch library closure, some cuts to parks staff.

Mayor Dan Sullivan: No, not at all. There's as many libraries now as when we came on board. We opened the Mountain View library, so we (have the) same number of libraries. Most of the staff that was reduced were vacant positions. When this police academy is completed here in just a few weeks, we'll have more police officers on the street than at any time in Anchorage history. They kept a lot of vacant positions in the department, as did a lot of departments.

Q. Unions have been donating to (challenger Paul) Honeman. Meantime, you received a lot of money from contractors, from builders, from developers. Do the donations from the industry make you beholden to builders as the city re-writes its land-use rules?

A. It's a different ball game. The union contracts are what the mayor negotiates. If you've received most of your campaign funding from those very same people that you're supposed to negotiate contracts with, I think it's a conflict of interest. On contractors ... for example, if you want to bid a job with the city, you have to go through a formal ... process. The mayor, quite frankly, has no role in how those contracts are awarded and who gets them and for how much. As far as Title 21, the goal for Title 21 is simply to find good balance. We want good design standards, but at the same time we don't want to make the price of housing or development so expensive that we price people out of the market.

Q. How will you vote on Proposition 5?

A. The voting booth has those curtains on it for a reason. ... No, I'll tell you. I'm not going to support it. I always hesitate when people ask me how I'm going to vote on things. The privacy of the voting booth means something. But as you know, I vetoed the exact same ordinance three years ago so I think my position's fairly well known. As I said then, nobody produced a single quantifiable piece of evidence that they had either been fired from their job or denied housing because of their sexuality. I wanted names, dates, places. One. And out of 400 people who testified for the ordinance and there was about 400 who testified against it. There was some anecdotal evidence that people felt like they had been discriminated against. (But) I have yet to see one specific example.

Q. Honeman has characterized your veto vote as "bigoted." How do you respond to that, and do you have any concerns about being on the wrong side of history on this decision?

A. Not at all, and it's unfortunate that people do start resorting to name calling when they're behind in an election. It's one of those things where it's OK to disagree. I think the community, there's clearly two sides to this issue. So whether you're on the wrong side of history or not, I don't believe that's a fair statement. I think there's a clear set of choices that people disagree about and it's OK to disagree. It's actually what makes our system pretty darn good, the fact that we can be vocal about our disagreement. But we should still be respectful in our disagreement. And so he resorts to name calling. He calls the voters a dummy if they support me. I don't like that stuff.

Q. Should there be an external investigation of the police department's handling of the Anthony Rollins case?

A. We have been working already with the International Association of Chiefs of Police about reviewing our procedures as they exist today. But we have to be cautious at this stage about any analysis of what went wrong because we're in court with 10 plaintiffs who are suing the city and seeking damages. We have to be very cautious about what we do or say about past procedures.

Obviously we weren't here when his incidents happened. I'm not sure what went wrong, if anything went wrong. I know they were investigating him. And people have to keep in mind it was our police department that caught him, arrested him. And our system that put him in jail and convicted him. So at some point, the system worked and the police department did their job.

What went wrong or if anything went wrong before that, a little hard to say at this stage.

Q. What steps have been taken to ensure an officer can't get away with something like that right now?

A. We've done a number of things. ... There's a direct line of supervision now between those who are out on patrol like Rollins was, and a commander, a sergeant. We're putting cameras into the substations so they can't be used for some of the activities he was using them for. ... We've got a list of about eight or nine things.

Q. Do you think Honeman did enough to stop Rollins as a member of the department of the time?

A. One thing we know for sure is there had been an investigation of Rollins going on for a couple of years. And I think Mr. Honeman was actually part of the investigative team at one point. But they could never catch (Rollins) in the act. And the only time he was ever caught in the act was when Mr. Honeman walked in on him.

And that was the one opportunity it looks like we had to take action right then and there. There clearly was a woman under the desk ... I don't think it takes a genius to figure out that something sexual was going on. And so the question is, what state was that woman in. Was she in impaired? Was she coerced? I suppose he could have asked four words, "Ma'am, are you OK?"

Q. Are you interested in proposing a city alcohol tax?

A. I don't like specific taxes on one product or another product. I would prefer a more broad-based sales tax. But only if it reduced property taxes dollar-for-dollar under the tax cap. I think that's a better methodology. You do capture from a broader base. And we've got 20,000 commuters a day. We've got tons of seasonal workers. We've got hundreds of thousands of tourists every year. They use our roads, they use our services, but really, other than the bed tax, don't contribute a whole lot.

Q. Have you seen the YouTube video the Honeman campaign uploaded called 'Don't Be a Dummy 2' ... It says you shared a pitcher of beer with an employee at McGinley's (the downtown bar co-owned by Sullivan), allowed her to drive away and that she was involved in a DUI collision.

A. I haven't heard it, but this was a subject several years ago, so it's been well covered. McGinley's has a very strict policy on serving. We've never had a single violation in almost six years of operation. And, quite frankly, we have no idea where that particular individual went after she left McGinley's.

It's just real hard to comment when you don't know what people's actions were after they left the establishment. But we always follow the rules.

Ultimately, it boils down to people are responsible for their own actions. If you're an adult, you need to be responsible for what you do.

Q. Is it true that there was an employee who left the business and then got a DUI or became involved in a crash.

A. Yes.

Q. (Court records indicate the accident took place in October, 2006.) Were you drinking with that employee?

A. We were at the bar and there was a number of us who shared a pitcher of beer. It wasn't just the two of us, it was a number of people.

Q. Any plans for expanding parks and rec program as city grows?

A. That all depends on the budget. We're looking at a very challenging year in 2013. We have major escalation in the labor contracts and revenues are not growing at that same pace. So 2013, I can't see us expanding a whole lot of programs.

Q. Your ads say "A good man doing a great job for Anchorage." Honeman's say "the honorable choice for mayor." It seems each candidate is implying something about the other's character.

A. "A good man doing a great job for Anchorage" was my dad's slogan in 1978. I stole it from his campaign brochure. It's not saying anything about my opponent. I generally try not to talk about my opponent. I'm running for the office.

Q. Under what scenario are you supportive of building a Knik Arm bridge?

A. I'm supportive under several scenarios. I would like the state just to build the bridge as a key piece of infrastructure. Right now, you've got one way between the two most populated areas of the state: The Glenn Highway. If something happens on the Glenn Highway, which happens fairly frequently in the winter, you're going to strand 20,000 people for hours. And if there was a major disaster... you're going to strand 20,000 people for days.

Having another route, that reason alone makes it viable.

There's 240,000 containers that come into the Port of Anchorage every year. Thousands and thousands of those, and they're all hooked up to trucks. Thousands are heading north, and every one of those trucks has to come through downtown Anchorage on their way, working their way to go north. All that truck traffic with those containers could just head immediately north and not come through my downtown. Plus, I think everybody knows we're running out of developable land in Anchorage. And I think having a new opportunity over there for people who wanted to live there and work in Anchorage or recreate in Anchorage. We have so many communities in the country where we have that exact scenario. A bridge connecting two communities. And I don't think anybody's ever said that because of that bridge, (a) community ended up dying or suffering.

Q. Is it fair to ask the state or any government to build the Knik Arm Bridge given that's not now it was presented to the public? It was to be privately funded.

A. That's the direction that KABATA took. I understand that. That was part of their initial charter was to look for those P3 partnerships. But again, it's my own personal feeling. I don't like paying tolls. I've never really lived in a place where there's a bunch of toll roads or toll bridges. So, I just think, when did we stop building critical infrastructure in this state?

We have billions of dollars in surplus. They're predicting at least $2 billion in surplus this year alone. And interest rates out there for government projects like this are extremely low. I just can't imagine a better time to get out there and build two or three of these key projects.

Q. Are there any construction or capital projects you're looking to build?

A. We're working on a couple. And they're not particularly big and fancy. But we're trying to do a lot of work down at Ship Creek. Ship Creek is this incredible asset. A major salmon stream running right through the middle of an urban area. I want it to be much more attractive. Much more accessible. Everybody talks about the river walk in San Antonio ... I want good fishing platforms. I want the bank to be stabilized. I want access in and out better so it can be utilized much more conveniently and safely and attractively.

Q. You've been on the job three years. Why should people re-hire you as CEO of the city?

A. When you're the incumbent, you run on your record. When you're a challenger, you're running on what you say you're going to do. I think we've actually produced a very good record, particularly of the things we've said we're going to do.

When I ran three years ago, I said I wanted to fix the financial health of the city. I wanted to get crime trending the right direction. I said I wanted to make sure we did a better job maintaining our public assets. Not particularly inclined to build any new edifices, but really just wanted to keep maintaining what we do own.

And I wanted to work really hard on securing a better energy future for Anchorage. And to touch on each of those, financially, I think we've done a great job. We've contained the runaway growth of spending that was going on previously....

Bit by bit, we're kind of bringing the city into a much more efficient organization. The way we know we're being successful, we're one of the few cities in America, in 2010, still in the recessionary times, we had our bond rating upgraded. Now that does not happen unless the rating agencies really feel like you have really got a handle on your finances.

Q. What would you try to accomplish during a second term?

A. I always look at city government as not being something particularly complicated or that you need to have grandiose ideas about. Just do a few things really well. Maintain your assets. Keep crime down. Have a good, solid, response fire and ambulance system. And manage money well.

Businesses and people want to live in a city that does those basic things really well. So that's kind of our goal. As you know, we've ventured into some other arenas as well.

I want the Anchorage School District to be the best school district in the nation, and that's why I convened my education summit in November. We're going to reconvene in June to see if we can put an action plan together ... One of the things in the summit that came out was that Alaska sets the bar so low, we're fifth-lowest in the nation in the standards we expect from our students and we rank last in several major categories ... It's just unacceptable.

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