The race to replace Mayor Dan Sullivan is kicking off with two former Anchorage Assembly members announcing their candidacies this week.
Former Assembly Chairman Dan Coffey has distributed invitations to "an announcement of great importance to the future of Anchorage," which will be held Tuesday evening.
Former Assemblyman Paul Bauer declared his candidacy in an email to the Daily News on Monday afternoon. Both men filed letters of intent with the Alaska Public Offices Commission last week.
The next mayoral election is in April 2015 -- more than 18 months away -- and so far Coffey and Bauer are the only two to file with the commission. But at least a half-dozen names are circulating as potential candidates, including current Assembly members Dick Traini, Elvi Gray-Jackson and Paul Honeman.
Asked who he'd heard was running, Traini responded: "Oh heavens -- who isn't?"
Traini said in an interview that he would probably be a candidate, but would wait until he had finished work on several pieces of legislation so that people don't question his motives.
Coffey joked in a brief interview that he would "probably announce for the school board" on Tuesday, then talk about the "challenges of the city" from a "10,000-foot level."
His announcement will be hosted by Mayor Dan Sullivan and Bill Bittner at Bittner's home. Bittner is an attorney in Anchorage and a brother-in-law of the late Sen. Ted Stevens.
Coffey, an attorney, has done extensive work on land use issues -- including spearheading large-scale revisions to the city's land use law, known as Title 21, as a consultant for Sullivan.
Coffey's firm has also done work on behalf of applicants for liquor licenses and for the taxi industry.
The early announcement is "totally money-driven," said Marc Hellenthal, a consultant and pollster who said he will be working for Coffey in the election.
Individuals are limited to contributing $500 to a campaign each year, and announcing in 2013 allows Coffey to raise as much as $1,500 from donors before the end of the race, Hellenthal said.
For that reason, Hellenthal said he expects serious candidates to "make a move" in the next two months.
Gray-Jackson said in an interview that she is "seriously considering" a mayoral run, but is currently focused on her Assembly reelection campaign next year.
"I'm running to get elected to my third term, but I would like to run" for mayor, she said.
Another potential candidate is Anchorage Chamber of Commerce President Andrew Halcro, a former state legislator who ran for governor as an independent against Sarah Palin in 2006.
He said in an interview that he's committed to working for the Chamber of Commerce through the end of 2015, but also acknowledged -- somewhat cryptically -- that he's been pondering a run.
"I'd be hard pressed not to, especially after 10 months in this job and seeing what this city should be. Having said that, I have promised my board two years," he said. "Am I considering it? Yes. Am I thinking about it? No."
Why all the buzz about an election that's still more than a year and a half away? Sullivan is barred by law from seeking a third term, and "for the first time in 20 years, there really hasn't been an heir apparent," Halcro said.
"There's nobody now," Halcro said. "There's a lot of people that are talking, but there's not one frontrunner."
Bauer was an assembly member representing East Anchorage from 2005 to 2008. He served as campaign manager for U.S. Senate candidate Joe Miller until 10 days before the 2010 primary.
"Providing for our families, having friends, good jobs, good education and being in a safe and secure environment makes us pleased within our local neighborhoods and city," Bauer said in a prepared statement. Bauer said he made the decision after hearing support coming from his family and friends.
One other prospective candidate mentioned by Traini and Hellenthal is Bill Popp, who runs Anchorage's economic development agency. In an interview Monday, Popp said he had been asked to run by "some people" and was "flattered" that they considered him a worthy candidate, but added that he's concentrating on his current job.
"I haven't by any stretch of the imagination made that kind of decision," he said. "I have a lot to get done. I'm in no frame of mind right now to make a decision in terms of jumping away."
By NATHANIEL HERZ