Wasilla council: Sale of Palin's 'mayor mobile' won't help feed hungry

Zaz Hollander

Proceeds from the eBay auction of the Ford Expedition driven by former Wasilla Mayor Sarah Palin will not go to feed the hungry.

The Wasilla City Council on Monday night nixed a proposal to give the Wasilla Food Pantry roughly $8,000 from the sale of the SUV, unofficially dubbed the "mayor mobile" and bought new for Palin in 1999.

The council actually deadlocked in a 3-3 vote but Mayor Verne Rupright did not "invoke his privilege to break the tie," so the measure failed, according to Deputy City Clerk Sarah Whiteley.

Rupright backed the eBay idea as a way to let the city benefit from the notoriety that Palin generated with her 2008 vice-presidential campaign. He opposed the food pantry proposal, expressing concerns about giving money to one nonprofit without involving others.

Wasilla City Council member and Deputy Mayor Colleen Sullivan-Leonard proposed the donation, which she called a one-time donation rather than a grant.

Sullivan-Leonard said it was "unfortunate" the city chose to capitalize on Palin's reputation without helping the pantry.

"The mayor and the council felt it was better suited back into city coffers," she said Tuesday morning. "The mayor said, 'Who knows? Maybe there's tables and chairs to sell too.' I'm not sure how far this will go."

Rupright wasn't available for comment Tuesday.

The vote means the money will go into the city's general fund.

"I think Ms. Palin brought a lot of notoriety to the city but also a lot of expense," Gretchen O'Barr said Tuesday morning. "I figured the money came originally from the taxpayers to pay for a city vehicle; it needs to go back into the coffers."

The council's informal policy is to stay out "the grant business," council member Brandon Wall said in an email. Past donations, like one toward finding a new home for a nonprofit paying a small lease on a city building, had a broader benefit, Wall said.

"I applaud Deputy Mayor Sullivan-Leonard for bringing this need to the community's attention and I would encourage folks to consider making a donation to the Wasilla Food Pantry this holiday season," he said.

The city last month put the 1999 Ford Expedition XLT up for sale on eBay with a minimum bid of $10,000 to generate funds for the city's vehicle fleet. A woman from Fairbanks bought the SUV for $10,300. The vehicle is valued at up to $2,300.

Voting in favor of the Wasilla Food Pantry donation Monday night were council members Sullivan-Leonard, David Wilson and Leone Harris. Council members Brandon Wall, Buzz Buswell and O'Barr voted against it.

O'Barr said her son worked on one of Palin's mayoral campaigns.

"The idea of quote capitalizing on Sarah's fame didn't bother me at all," she said.

Reach Zaz Hollander at zhollander@adn.com or 257-4317.