A pair of tight Assembly contests were too close to call Tuesday night, with challenger Pete Petersen leading incumbent Adam Trombley in East Anchorage by a few hundred votes and conservative Bill Evans in front of moderate Bruce Dougherty by an even closer margin in South Anchorage.
Four other Assembly seats and two positions on the Anchorage School Board appeared nearly certain to return to incumbent officeholders, with all of the city's 122 precincts reporting.
More than 6,000 early votes and mail-in absentee ballots will be counted next week, according to Deputy Municipal Clerk Amanda Moser. She said those ballots appeared to be evenly distributed across the city, which is split into six different Assembly districts.
Eight of the nine propositions on the ballot -- seven bond packages, and a pair of city charter amendments -- appeared to be headed towards passage.
The one exception was the bond package that would pay for renovations to the decrepit entrance to the Loussac Library, along with relocating Mulcahy Stadium, near Sullivan Arena, and safety improvements at City Hall. The vote for that measure was split by less than 1 percent, with 16,998 voting to approve it, and 17,146 voting against.
Turnout was reported as 19.44 percent, but that did not include the absentee ballots and early votes, or an untallied number of “questioned” ballots, which are filled out by voters who have recently changed addresses or lack identification.
Some 1,000 questioned ballots were filed last year, and just 56 were rejected.
The 11-member Assembly is currently split six to five, with the majority of members, including Trombley, tending to back Mayor Dan Sullivan.
If Petersen were to maintain his lead, that would tip the balance away from Sullivan.
Petersen led Trombley 3,085-2,749 at the end of the evening.
At 10 p.m. Tuesday, Petersen arrived with a dozen chanting, sign-waving supporters at the Dena'ina Center, where election results were being displayed live.
"East Side pride!" they cheered. "Pete Petersen's on our side!"
In an interview, Petersen, a former Democratic state legislator who lost his bid for re-election in 2012, said he was “pretty exhausted,” but added that the results were “exhilarating.”
“All the hard work paid off,” he said.
As he walked to his car around 11 p.m., Petersen said he had not spoken with Trombley.
“My phone is charged up, so if he would like to call me, I’m available,” he said.
Trombley, reached at his home, said he was not conceding, pending the count of the absentee ballots.
“I don’t know how those are going to break,” he said.
The margin, he acknowledged, would be “tough to overcome.”
A fiscal conservative, Trombley had been elected to the seat in 2011, when he won 47 percent of the vote in a three-way race to unseat incumbent Mike Gutierrez.
This year’s East Anchorage campaign also included a third candidate, Mao Tosi, a community activist and former NFL football player who attracted little mainstream support or funding, but still drew more than 20 percent of the vote.
Conventional wisdom said that Tosi would draw votes away from Petersen, aiding Trombley’s campaign. But Trombley said Tuesday that his campaign had poll results that showed Tosi’s candidacy either pulled voters evenly from both Petersen and Trombley, or even drew slightly more from Trombley.
Trombley raised more than $100,000 for his campaign, while Petersen collected some $70,000, which was supplemented by tens of thousands of dollars more in independent spending on attack ads and mailers by unions and business interests.
“I’m sure there’s an element of how fiercely contested the race was that maybe drew some people to Mao, saying, ‘I’m sick of this,’” Trombley said.
In South Anchorage, Evans, a conservative attorney who had advertised his campaign with flyers that said "Vote Republican," had 41 percent of the vote, narrowly leading Dougherty, a former nursing home administrator and health facility inspector who had 38 percent -- a difference of 191 votes.
“I’m cautiously optimistic,” Evans said. “I think we did a good job of chasing absentee ballots.”
A third candidate in the South Anchorage race, conservative Pete Nolan, who works in advertising and marketing for a military publication, had 21 percent.
All three were seeking to replace Chris Birch, a conservative who had been in office for nine years before term limits forced him to relinquish his seat.
In four other districts, voters appeared to return incumbents to the Assembly.
In Eagle River-Chugiak, Bill Starr had 61 percent of the vote and was leading challenger Sharon Gibbons.
In West Anchorage, Tim Steele, with 67 percent, was ahead of challenger Phil Isley.
In Midtown, Elvi Gray-Jackson was running for re-election unopposed.
And in the downtown district, Patrick Flynn had 73 percent, leading challenger Mark Martinson.
The highest profile of the two school board races -- which are voted on by the entire city -- pitted incumbent Kameron Perez-Verdia, who works for the United Way, against Don Smith, a former Republican state legislator who served on the school board until 2013, when he lost his re-election bid.
Perez-Verdia appeared headed to victory late Tuesday, drawing 58 percent of the votes.
At the Dena'ina Center, his supporters cheered "K is for Kameron! Kameron is for kids!"
That race drew attention last week when Smith said in an interview with Alaska Public Media that Anchorage's changing ethnic makeup was causing problems at the city school district.
In the other school board race, two challengers who said they wanted more fiscal restraint from the school district appeared unsuccessful in their bids to unseat incumbent Pat Higgins, who had held his seat for the last six years.
Higgins had 52 percent of the vote late Tuesday, with Dean Williams drawing 28 percent, and Liz Ross drawing 19 percent.
With the exception of the bond for the library and the stadium move, all of the ballot propositions appeared almost certain to pass, with more than 55 percent of voters supporting approval of each one.
The six other bonds would pay for improvements to schools, roads, parks, and other city infrastructure.
One of the ballot propositions would amend the city charter by substituting gender-neutral terms like "chair" and "Assembly member" for "chairman" and "Assemblyman."
The other proposition allows the Anchorage Police Department to keep enforcing parking laws outside the downtown area in the same way it has in the past.Anchorage Assembly
By NATHANIEL HERZ