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Anchorage Assembly shifts left, elects new leadership

Sean Doogan
Anchorage assemblyman Pat Flynn during an assembly meeting on Dec 3, 2013. Flynn was chosen as the new chair of the Anchorage Assembly on Tuesday night. Loren Holmes photo

After the results of the April 1 municipal election, the Anchorage Assembly swore in two new members and elected new leadership at its Tuesday night meeting at the Z.J. Loussac Public Library.

Pete Petersen -- who beat out incumbent Adam Trombley and Mao Tosi in the East Anchorage race -- and Bill Evans -- who won a three way race for the South Anchorage seat vacated by Chris Birch -- took their oath of office during the short meeting. Their ascension to the Assembly marked a left turn in the political make-up of the body.

Before the election, and with Trombley as vice-chair, the Assembly was divided 6-5, with conservatives holding a slight majority. Now that Petersen has taken that seat, the political pendulum has swung ever so slightly to the left, with liberals now enjoying the same 6-5 majority.

Seeming to grasp that he didn’t have the support to remain the chairperson, Hall began the meeting saying that his two-year tenure as Assembly Chair has been "a delight." But it hasn't been without some controversy. Hall has taken criticism for his handling of the controversial labor ordinance known as "The Responsible Labor Act" or AO-37, which is currently suspended pending the outcome of a referendum to overturn it in November.

Shortly after the swearing-in ceremony, presided over by Alaska Supreme Court Justice Craig Stowers, the Assembly got down to business and voted to reorganize, something it typically does after an election. Patrick Flynn was elected the new chair without opposition. "You will not have to wrestle me for this (the chairperson's gavel)," Hall said, seeming relieved as Flynn took his position.

But the pick of a vice chair was more contested as both Dick Traini and Jennifer Johnston received nominations. After a secret ballot was counted by Municipal Clerk Barbara Jones, Traini was chosen.  Negotiations over the Assembly leadership positions have been going on for weeks, and the position of chair -- which makes decisions on members' conflicts, rules on procedural matters, and sets the general tone of meetings -- is especially important this year. Current Mayor Dan Sullivan is running to be the next lieutenant governor of Alaska. Should he win, Mayor Sullivan would take office on Dec. 1, seven months before the end of his term.

By city charter, the chair of the Anchorage Assembly becomes acting mayor when that position is vacated.  If Flynn were to remain chair -- the Assembly can reorganize at any time with a simple majority vote -- he would become acting mayor if Sullivan won in November. The next Anchorage mayoral election is set for April 2015, but whoever wins would not be sworn in until the end of Mayor Sullivan's term, July 1, 2015.

This job is bigger than any one person," Flynn said after taking the helm of the Assembly. But the new chair might not have his sights set on the mayor's office, even on a temporary basis. Flynn said he would have to weigh his current work commitments before considering a possible stint as the municipality's top executive should Mayor Sullivan become lieutenant governor.

"There's a long way to go, and I'm sure that if that happens (Sullivan leaving office) there will be many more discussions," Flynn said.

The newly reorganized Assembly will get right to work. A budget work session is planned for Wednesday, and another meeting is planned for Tuesday, April 22. It will feature a jam-packed agenda -- as the assembly has put off many issues until after the election was finalized.

Contact Sean Doogan at sean@alaskadispatch.com