Flynn takes over as Anchorage Assembly chairman

Nat Herz

The new Anchorage Assembly picked Patrick Flynn as its chairman Tuesday, solidifying a shift away from Mayor Dan Sullivan's conservative politics after the city election earlier this month.

Flynn was chosen without opposition from any of the Assembly's 10 other members, while Dick Traini, one of Sullivan's most strident opponents, was selected as the new vice chairman.

"Back on the hot seat," said Flynn, who previously served as chair for four months in 2010.

Flynn now takes the job previously held by Ernie Hall, who had been chair for the last two years.

Until the city election on April 1, Hall had been one member of a six-person, fiscally conservative Assembly majority that tended to align with Sullivan. But incumbent Adam Trombley lost his East Anchorage seat to challenger Pete Petersen, a former Democratic state legislator, and that shifted the Assembly's balance.

As one senior Sullivan administration official has said, the results mean that the mayor is more likely to be pressing the "veto button" over the next few months.

But on Tuesday Sullivan said he had worked "pretty darn well" with Flynn in the past.

"It's like anybody else -- you're not going to agree all the time," Sullivan said. "But the thing about Patrick is, kind of like Mr. Hall, they're both very steady, even personalities -- and pleasant to work with."

The Assembly chair's powers are mostly mundane, although, as Sullivan put it, "it's a nice resumé stuffer."

Primary responsibilities of the chair include running Assembly meetings, and organizing the group's committees, Flynn said.

Nonetheless, early discussions between Assembly members in the lead up to Tuesday's meeting drew sharp scrutiny from some city residents and interest groups.

A deal touted by conservative Assemblyman Bill Starr that would have kept Hall as chairman and installed Tim Steele as vice chairman fell apart after Steele withdrew his support, following what he described as a deluge of phone calls from constituents and supporters.

Many of those phone calls came from people who objected to Hall keeping his leadership role after his support for a controversial labor law -- spearheaded by Sullivan -- that passed the Assembly a year ago.

In an interview Monday, Steele said he had decided against supporting Hall "because of the reputation that's out there of him being too close to the mayor."

"I don't believe that is the case," Steele said, "but I believe that perception matters. We're in public office."

Steele acknowledged that one of his discussions had been over coffee with Vince Beltrami, the president of the Alaska AFL-CIO. That labor group says it's the state's largest, and had invested significant money and manpower in the city elections this month.

Beltrami said he'd contacted Steele after hearing a report of the initial deal to keep Hall as Assembly chair. He denied pressuring Steele, though, saying he instead was "trying to, kind of, referee a little bit."

Steele said his support for Hall had been intended to keep the Assembly with more moderate leadership, but Beltrami didn't see things that way.

Hall "presided over what is probably the ugliest chapter in the municipality's history, and having the same guy be the chair again wasn't moving in the direction of moderation," Beltrami said, referring to the passage of the labor law last year.

He added that he would have been happy to see as chair any of the new six-member majority, which includes Steele, Flynn, Traini, Petersen, Elvi Gray-Jackson and Paul Honeman.

"I told Tim that. I've told everybody that. Tim could be the chair, Pat, Dick, Elvi -- I don't care," Beltrami said.

Steele said his conversation with Beltrami carried no more weight than his discussions with any other constituent or supporter, and added that by that point, he had already decided against serving as vice chair.

Why so much discussion about a job that doesn't come with any extra voting power?

"Image matters," Flynn responded.

"People are looking for a visible change in the Assembly, as far as the leadership goes," said Derek Hsieh, president of the city police union.

Flynn is likely to remain in charge of the Assembly for at least seven months, though the body can reorganize its leadership at any time.

This winter, however, members could be forced to make a change, if Mayor Dan Sullivan, who is running for lieutenant governor, is elected.

If Sullivan vacates his office, the city charter says the Assembly chair would replace him, though Flynn said Tuesday he wasn't sure if he could do the job. He's a father of two with a job at an environmental engineering firm.