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Eagle River-Chugiak assemblywoman announces Anchorage mayoral run

Nathaniel Herz
Anchorage Assemblywoman Amy Demboski
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Amy Demboski, the first-term assemblywoman for Eagle River and Chugiak, said she would run for Anchorage mayor, joining a field that so far includes only attorney and former assemblyman Dan Coffey as a serious contender.

Demboski, 37, declared her candidacy with the Alaska Public Offices Commission late Tuesday and announced her decision in an emailed statement.

“It is important that the voters of Anchorage have a clear choice for mayor in 2015,” the statement said. “I will continue to be a stoic voice for the taxpayers, focusing on fiscal restraint, essential city services, accountability, and ethical leadership.”

Demboski would become Anchorage’s first female mayor, if elected on April 7. Current Mayor Dan Sullivan is barred by term limits from seeking re-election.

Demboski faces a formidable opponent in Coffey, who announced his own candidacy in October and has been campaigning since then. Coffey, 68, had raised $50,000 for his campaign when he filed his last financial disclosure in February and says he has raised $75,000 more since then.

Informed of Demboski’s declaration late Tuesday, Coffey responded, “Well, I guess the more, the merrier.”

“There is a clear choice. And it’s experience versus -- she’s a brand new Assembly person,” he said in a phone interview. “I have a far greater range of experience, knowledge and so forth than she will be able to bring to it.”

Coffey was elected to the Assembly in 2004 and served two three-year terms, including a year as chair. He has also chaired the state's Board of Fisheries and served on the city planning commission.

Demboski was elected to the Anchorage Assembly in April 2013, winning 50 percent of the vote in her district, 6 points ahead of her nearest challenger, Pete Mulcahy. She has also served as president of the Chugiak Community Council and chair of the city’s Budget Advisory Commission.

For her mayoral bid, Demboski will rely on a pair of local political firms, Strategies 360 and Dittman Research, she said in a phone interview, with consultants Taylor Bickford and Matt Larkin managing the campaign. Demboski said she would publicize her candidacy starting Wednesday.

She is among the most conservative members of the 11-member Assembly and backs Mayor Dan Sullivan, a Republican, on many fiscal matters as well as on his efforts to keep in place a controversial city labor law that’s hated by local unions.

But she opposed the Sullivan administration’s attempt last year to build indoor tennis courts in West Anchorage, and sponsored a measure to require disclosure of fundraisers held on city-funded trips, after Sullivan held one in Washington, D.C.

Demboski, who is married to a city fire captain, has also pushed to add money to a program that picks up inebriates from Anchorage streets and to fund more paramedic positions.

“I think it’s important that we do the fundamentals right, and there’s nothing more basic than making sure people have the public safety resources they need,” she said in a phone interview Tuesday.

Asked how she would represent the whole city, and not just the people of Chugiak and Eagle River, Demboski pointed to her role in the debate over the tennis courts, describing her district’s values -- “sustainable budgeting," "accountability" and "ethical leadership” -- as transcending its boundaries.

“Though I was elected by the people of Chugiak-Eagle River, I had a responsibility to every single taxpayer and voter in Anchorage,” she said.

City races are officially nonpartisan, but candidates often attract support from political parties, and Demboski, in her announcement, pointed out that she is the only Republican in the race. In fact, another declared candidate, Paul Bauer, is a registered Republican, but his campaign has so far failed to attract mainstream support, and he had not raised any money as of February.

Coffey was a registered Democrat until the late 1980s, he said; he is now an independent.

Others who have said they're considering mayoral bids include Anchorage Chamber of Commerce President Andrew Halcro, a Republican who ran as an independent candidate for governor in 2006, and Assembly members Dick Traini and Elvi Gray-Jackson.

Asked how she would overcome her fundraising deficit, Demboski said the voices of “people, over special interests, are the loudest, and I believe that will outshine any amount of money.”

She added that Coffey’s fundraising disclosure forms were “riddled with special interests,” pointing to donations from figures in the taxi and alcohol industries. Coffey has represented both industries as a lobbyist.

“I think he’s probably done some good work over the years, but I also know that the people’s voice should be the loudest in the mayor’s office,” she said. “I think the voters of Anchorage deserve a clear choice, and with me in the race and Mr. Coffey in the race, there’s definitely a clear choice.”

Coffey responded with a question: “What’s a special interest? Someone who has something of concern to them that relates to the city? Then I would say taxpayers are special interests.”

“What I have is a lot of support across a wide spectrum of, quote, ‘special interests,’ which are basically people that live and work in the Municipality of Anchorage,” he said.

Coffey said Demboski had “a lot of conflicts” of her own, stemming from her husband’s job as a firefighter, which she discloses regularly at Assembly meetings.

“I don’t have those conflicts,” Coffey said.