More union and business money is pouring into the East Anchorage Assembly race, with hotel and restaurant workers targeting incumbent Adam Trombley over a vote he took that led to an increase in bus fares, while a business backed group is attacking Trombley's opponent, Pete Petersen, over his record as a state legislator.
The race has emerged as a key battleground for control over the Assembly, which is currently split 6 to 5, with the majority tending to side with Mayor Dan Sullivan, a conservative, on fiscal issues.
The Alaska branch of UNITE-HERE, which represents 1,100 private sector workers, is spending $15,000 on anti-Trombley mailers going to some 4,500 households, said Noah Sunflower, one of the group's organizers.
That's in addition to more than $40,000 that's already been put into radio ads by other unions either promoting Petersen or attacking Trombley. All the money is paying for efforts that the groups say are being conducted independently from the candidates' campaigns.
UNITE-HERE's mailers, which Sunflower said were paid for with members' dues, represents the first time the union has spent money independently on a municipal election.
He added that the communications were not coordinated with the other unions involved in the East Anchorage race.
The mailers show an upside-down, damaged military vehicle on one side, a picture of a city bus on the other, and a printed message that says Trombley doubled bus fares for veterans.
The assertion stems from a vote Trombley took in November against a measure that would have boosted the city budget by $600,000 and staved off the rising fares -- which for some riders had not gone up since 2005.
Only three out of the Assembly's 11 members voted for the proposal.
"Our members ride the bus to work. We're talking about a tax on the lowest-income people in our city, and we took particular issue with that," Sunflower said in a phone interview.
He added that "the gloves are off" in the campaign, noting that a pro-Trombley group had commissioned its own wave of attack ads.
Trombley didn't immediately respond to a request for comment on the mailers Wednesday. His consultant, Marc Hellenthal, said that the campaign hadn't done research on them.
"We have a very limited ability to answer," he said. "If you raise bus fares and somebody happens to be a veteran, they're going to have to pay more, too."
The pro-Trombley group, meanwhile, has so far spent just over $30,000 on radio ads, and on a website, petesdeceit.com, that attacks Petersen.
The money for the group, which is called Citizens for Adam Trombley, has come almost entirely from the construction industry. Top contributions include $7,500 from Larry Partusch, the founder of an Anchorage plumbing company, and $5,000 apiece from Bill Taylor and Dean Weidner, who run companies involved in the housing industry.
The name and address of the group's website is recycled from an attack effort from Petersen's 2012 race for a state House seat against Lance Pruitt, which Pruitt won.
It's somewhat dated: One page says that Petersen "hasn't done one thing over the past four years down in Juneau but create jobs for his own staff members," even though Petersen has not served on the Legislature since 2012.
Bruce Schulte, the chair of Citizens for Adam Trombley, wouldn't say how much of the material on the site had been recycled from the previous website, but he added in a phone interview that his group had paid for the web hosting.
"We do have rights to use the content that was in there," he said.
The site includes an icon of a photoshopped Petersen head with an elongated, Pinocchio-style nose, and targets his votes against the state capital budget, which had been opposed by blocks of Democrats, Petersen included.
"Obviously, they're doing anything they can to try to make me look bad -- that's for sure," Petersen said in a phone interview.
He added that he had not yet heard any of the pro-Trombley group's radio ads.
Reach Nathaniel Herz at firstname.lastname@example.org or 257-4311.
By NATHANIEL HERZ