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Anchorage Assembly rejects special election for mayor

  • Author: Aubrey Wieber
  • Updated: November 5, 2020
  • Published November 5, 2020

Acting Mayor Austin Quinn-Davidson gives brief remarks after being sworn in at City Hall on October 23, 2020. (Marc Lester / ADN)

The Anchorage Assembly on Wednesday voted down a special mayoral election to be held Jan. 26.

The 6-3 defeat keeps Acting Mayor Austin Quinn-Davidson at the helm of the city until July 1, unless the Assembly takes further action.

Quinn-Davidson took over in October after former Mayor Ethan Berkowitz resigned over his relationship with a TV news reporter. Quinn-Davidson was picked by a majority of her peers on the Assembly to lead the city.

Assembly members Jamie Allard, Crystal Kennedy and Kameron Perez-Verdia brought forth a resolution that would allow voters to elect a temporary mayor so Quinn-Davidson wouldn’t run the city for an extended period. While the election is in April, the new mayor isn’t set to take over until July.

Kennedy said it’s clear that the city must hold a special election.

“I don’t believe that the charter actually gives the Assembly an option,” she said. “It’s actually much more specific than it’s made out to be."

After Berkowitz’s resignation, attorneys for the city and Assembly opined that the city does not need to hold a special election and that, legally, Quinn-Davidson can remain acting mayor until July.

During deliberation, Perez-Verdia said that after thinking about the issue further, he was against a special election. He said that after rereading city code, he determined it does not require the Assembly to call a special election in this circumstance.

Further, he said a special election, likely triggering a runoff, could create a time conflict with the April election.

“When we as Assembly members are elected, we are elected with the understanding that there is a possibility that we may have to step in as a temporary mayor,” he said.

Members of the Assembly have said a special election could sow chaos during a pandemic. If the winner of the special election didn’t win the regular election, Anchorage would have four mayors in less than a year.

To win Anchorage’s mayoral election, a candidate needs at least 45% of the vote. More than 10 people have already filed letters of intent to run, making a runoff likely. City Clerk Barbara Jones said the city estimated a special election to cost about $350,000 and a runoff another $323,000.

The Assembly was initially supposed to take the item up Oct. 27 but ran out of time. On Wednesday, deliberation stretched into the final minute, and a vote finished seconds before midnight, when the meeting must adjourn.

A special election could be reconsidered but needs six votes to pass despite the Assembly being one vote short with Quinn-Davidson filling in as mayor. Additionally, Assemblyman Forrest Dunbar, who is running for mayor this spring, is not participating in the votes.

An ordinance brought fourth by Assemblyman John Weddleton sought some middle ground. It would allow the newly elected mayor to take office upon certification of the results, or shortly after, rather than wait until July 1, as is standard.

Assemblyman Chris Constant argued Wednesday that an incoming mayor needs time to put an administration together, and pushing them into the role too early would not benefit the city.

The ordinance failed 6-3.