Candidates running for Anchorage mayor and the Anchorage School Board this year must be ready to tackle tough issues — including a global pandemic, an economic crisis and reopening schools — as they vie for votes in a crowded race.
By 5 p.m. Friday, when registration for candidacy closed, 14 people had filed for the mayor’s office. Multiple people had also filed for each of the four school board seats open. No Anchorage Assembly seats are open this year, although a recall of Assembly chair Felix Rivera is headed to the ballot for voters in District 4.
The final day to register to vote in the election is March 7, and ballots will be mailed out on March 15. Municipal election day is April 6, and all ballots must be postmarked by that day or dropped off at a secure drop box or accessible vote center.
The large number of mayoral candidates means there is likely to be a runoff election, which would happen if no candidate receives the 45% of the vote required to win the office. A runoff election is scheduled to take place if necessary on May 11.
Both newcomers to Anchorage politics and more established local leaders have entered the race, and while the office is technically nonpartisan, the candidates have a wide range of views on how the city should move forward.
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Some candidates are more supportive of actions the city has taken to address homelessness and the coronavirus pandemic, including Forrest Dunbar, who currently represents East Anchorage on the Anchorage Assembly.
Dunbar in 2014 ran as a Democrat for a seat in the U.S. House and lost to Republican Congressman Don Young. Bill Falsey, another more progressive candidate for mayor, served as the city manager under former Mayor Ethan Berkowitz.
Other candidates are critical of the Assembly and the city’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic and its restrictions, such as mandating masks and limiting gatherings and indoor dining.
That includes Dave Bronson, a former U.S. Air Force and commercial pilot who is new to politics and has gained popularity among a crowd that is vehemently opposed to the pandemic restrictions.
Another more conservative contender is Bill Evans, who in 2014 was elected to represent South Anchorage on the Assembly. Evans has garnered the endorsement of former Anchorage Mayor Dan Sullivan.
Mike Robbins, a businessman and Republican House District 26 chairman, is also making a bid for the mayor’s office and has the endorsement of former Anchorage Mayor Rick Mystrom.
George Martinez, who currently works for the Alaska Humanities Forum and was previously a special assistant to former Mayor Berkowitz, is also running.
Other candidates that have filed include Jacob Kern, Darin Colbry and Heather Herndon. A few additional candidates have cropped up in the last three days, including Reza Momin, Joe Westfall, Jeffrey Brown, Anna Anthony and Albert Swank Jr., a civil, structural and mechanical professional P.E. engineer, who owns an engineering and scientific services business. Swank in 2005 pursued installing a nuclear particle accelerator on his Anchorage properties.
The Anchorage School Board race is also crowded, with at least three candidates for each of the four available seats. The seats are also technically nonpartisan, but candidate goals and policies on school issues vary widely.
Notably, four conservative candidates this year are running together as a group hoping to sweep the available seats. The group’s priorities include reopening schools and raising academic achievement and reading scores, according to its website.
Judy Eledge, one of the members of the group, is a retired longtime Alaska educator and recently president of the Anchorage Republican Women’s Club. She is vying for Seat B against Kelly Lessens, who co-founded an advocacy group that pushed for more time for nutrition and recess in schools.
First-time school board candidates Mark Anthony Cox and Marilyn Stewart have also filed to run for Seat B, which is only a one-year term. Whoever wins will finish out current school board member Starr Marsett’s term. Marsett recently announced she would resign, effective in April.
Seat E incumbent Alisha Hilde, who at recent school board meetings advocated to reopen Anchorage schools, will take on five challengers: Pat Higgins, Edgar Blatchford, Rachel Blakeslee, Sami Graham and Nial Williams.
Higgins lost as a Democrat in a 2018 Alaska House race and previously served on the Anchorage School Board, taking office in 2008 and leaving in 2017. Graham, a retired educator, is one of the candidates running as part of a conservative bloc for school board. Blatchford is a professor at UAA and a former mayor of Seward.
Seat F also has numerous contenders: Marcus Sanders, who unsuccessfully ran for a District 4 seat on the Anchorage Assembly in 2018; Kim Paulson, a mother with children in the district and a member of the conservative group of candidates; Dora Wilson, who is on the Office of Children’s Services’ Resource Family Advisory Board and is co-founder of AK Hopes & Dreams; and Dan Loring, who filed to run Friday.
Incumbent candidate Elisa Vakalis, currently board president, will face four candidates vying for Seat G. Candidates include Carl Jacobs, Larry Daugherty, David Nees and Pierce Blewett.
Jacobs is a first-time candidate, president of the Alaska State Employees Association’s Anchorage Chapter and a foster parent. Blewett is also new to school board races, but not to the district — he is a longtime football coach at Bartlett High School and is the fourth member of the conservative group of school board candidates running together.
Nees is a former teacher in the district and in 2020 lost an election as an Alaskan Independence Party candidate for Alaska House. Daugherty, a radiation oncologist and Iditarod musher from Eagle River, filed to run for Seat G on Friday.
Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly said Albert Swank Jr. pursued installing a nuclear particle accelerator in his Anchorage home. It was on his properties.