Anchorage

Anchorage municipal clerk accuses Bronson administration of using city website to influence Zaletel recall voting

Anchorage Municipal Clerk Barbara Jones has accused Mayor Dave Bronson’s administration of improperly influencing an upcoming special recall election with a message banner on the city’s website.

On Monday, Jones wrote to Demboski and others, saying the message “is very concerning” because it was posted without notifying the clerks, who are in charge of elections.

“Because this banner was not authorized by the Municipal Clerk’s Office, it appears to be conduct in violation of state law and an APOC violation,” Jones wrote, referring to the state’s campaign finance regulator.

Municipal manager Amy Demboski, responding Tuesday, said the accusation is “salacious, unfounded, lacking of logic or common sense, and without basis in Anchorage Municipal Code or Charter.”

Anchorage Assembly member Meg Zaletel, who represents Midtown, is on the ballot next month, the target of a recall campaign organized by Russell Biggs. Biggs is a local anesthesiologist who claims Zaletel violated a city COVID-19 emergency order in summer 2020 when she participated in an Assembly meeting with more than 15 people present in-person.

Biggs is also an outspoken critic of the majority on the Anchorage Assembly, particularly their handling of the city’s federal COVID-19 relief spending. He organized a similar recall campaign against Midtown Anchorage Assembly member Felix Rivera, who won a vote held earlier this year. The campaign to recall Zaletel has garnered support from people opposed to many other actions taken by the Assembly, including the Assembly’s support for COVID-19 restrictions.

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The dispute between the manager and clerk arrives as campaigning for the special recall election gains momentum. A national labor union has gotten involved by contributing $70,000 to an anti-recall group — a figure larger than the combined amount raised by both sides of the special election.

Voters in Zaletel’s Anchorage Assembly district will receive mailed ballots in October. If a majority of votes favor her removal, the Assembly will name a replacement. That person would be subject to election in the spring. If Zaletel defeats the recall, she will be on the ballot again in spring 2022, when her term expires.

Website election banner leads to clash between clerk and city manager

Last week, Anchorage’s municipal website added a yellow banner that says “Upcoming special election in District 4. Mail-in Ballots due October 26th. Click to learn more.”

Clicking on the banner takes a user to the clerk’s election website. The website hosts information about the special election.

Jones said in her message to city officials that historically, the city hasn’t promoted other elections in a similar manner, and doing so in this way “is clearly intended to influence this election.”

Zaletel, along with the majority of other Assembly members, has clashed with Mayor Bronson over various issues, including the city’s response to COVID-19.

Corey Allen Young, a spokesman for the mayor’s office, said the banner is a “routine administrative function of government,” and mayoral administrations historically have been responsible for the design and maintenance of the city’s website.

“Directing people to the Clerk’s information is not interfering with, ‘running,’ or ‘supervising’ an election, nor is it utilizing municipal resources to attempt to influence an election in any way,” he said.

Anti-recall group receives $70,000 donation

Unite Here, a labor union representing hotel, restaurant and casino workers across the United States, donated $70,000 to an anti-recall group last week, public records show.

The donation is unusual. Local union chapters frequently get involved in state and local politics, but their national parent organizations rarely donate to causes below the statewide level, according to records kept by the Alaska Public Offices Commission, which regulates campaign donations in Alaska.

Marvin Jones is president of Local 878, which represents about 1,400 hotel, restaurant and culinary workers in Alaska, including about 900 in Anchorage. He had been lobbying his union’s parent organization to become involved in the race.

A Unite Here employee didn’t return a phone call for comment, but Jones said COVID-19 is a key issue for his union’s members. Zaletel has supported mandates intended to slow the spread of COVID-19, including a mask measure debated this week.

“I feel like that the Assembly really supported us and was there for — not just those in the hospitality business — those in Anchorage, to keep us safe,” he said.

Jones said members of the current Assembly have a history of supporting measures that protect workers.

Local 878 is in a 13-year-old dispute with Columbia Sussex, owners of five large Anchorage hotels, including the Marriott and Hilton.

During the mayoral campaign, Columbia Sussex donated $60,000 to a third-party group supporting Bronson.

Jones said the purpose of supporting Zaletel isn’t to seek a favor for the union, “but more so to continue that (Assembly) group that’s there. Those are simply people that I know fight for people in our industry, and fight for the citizens of Anchorage.”

Unite Here’s donation went to Stand Up for Meg Zaletel, a third-party group separate from Zaletel’s own campaign. Campaign finance records show the group has spent about $16,000 on campaign management and printing costs so far.

A separate third-party group operated by the Alaska AFL-CIO is spending $10,000 on Facebook and Google ads supporting Zaletel.

The main campaign supporting Zaletel reported raising $46,758 by Friday, and the pro-recall campaign had reported raising $11,248.

Campaign finance reports show Zaletel’s campaign is using voter information sold by the Alaska Democratic Party, while the pro-recall group is using a Republican fundraising platform and is using a voter list from a third-party campaign group that supported Bronson’s election earlier this year.

More than a third of the recall campaign’s money has come from Rosemary and William Borchardt, owners of Arctic Office Products.

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