After a tumultuous few years, Anchorage mayoral candidates pitch different paths forward

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Voting is already underway in the regular Anchorage city election, and incumbent Mayor Dave Bronson faces three serious challengers vying to unseat him after a tumultuous two-and-a-half years in office.

Since Bronson’s 2021 election, the self-described conservative mayor and the Assembly’s more moderate to progressive majority have frequently been at odds over critical city issues. There have been fiery clashes during public meetings as well as lawsuits, numerous vetoes and veto overrides, and ongoing power disputes.

Strife within Bronson’s administration — including departures of more than two dozen of the mayor’s top executives and allegations of misconduct and mismanagement — has further fueled distrust between the city’s executive and legislative branches.

The incumbent’s top opponents — Suzanne LaFrance, Chris Tuck and Bill Popp — say they’ll put an end to that conflict and acrimony, while Bronson says his reelection is necessary to keep balance in city government and put a check on the Assembly’s power.

Whoever is elected will take office as the city grapples with significant economic challenges, including homelessness and a lack of shelter, a housing shortage coupled with rapidly rising rents and home prices, outmigration of working-age residents and families, high numbers of staff vacancies in some departments, efforts to revitalize downtown and others.

April 2 is the last day to cast a ballot. If no single mayoral candidate crosses the 45% threshold required to win outright, the top two vote-getters will head into a runoff election in May — a scenario the candidates largely anticipate.

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In recent debates, campaign messaging and advertising, a fierce and sometimes bitter competition between Bronson, LaFrance, Tuck and Popp has emerged.

LaFrance, the former Assembly chair, has so far outraised her competition, including Bronson. She also has seen the most individual donors and won the most endorsements among Bronson’s opponents — positive indications, her campaign manager said, though a fundraising lead in the city election has not necessarily translated to a win in past years.

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“It’s a sprint to get into the runoff,” said Popp, former CEO of the Anchorage Economic Development Corp., adding that it’s likely Bronson will make it onto the runoff ballot.

Because of that, this year’s regular election is shaping up almost like a primary between Bronson’s opponents, said Tuck, a former longtime Democratic state legislator.

“Would I enjoy 45%, avoiding the runoff? I sure would. But no one’s going to enjoy that in this election,” he said.

Mayor vs. former Assembly Chair

Bronson is not the only candidate whose record is affecting the dynamic of the mayor’s race: LaFrance’s time serving as the Assembly’s chair for the first year-and-a-half of Bronson’s mayorship is also a big part of the conversation.

LaFrance took the position during a time of upheaval over the city’s approach to the COVID-19 pandemic, and LaFrance and Bronson were frequently on opposing sides. Tensions erupted into chaos over a proposed mask mandate during a series of meetings that stretched over two weeks in fall 2021, as Bronson and his allies rallied against it.

As chair, LaFrance spearheaded several Assembly investigations into controversies and allegations against his administration, including its hiring of a Health Department director who fabricated or exaggerated parts of his resume.

“I got into this race because I had a front-row view to Bronson’s administration and the negative impact on our community,” LaFrance said in an interview.

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In her bid to voters, LaFrance says she’ll restore competency to city government. Her six years on the Assembly, from 2017 to 2023, have provided the necessary understanding of the city’s inner workings, familiarity with its most pressing problems, and relationships with its leaders and staff, she said.

“That experience enables me to step in, right away, and start addressing our issues from day one,” she said.

Bronson’s opponents have criticized his administration over basic functions, like snow plowing and staff vacancies, and controversies including violations of the city’s procurement code, departures of top executives, and several costly lawsuits, among others.

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“We have had too many years of strife and acrimony in our municipal government, much of which has been driven by partisanship,” Popp said in his Daily News and Alaska Public Media Q&A. “We have been caught up in an endless cycle of moving from one dumpster fire to the next.”

But while Bronson’s record has largely been the focus of scrutiny and criticism, Tuck and Popp have also foisted some responsibility for turbulence in city governance onto the Assembly — and by extension, LaFrance.


“I think the Assembly has got a little bit of ownership of the acrimony, and I think that is because they’ve allowed emotions to bleed into their opposition to what the mayor has been doing,” Popp said.

Bronson also has blamed LaFrance and the Assembly’s supermajority for much of his administration’s — and the city’s — woes, referring to them as “nine radical leftists” in one February debate.

“I have faced the Assembly, led by Miss LaFrance, that is bound and determined to make me fail,” Bronson said during a debate hosted by Alaska’s News Source.

LaFrance maintains that while serving as chair, her actions were motivated by legislative responsibility to protect the city’s assets and taxpayers and “getting the municipality’s business done.”

“I’m proud of standing up for my constituents and for taxpayer interests. And I learned the nuts and bolts of how the municipality works,” she said in an interview.

Bronson did not agree to an interview for the story. In response to a request for an interview, his campaign said “We are in full campaign mode, so I cannot guarantee an interview.” His campaign did not respond to follow-up emails.

Homing in on partisanship

Anchorage city government elections are technically nonpartisan, though endorsements and financial support from party-affiliated groups frequently play influential roles.

“This goes back decades, in terms of partisanship, but it’s always been kind of a low simmer. But now it’s just all front and center with this administration,” Popp said.


In interviews and debates, Bronson has also pointed to many issues and instances in which he and the Assembly have agreed, including their recent advancement of a housing initiative for homeless residents.

In his Q&A, Bronson said that “respect and compromise is key” when working with people of different views and priorities such as the Assembly.

“Elected officials must work together to make progress for the people, and that has been my focus,” he said.

But he has also framed the election as a “critical tipping point” for Anchorage, in which the city risks domination “by woke leftists” if voters do not reelect him.

“Opting for any alternative candidate risks cementing a single-party governance model – something that we cannot afford to have again,” Bronson said in his Q&A answers.

In interviews, LaFrance, Tuck and Popp all criticized that statement.

“That’s just the wrong approach,” LaFrance said. “You know, if you’re looking at it through a partisan lens, then that opportunity to really work together as community members is lost.”

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Popp said the mayor “has been trying to paint the other three candidates as absolutely in lockstep with the Assembly, and I don’t think that’s the case — at least not in my case.”

“My goal has always been working with people side by side in getting things done. And I’ve never made it about us versus them. I mean, it’s all about all of us,” Tuck said.

Tuck and Popp have campaigned as alternatives to Bronson and LaFrance.

Tuck has pitched himself as a fresh perspective in city governance, and someone who will strive to bring people together and leave the bitterness of recent years behind. He points to his time in the Legislature and as leader of a bipartisan majority as evidence of his ability to work with different viewpoints.


“You can’t get anything done without building relationships and treating people with respect and then having a respectful public process. One that’s fair. And one that promotes more participation. And what separates me from the others is proven results of making that happen,” Tuck said.

Popp says he would be a forward-thinking mayor with no aspirations to further political office, one who would be solely focused on “advancing the city” and setting a vision for its future.

He’s lobbed criticism at the other three over their endorsements from political party groups, also saying he declined invitations to seek those.

“I am truly the only nonpartisan candidate in the race. I am not endorsed by any political party. All three of the other candidates have been endorsed by political parties, which is the same thing as being a partisan candidate in my mind,” Popp said.

Homelessness response looms large in debates

Criticism over the city’s homelessness responses and Bronson’s previously proposed mass shelter project has become a recurring theme in recent debates and campaign messaging.

In an interview and during the Alaska’s News Source debate, Tuck criticized LaFrance for her actions in her former role as Assembly chair. She could have done more to help the city’s homelessness problems while in such a powerful role, he said.


“I do believe that we would be further along with our homeless populations, with the money that came in, had these two been really working together instead of pointing fingers at each other,” Tuck said of Bronson and LaFrance at the debate.

[Can Anchorage’s next mayor get the city’s homeless response out of ‘crisis mode’?]

In an interview, LaFrance countered that by saying there are significant differences in both the job and the scope of power between the Assembly chair and mayor.

The Assembly approves city budgets and contracts and can set policy, “but at the end of the day, the mayor is the one in charge,” LaFrance said. “The mayor sets the tone and the mayor is the one who brings in people and makes it possible to collaborate and work together — in a way that’s very different than what can be done on the Assembly.”

Bronson, in the same debate, blamed LaFrance and the Assembly for much of the city’s homelessness problems. He questioned LaFrance over her vote against his now-dead project to build a mass homeless shelter in East Anchorage, after initially voting to advance the proposal.

LaFrance sees it as protecting the city’s interests. She voted in support of it because the city needs shelter, and changed her vote later when rules for spending public money were broken and it “became an issue of fiscal responsibility,” she said.

LaFrance and other Assembly members voted to kill the project after learning Bronson officials proceeded with millions in construction work in violation of city contracting rules as the project cost estimates ballooned and as the administration offered no clear plan to pay for its annual operations.

“And I have to say, it is the job of the mayor to be focused on the future, and to work hard when one approach doesn’t work, to come up with another approach and bring people in around a vision and collaborate,” she said.

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Emily Goodykoontz

Emily Goodykoontz is a reporter covering Anchorage local government and general assignments. She previously covered breaking news at The Oregonian in Portland before joining ADN in 2020. Contact her at