Putting to rest any lingering speculation about his intentions, Andrew Halcro on Tuesday formally declared his candidacy for mayor of Anchorage, highlighting his business background in casting himself as an effective manager of city government.
The announcement came during a crowded lunchtime talk at the Anchorage Senior Center hosted by Retired Public Employees of Alaska, an advocacy organization for pensioners from state and local government. A flier about the event advertised it as a talk about Alaska's rapidly-expanding senior population, but Halcro's presentation largely centered on his vision for Anchorage, such as addressing housing issues and downtown public safety.
On Friday, Halcro, the 50-year-old president of the Anchorage Chamber of Commerce and a former Republican state representative, filed a letter of intent with the Alaska Public Offices Commission that allows him to begin accepting campaign donations, but he declined to answer questions about his plans. Halcro has hinted for months that he was considering a run.
During a question-and-answer session after his talk on Tuesday, Halcro fielded a question about his political future. He answered by saying he saw two polls in mid-December that showed he could win the mayoral election, and that he could also wait to declare. That's when he decided to run, he said.
Halcro, who has served as an executive in his family's rental car business, emphasized the words "management" and "trust" in explaining his decision.
"I am running because I think the city needs three things," Halcro told the audience. "We need a healthy economy, a healthy community, and we need trust."
"To be quite honest, ladies and gentlemen, the Tammany Hall-style politics has got to stop," Halcro added, referring to the Democratic political machine that dominated New York politics in the 19th and early 20th centuries. His words drew cheers.
In an interview afterward, Halcro explained his Tammany Hall reference wasn't directed at the administration of Mayor Dan Sullivan, whose father was also an Anchorage mayor. He said he was referring to a desire to avoid, in the future, what he called "politics of favoritism."
"I think people need to pay close attention to ethics and patterns of behavior," Halcro said. "I think that's going to be an issue."
Halcro did, however, volley criticism at the Sullivan administration for its handling of a major rewrite of municipal labor law that was rejected by voters in November after a long, costly fight with city unions. Halcro said the measure was "handled poorly from a public process standpoint" and would have "handcuffed" future administrations.
Halcro also said that while he agreed with some of the problems the legislation sought to address, a compromise version introduced in August should not have been vetoed by Sullivan.
"So, there is compromise," Halcro said. "I guess my point is, we've gotten away from managing. I grew up managing. That's what mayors and governors are supposed to do."
During his presentation Tuesday, Halcro also endorsed the Housing First model, an approach to getting homeless people off the street and into housing. He said a much wider collaboration is required to address long-standing problems with chronic inebriates and homelessness.
Halcro was joined Tuesday by his campaign manager, Carrigan Grigsby, his nephew and a local real estate broker. Grigsby worked with Halcro on previous political campaigns, including Halcro's 2006 independent gubernatorial run against Republican Sarah Palin and Democrat Tony Knowles. Halcro got less than 10 percent of that vote.
While Anchorage city politics are ostensibly nonpartisan, all of the major candidates who have entered the race are aligned with Republicans or are members of the Republican Party. Asked if he saw any Democratically-aligned candidates jumping in, Halcro said, "No, none."
"At this point, I don't care," he added. "I feel my voice is one of the strongest."
The two December polls Halcro referenced were commissioned by Jim Lottsfeldt, a political consultant and strategist who last year tried to get Democrat Mark Begich re-elected to the U.S. Senate. In an interview Tuesday, Lottsfeldt said he and Begich decided to use leftover money from the U.S. Senate election to gauge Begich's chances if he entered the race for mayor.
The polls were also aimed at figuring out public perceptions about Begich in the aftermath of the election, Lottsfeldt said. Between early and mid-December, two different pollsters surveyed 406 Anchorage "supervoters."
Lottsfeldt declined to discuss the specific results of the polls. He did say that if Begich decided to run, the former senator would be "a formidable candidate."
Meanwhile, two other names stood out to Lottsfeldt.
The first was Halcro, who had a better name identification with voters than the other top contender, lawyer and former Anchorage Assembly member Dan Coffey, Lottsfeldt said. He said Halcro also had a much better positive-to-negative ratio than Coffey.
The only person, apart from Begich, who performed better in the poll than Halcro was Ethan Berkowitz, a former Democratic legislator who hosts a morning radio show, Lottsfeldt said.
"When you look at the data, Ethan and Halcro have far, far higher name recognition than Coffey," Lottsfeldt said.
Berkowitz was not immediately available for comment on whether he is considering a bid. But Lottsfeldt said that he anticipated more candidates entering the race after Halcro.
"Begich's name in some ways has frozen the field a little bit," Lottsfeldt said. "Now things have thawed and people are jumping into it."