Mat-Su mayor’s race is a three-way contest again with the return of one candidate after a health-related withdrawal

PALMER — Bert Cottle last month bowed out of a three-way race for Mat-Su mayor, prompted by his discovery that he needed chemotherapy.

But the voting information for the Nov. 2 Matanuska-Susitna Borough election — including the actual ballot — never changed because Cottle left the race on Sept. 27, after the Sept. 3 deadline to withdraw.

Last week, saying he’s feeling healthier than expected, Cottle announced he was returning to the race — 12 days before Election Day.

Cottle is a former Wasilla mayor and Mat-Su native who once served as chief of police in Valdez. His candidate statement highlights education, tourism and economic development, including finishing the Point MacKenzie railroad spur.

Cottle plans to conduct his campaign by social media instead of in person, he said Friday. “Between now and Election Day there is no debate, there’s no forums.”

The two other candidates in the race, Palmer Mayor Edna DeVries and former Mat-Su Assembly member Matthew Beck, have been making the campaign rounds, attending community council meetings and other events as well as a debate in early October that Cottle did not attend.

Beck, a Palmer resident who co-owns a veterinary business and worked for the Catholic Church, served two terms on the Mat-Su Assembly and spent four years as deputy mayor. His candidate statement describes him as a supporter of schools, community development and critical infrastructure.

DeVries, an accounting services instructor at Alaska Job Corps Center and Alaska Republican Party secretary, once served as borough mayor and on the borough assembly, state Senate and city council. Her candidate statement emphasizes her years of business and political experience.

Both Cottle’s opponents say they’re glad to hear his treatment is going well. Neither said they thought it hurt their chances of winning.

“I’m very happy that he’s feeling better,” Beck said. “Bert’s always been a colleague and we’ve had a very friendly relationship. When I decided to run, he was the very first person I texted.”

Asked if he feels that Cottle reentering the race changes the complexion of the race, Beck said he’s confident in his chances and that his campaign “still has the numbers” he had in the beginning.

DeVries said she was happy Cottle was feeling healthy, though she had “mixed emotions” about the uncertainty his reentry adds to the final stretch of the campaign and the future.

“I’m glad to see the treatment is going well,” she said. “But I am concerned about the position, if he were to be elected, that would put on the borough and the added cost and stress for staff” if Cottle later had to resign.

The Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman described the early October borough mayoral debate as exceedingly civil. Among other things, Beck voiced his opposition to taxes and DeVries declared her support for the Second Amendment.

Asked why they were running, Beck said he demonstrated his ability to listen to people while on the assembly “and I will work really hard to continue to do that, to listen to people so they can be heard, be involved in the process,” the Frontiersman reported.

DeVries said she wants her grandchildren to be able to have the “freedoms and the enjoyment of what we share here in the Mat-Su Borough and we don’t want to become Anchorage,” and that she cares what happens to borough residents.

The borough mayor has limited powers, though they can vote to break an assembly tie, introduce legislation and veto assembly decisions. The mayor runs assembly meetings and represents the borough at events. Outgoing Mayor Vern Halter, a Willow dog musher and tourism business owner, is term-limited out.

There are also three assembly seats, two school board seats and a $61.1 million transportation bond proposition on the ballot for next week’s election.

Cottle said numerous callers asked him to stay in the race. Before he declared his candidacy, he also heard from several people who decided not to run once he entered.

Those people could “open up the opportunity for a whole new list of candidates and more choices for borough residents” if he ends up having to resign, Cottle said in a statement announcing his return to the election.

But a special election is only held if the borough mayor leaves office more than six months before the next regular election, according to the borough clerk. Within six months, the assembly appoints a mayor.

Cottle did not file financial disclosure reports with the Alaska Public Offices Commission because his campaign isn’t spending more than $5,000, the trigger for reporting, he said. His endorsements include the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations, and musher Raymie Redington.

Beck was reporting more than $27,700 in campaign income, including $8,000 of his own money, according to a 30-day disclosure report filed Friday. That included donations from outgoing borough Mayor Halter and the Alaska State Employees Association/American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees.

DeVries was reporting more than $20,000, according to APOC filings updated Saturday. That included donations from several Republican groups and Tuckerman Babcock, former policy adviser for Gov. Mike Dunleavy.