Second in a series of stories on the candidates for Anchorage mayor
Few days have passed in the last 17 months without a meeting or event related to Dan Coffey's run for Anchorage mayor.
In the course of a long, steady campaign, Coffey has met with business executives, home builders, nonprofit and religious leaders and public health authorities. He's been learning, he says, about "things municipal."
"The purpose of that," Coffey said in an interview, "is so that when I get there, I am ready. I am prepared."
By that, he means prepared to occupy the mayor's office on the eighth floor of Anchorage City Hall -- the highest office, physically and politically, that Coffey has pursued in a long career steeped in "things municipal."
Of all the candidates running for office, Coffey, 68, a politician, lawyer and lobbyist, has the longest track record in city affairs. He's a former two-term Anchorage Assembly member and chairman, and a businessman with a part-ownership in the Alaska Aces hockey team. He's served on the city Planning and Zoning Commission and was hired by current Mayor Dan Sullivan as a consultant on the city's overhaul of land use and zoning codes.
As a lobbyist, Coffey has spent considerable time in front of governmental bodies on behalf of specialized industries that require navigating the city's rules and regulations. He's represented bar owners in danger of having liquor licenses revoked and taxicab drivers when the city was rewriting local transportation law. He said if he's elected, his client will be "the citizens of Anchorage," and no one else.
Coffey says Anchorage has been good to him and his family and he wants to use his decades of experience to help make it better. Financially, he doesn't need the job, he says. He and his wife jointly reported gross income of $2.7 million between 2010 and 2013.
"But I want the job. I want to do this because I think I can do a good job," Coffey said. "If you look at my history of jobs, I've done a good job."
The Coffey files
Coffey invited voters to take a look at some of his history in March 2014, when he released his tax returns as well as a set of negative research files on himself. It was, he said, an effort to set the record straight and put the past behind him. The top of one page reads, "Don't judge a lawyer by his clients."
The files, posted on Coffey's website, include: the transcript of an embarrassing private 2008 conversation with Assembly member Bill Starr, recorded without the knowledge of either, and later broadcast; a letter Coffey wrote to a judge in defense of hardware store owner Josef Boehm, who was being sentenced on drug and sex trafficking charges; records from a settlement with the Alaska Public Offices Commission where state regulators accused Coffey of violating lobbying and campaign finance rules while supporting the Port of Anchorage expansion project; and citations for minor sportfishing violations.
"Where the attacks were unfounded, I have set the record straight," Coffey wrote in the introduction to the files. "Where I have made a mistake, I disclose what happened and offer no excuse."
Ivan Moore, a political consultant working for Ethan Berkowitz in the mayor's race, called the release of the files "a silly mistake." The tactic was used by engineering firm owner Bob Bell, a Republican and former Anchorage Assembly member who lost a bid for Democrat Hollis French's state Senate seat in 2012.
But Coffey's disclosures have yet to result in direct attacks from his opponents. Andrew Halcro and Amy Demboski have obliquely raised issues of trust in the campaign; Halcro's campaign slogan is, "Trust. Halcro Mayor," and Demboski has sought to pitch herself as free of special interests.
But Coffey said he expects the attacks to come. And when they do, he said, he'll just point people online.
"Take a look at Coffey, just go ahead," Coffey said. "Make up your minds if he can do a good job as mayor for the city."
At the time he released the files, Coffey also released a list of consulting clients since early 2013. Those included two high-profile commercial developers, JL Properties and Pfeffer Development, and a home-building company, Hultquist Homes.
In 2014, according to his state disclosure form, Coffey earned at least $136,000 from consulting services to 11 clients, including the telecommunications company GCI, the independent gas exploration and producing company Cook Inlet Energy, the Petroleum Club, and Terry Parks, his business partner and a co-owner of the Alaska Aces. Coffey also received consulting fees from his former law firm, Ernouf and Coffey, which he sold to his law partner Sherman Ernouf about a decade ago.
In 2010, Sullivan hired Coffey as a consultant on Title 21, the major rewrite of Anchorage land use code. Coffey, who as an attorney has represented homebuilders and commercial developers on land use issues, spent a year reviewing the code. Coffey noted that some, but not all, of his recommendations were incorporated into the version that took effect at the start of this year.
Effective at what he does
Dick Traini, the current chair of the Anchorage Assembly, served on the Assembly for six years with Coffey. Sometimes he and Coffey agreed; sometimes they didn't.
As an Assembly member, Coffey excused himself from discussions that involved his clients and abstained from votes. Off the Assembly, Coffey was good at lobbying, Traini said.
"He's very effective when it's something he wants to do," Traini said. "Whether it's alcohol or taxicabs, he's very effective."
By nature, Coffey listens to both sides of an argument before reaching a conclusion, Traini said. Traini also recalled that while working on behalf of bar and club owners, Coffey sometimes agreed that a license should be revoked unless the client's behavior improved, as in the case of the Paradise Inn in Spenard.
In 2007, Traini and Coffey co-sponsored a ballot initiative to ban smoking in bars, which was strongly opposed by the liquor industry. Without Coffey's help, Traini said, the measure would not have passed.
Coffey has lived in Anchorage for almost his entire life. He was adopted, born in Seattle and brought to Anchorage six days later by Ed and Ruth Coffey, his adoptive parents. He says it's natural that he knows a lot -- and knows a lot of people.
Coffey's office in the Midtown neighborhood of Geneva Woods is packed with paintings, carvings and other pieces by Alaska Native artists. His wife, Pauline, used to own an arts and crafts store. To the left of Coffey's desk, a sign reads, "It's Coffey Time."
Whatever happens with the election, Coffey says, this is it for him.
"I'm done with elected office when I'm done here," he said.
Tomorrow: Ethan Berkowitz
Alaska Dispatch Publishing