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Anchorage

Mayor Berkowitz seeks to ramp up Anchorage's lobbying presence in Juneau

  • Author: Devin Kelly
  • Updated: September 28, 2016
  • Published January 20, 2016

Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz wants to hire two new lobbyists -- one focusing on the Port of Anchorage, the other on the city's electric utility -- to influence Alaska legislators during this year's session in Juneau.

According to documents submitted to the Anchorage Assembly this week, Berkowitz is seeking a $65,000 lobbying contract with veteran political strategist and consultant Jim Lottsfeldt to work on behalf of the city and the port.

Lottsfeldt would join Wendy Chamberlain, the city's longtime state lobbyist, in Juneau, where both would be "predominantly focused" on the Port of Anchorage, said Susanne Fleek-Green, Berkowitz's chief of staff. The administration is requesting a $70,000 contract for Chamberlain, a lower amount than in previous years.

Upgrades at the Port of Anchorage, which city officials say are long overdue and critical to state infrastructure, comprise Berkowitz's only capital request to the Legislature this year. The mayor is asking for $290 million to be added to a statewide general obligation bond package on November's ballot. The total cost of improvements, which include replacing rotting dock pilings, has been estimated at more than $500 million.

Berkowitz also wants to give the city's electric utility, Municipal Light and Power, its own lobbyist this year for regulatory issues. Based on a recommendation from the utility, Fleek-Green said, the administration is seeking a $65,000 contract with another veteran consultant, Kim Hutchinson of Trust Consultants, to work exclusively on behalf of ML&P. Hutchinson's son, Myer Hutchinson, is the city's communications director.

As the mayor seeks to ramp up the city's lobbying presence in Juneau, his staff said the city will be sharply curbing its spending on federal lobbying.

"It's a different strategic approach," Fleek-Green said. "We feel we need a lot more emphasis in Juneau this year than we do in Washington, D.C."

The city's most recent contract with the D.C.-based firm Chambers, Conlon & Hartwell Inc. amounted to $240,000 annually. The firm's duties have included securing federal funding and support for the port project.

Fleek-Green said the administration plans to pursue federal grants rather than hiring lobbyists to secure Congressional earmarks.

Overall, the administration plans to spend less on lobbying this year than in recent years, said Myer Hutchinson, the city spokesman. He said the city hasn't yet hired a federal lobbyist, but said the contract will likely be in the range of $75,000 to $100,000.

The Assembly still needs to approve the new state lobbying contracts. In 2015, Chamberlain's firm, Legislative Consultants in Alaska, was paid $86,250 to work on behalf of the city, its utilities and its enterprises, including ML&P and the Port of Anchorage, according to Ron Hadden, city purchasing officer. The city had awarded the firm contracts valued at up to $100,000 in previous years.

In a phone interview Wednesday, Lottsfeldt -- whose consulting firm, Lottsfeldt Strategies, was paid more than $100,000 for ad campaigns by unions supporting Berkowitz's spring mayoral bid, according to campaign finance reports — described the task of convincing legislators to back the port modernization as a "huge challenge." He said he was tapped primarily because of his connections with Gov. Bill Walker's administration.

"For two-thirds of the state's population, with a service center for the entire state ... I don't think we're overspending on lobbying, considering the role Anchorage plays in Alaska," Lottsfeldt said.

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