Outgoing Anchorage mayor thinks Internet trolling will burnish his legacy

The mayor seems to disagree with my opinion of his legacy -- enough that he is saying so in a very brash, rude and public way. However, his pathetic attempt to bully me, and the lack of sophistication with which he handled it, will only further tarnish his legacy.

Last Wednesday my column highlighted some great things that Mayor Dan Sullivan has done regarding the homeless issue during his tenure. My point was had he continued these programs and built upon the first phase of work he had completed, he could be celebrating some great successes in helping the homeless in this community on his way out of office.

Elected leaders are forced into living two lives as politicians and policymakers. Generally, only one comes naturally to them and one has to be forced. Sullivan is a natural politician. He's very polished, has a good smile and a great sense of humor. He is good at winning over a crowd, while his policymakers are hard at work polishing the agenda.

When Sullivan chose to run for higher office he basically checked out, much like Sarah Palin did when she left Alaska, but not her governorship, to run for vice president. As I noted in the column, important city positions and partnerships went away and all the work that would have made this mayor remembered as the one who did more for the homeless than any before him.

He was so unhappy about me pointing that out in my column, he chose to have a meltdown via Facebook comments in the middle of the workday. He or someone else logged into his personal Facebook account, and in a six-paragraph rant defended his record with some specious claims. He finished with a personal attack, "Sorry Dingman, you don't get to write my legacy. My administration has accomplished many good things for our city -- take off your blinders and write an honest column for once. That assumes that you are capable of expanding your sophomoric prose into something meaningful and objective, which I seriously doubt."

He made a couple of claims in this rant. He cited the education forum he held in late 2011 and early 2012. When it was first announced, I was very excited. However, three years later, what results have we seen from this summit? What change has been made to education in Anchorage as a result?

He also cited the municipality's financial strength in his rant. This is odd to me, because in the past I have praised his ability to manage the city budget and provide services while balancing the budget and keeping property taxes at a reasonable level. Maybe the mayor had conveniently forgotten my past columns during his rant? Any reasonable person would have to conclude that I've been pretty fair to Sullivan over the years, praising him when he's deserved it and criticizing him when I thought it was called for.

He touts investing "over $800 million in our public infrastructure," but how much debt has the municipality saddled our next generation with in money wasted on the Anchorage Port, or the maligned SAP project?

His bungled response further proves the point in my previous column that Sullivan is grasping at straws, desperately trying to ensure his legacy won't be the one he built over the last six years, but the one he's trying to create in the last two months.

Our city was begging for leadership and never got it. The different communities within our city were pleading to be heard only to have public testimony shut down. Even when the public was given the opportunity to talk, Sullivan often didn't bother to be in the room. Sullivan's stubbornness seems to know no bounds.

What his post did not comment on is what matters most. I have mentioned in more than one column that Sullivan's greatest weakness is his inability to manage people. His choice to post this comment plays right into his reputation for burning bridges rather than building them. He's a stubborn leader who takes it personally when somebody disagrees with him.

The fact that he attacked my writing, rather than its substance, has all the trappings of a classic Internet bully. Sullivan didn't just respond to my column. He responded to many others in the comments section on the website. I counted at least four comments he made and one other commenter said, "The fact that mayor Dan has time in the middle of the afternoon to reply multiple times to an opinion piece only reassures me he has nothing better to do."

It's pretty significant when a sitting mayor of the largest city in the state loses his cool and throws a temper tantrum online. Sullivan said, "Sorry Dingman, you don't get to write my legacy." He's right, I don't, nor do I profess to. I'm simply an observer and a commentator. He had the chance to write his own legacy, and he still does. When he writes anger-incited comments such as the ones I described, he only strengthens my argument that his is a legacy of contempt.

Mike Dingman is a fifth-generation Alaskan born and raised in Anchorage. He is a former UAA student body president and has worked, studied and volunteered in Alaska politics since the late '90s. Email, michaeldingman@gmail.com.

The views expressed here are the writer's own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary(at)alaskadispatch.com.

Mike Dingman

Mike Dingman is a fifth-generation Alaskan born and raised in Anchorage. He is a former UAA student body president and has worked, studied and volunteered in Alaska politics since the late '90s.