Politics

Charlie Pierce, Kenai Peninsula mayor, says he will resign to focus on governor bid

Charlie Pierce

Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Charlie Pierce, one of four candidates for Alaska governor in November’s general election, said Friday morning that he will resign as mayor, effective Sept. 30, in order to focus on his race for governor.

The announcement came three days after a committee of the borough Assembly held a pair of unusual short-notice closed-door meetings to discuss “a specific legal matter that may have an immediate adverse effect upon the finances of the borough.”

Before that meeting, a member of the committee said he expected to officially learn that Pierce or his office were under investigation. After the meeting, that Assembly member — and all eight other members of the Assembly — declined to answer questions, failed to return messages or said they were unable to discuss the issue because it took place in executive session.

On Friday, the political website Alaska Landmine, citing anonymous sources, reported that Pierce resigned due to a workplace harassment case.

Pierce’s campaign spokesperson did not answer a question asking whether Pierce or his office were under investigation.

“I have had no conversations with the KPB,” said the spokesperson, Peter Zuyus.

“I refer you to the borough with any questions regarding borough issues,” he said.

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Borough clerk Johni Blankenship said she was unable to say whether Pierce is under investigation.

“You can talk to the legal department. I’m not privy to any of that,” she said.

Borough attorney Sean Kelley issued a written statement saying that he was unable to comment at this time.

Public records requests seeking contracts for independent counsel and the results of an investigation have not yet been answered by the borough.

Tyson Cox, a member of the borough Assembly from Soldotna, said he regrets not being able to talk publicly about the issue.

“The one thing I will say is, I’ve been doing this a long time … we’ve never had two executive sessions in one day,” he said. “Most people, I hope, recognize that part.”

Assembly President Brent Johnson said he agrees that the scheduling was unusual but was unable to comment further.

“My hope is that if there are questions to be answered, that time will give those answers to folks,” Cox said.

It is not unprecedented for an elected official to resign office in order to focus on a run for higher office. In 2018, Republican state Sen. Mike Dunleavy resigned to focus on his campaign for governor. Dunleavy won that election and is now seeking re-election, challenged by Pierce.

In uncertified primary election results published Friday night, Pierce was running fourth among 10 candidates seeking to become governor, with 6.6% of the vote.

Dunleavy was first with 40.4% of the vote. Democratic candidate Les Gara had 23.1% and independent candidate Bill Walker had 22.8%.

In a written statement from his campaign, Pierce said he had previously committed to resigning as mayor after the August primary. According to social media posts, Pierce intended to spend the weekend campaigning at the Alaska State Fair in Palmer.

It is not yet clear who will replace Pierce as mayor, or when that replacement will take place. Kelley, the borough attorney, said he expects to publish legal guidance Tuesday afternoon.

The borough Assembly has a regularly scheduled meeting Sept. 6, and the issue is expected to be discussed in public at that date.

Originally published by the Alaska Beacon, an independent, nonpartisan news organization that covers Alaska state government.

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