Politics

Anchorage mayoral runoff: Berkowitz, Demboski get ready for Round 2

With the runoff in the Anchorage mayoral race less than one month away, May 5, Ethan Berkowitz and Amy Demboski didn't spend too much time celebrating their first- and second-place finishes, respectively, in the city election Tuesday night.

By Wednesday morning, both candidates were making fundraising calls, reaching out to supporters and hitting the talk-radio circuit, according to their campaigns.

Meanwhile, the third-place finisher, Andrew Halcro, said Wednesday he doesn't intend to endorse either candidate. Halcro said in an interview he expects the people who voted for him will choose where to go themselves. He said he believes most of his support came from people who would be more comfortable with Demboski than Berkowitz.

In Tuesday's election, with all but one precinct reporting, Berkowitz landed in first place with 36 percent of the vote, well short of the 45 percent needed to avoid the May 5 runoff. Demboski secured the second-place spot with 24 percent, edging Halcro by more than 1,300 votes. About one quarter of registered Anchorage voters turned out to cast ballots.

Deputy municipal clerk Amanda Moser said Wednesday elections officials still need to count questioned ballots and some absentee ballots.

Demboski raised the least amount of money of any of the four candidates. But Demboski's former campaign manager and current volunteer, Cale Green, said Wednesday the campaign's heavy focus on door-knocking and building a ground presence paid off. He said that effort will continue.

"It's a right-wing grassroots movement against Berkowitz," Green said.

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On Wednesday, Demboski also met with leaders in the Alaska Republican Party, according to a photo posted on the group's Facebook page. It was an about-face from the first round of the election, when Demboski said that the state Republican Party leaders contacted her and asked her to withdraw from the race.

But a photo posted to the group's Facebook page included a caption that called Demboski "very impressive." In a statement posted to the group's page, Chairman Peter Goldberg congratulated Demboski on her spot in the runoff and offered up an endorsement.

"It was a hard-fought race with distinct choices, but voters decided on two very different candidates. Amy represents the fiscally conservative choice for the future of Anchorage," said Chairman Goldberg. "In these times of low oil revenues in our state, Amy is hands down the right person for the job of running Alaska's largest city. We look forward to helping her communicate her strong, conservative vision for back-to-basics government."

Berkowitz, reached by phone Wednesday, said his campaign plans to "keep doing what we've been doing, because it worked pretty well so far." He said he'll continue focusing on public safety and fiscal responsibility, two major topics among all the candidates in the first round. He also said the campaign is in good shape financially.

He said he'll maintain a focus on running a nonpartisan race.

"I think partisanship or politics-as-usual, it just doesn't serve the city well," Berkowitz said.

At the Dena'ina Center's Election Central on Tuesday night, however, Demboski, endorsed last weekend by the Anchorage Tea Party, said she expected to draw ideological contrasts between herself and Berkowitz during the runoff race.

"Ethan is a big-government, high-taxation kind of guy, and I'm going to bring forward a message of limited government and lower taxes," Demboski said. "So the voters of Anchorage are going to have a very clear choice when it comes to the next election."

Halcro on Wednesday predicted that partisanship would factor far more prominently in the runoff than in the first round.

He said the Berkowitz-Demboski matchup was reminiscent of the 2006 gubernatorial race, when Republican Sarah Palin beat Democrat Tony Knowles for the governor's seat. Halcro finished in third place in that race with less than 10 percent of the vote.

"The arguments are going to be the same tired old arguments: Ethan's a tax-and-spend liberal, and Amy's a far-right conservative," Halcro said. "It's not going to really be about the management of the city, or where the city's going."

Of his own campaign, Halcro said he wouldn't have done anything differently. He said that when he declared his candidacy in January, the campaign knew there was a risk a Democrat would jump in and stake out the ideological territory just to his left. That risk materialized a month later, when Berkowitz became a candidate.

Halcro, who characterizes himself as an "independent Republican" who favors less government but also supports gay marriage, said he found himself walking a thin ideological line.

"We knew we would have to thread a very fine needle," Halcro said.

He said his campaign hoped to pull votes from both the left and the right sides of the political aisle.

"And we just didn't pull enough from the left, which means we pulled more from the right," Halcro said.

Of the 11,057 votes he received: "I don't know if those votes go to (Berkowitz)."

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Halcro also said when he started his campaign, he didn't expect Demboski to be such a strong contender. He said his campaign anticipated that Demboski and Coffey would battle between each other for the conservative vote.

Then, in the final month of the campaign, Coffey started to "implode" amid questions over his background, Halcro said. He said that's when Demboski started to pick up speed.

He also said he noticed a shift in conservative rhetoric in the closing weeks of the campaign.

"In the last two weeks, the race on the Republican side took a really sharp ideological turn," Halcro said. "The race really turned into more cause than it did candidate."

Halcro said after listening to both Demboski and Berkowitz in a month of forums and debates, he doesn't plan to endorse either candidate.

Devin Kelly

Devin Kelly was an ADN staff reporter.

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