Coffey launches mayoral campaign with criticism -- of himself

Lawyer, lobbyist and former Anchorage Assembly member Dan Coffey has come out swinging early in the race to be Anchorage's next mayor. Coffey's target: himself.

Coffey, 67, has released 46 pages of documents and statements concerning what he believes to be his five most controversial moments as a public figure. The booklet also includes Coffey's income tax returns for the years 2010 through 2012. Coffey is giving copies of the documents to local media and said they would soon be available on his campaign website.

Coffey, who served on the Anchorage Assembly from 2004 to 2010, said the report contains five instances "where I have either been attacked by my political opponents or I have made a mistake." Coffey said he wants to head off potential political attacks in the 13 months before the April 2015 Anchorage mayoral election.

Attacks and mistakes

The documents include:

A transcript of, and Coffey's explanation for, an expletive-laced 2008 conversation with current Anchorage Assembly member Bill Starr in which Coffey can be heard to joke about withholding campaign donations to Assembly members if they didn't vote the way he wanted them to. The conversation was tape recorded -- Coffey claims -- on then-Assembly member Alan Tesche's answering machine and later given to a local radio station. Days later, Alaska Public Offices Commission Director Brooke Miles filed a complaint against both Coffey and Starr. That complaint was eventually dismissed.

Documents from, and the final disposition of, a 2012 APOC complaint against Coffey for failing to properly register as a lobbyist working for the Port of Anchorage. Coffey ultimately agreed to pay a $12,000 fine but claims he was acting on earlier advice he received from APOC when he didn't file because he wasn't working more than 10 hours on the port project during any 30-day period -- the threshold for a lobbyist to register with the state.

An explanation of his work as a lawyer serving many clients in the local liquor industry. Coffey said he has received criticism for working for local package liquor stores and bars. "You shouldn't judge a lawyer by his clients," Coffey said.

A copy of a letter he sent to the U.S. District Court on behalf of a former client, Josef Boehm, before Boehm's 2005 sentencing on sex trafficking and drug charges. Boehm pled guilty to providing minor girls with crack cocaine in exchange for sexual favors. He was sentenced to 11 years in prison and ordered to pay $1.2 million in restitution to his victims. Federal prosecutors said Boehm, called "Joe Millionaire" by his victims, was the leader of a vast sex trafficking conspiracy. Coffey said he wrote the letter to the judge on behalf of Boehm because he didn't believe Boehm, who was severely addicted to crack cocaine at the time, could have maintained a "leadership role" in the crimes. Coffey said he worked with Boehm through the years as his attorney on several business deals and noticed as Boehm -- once a successful local businessman -- became unreliable and inattentive during meetings as his addiction progressed.

Court documents from a 2013 fishing citation. Coffey was cited for failing to have escape rings -- devices that allow crab to eventually escape a pot and that are required by Alaska law -- on one of his crab traps while fishing near Sitka. Coffey was also cited for using belly meat from a sport-caught king salmon as bait. Coffey said he bought the crab trap at a Sitka sporting goods store and assumed that since they were on display, they were legal. Coffey said he paid a $110 fine for the crab pot violation. As for the king salmon bait, Coffey said he used the head and tail of a sport-caught salmon, but did not fillet the fish well enough, leaving too much meat on the carcass. Coffey, a former member of the Alaska Board of Fish -- the governing body of Alaska fishing regulations -- said he should have been more careful on both violations.

Tax returns for the years 2010-2012. Coffey has done well at his consulting and law practice, reporting a total income of just under $2 million for those years, with about $90,000 in charitable donations.

Pollster: 'It's insane'

Coffey said he wants to avoid talking about the past issues as the 2015 Anchorage mayoral election draws closer. "These can be distractions," Coffey said. "This is the mud that they will throw at me. These are the name-calling they will engage in and the reason I know that is that I have already been subjected to it. So better that I get it out there."

But one local political consultant doesn't think Coffey's strategy is sound -- not by a long shot. Ivan Moore, an Anchorage pollster, thinks Coffey is breaking one of the basic tenets of political campaigning: Don't bring up your negatives.

"It's insane," Moore said, trying to control laughter.

Moore said that while Coffey may get points from voters for being forthcoming about his potential negatives, the strategy of releasing them -- complete with supporting documents both for and against his culpability -- will only serve to let more people know about his past problems. As Moore sees it, the release of the documents will also remind people who already knew about Coffey's problems that they happened in the first place. "I think most people had already forgotten about Josef Boehm," Moore said.

Moore also said Coffey's report on himself won't prevent political opponents from bringing them up again next year, when the mayor's race heats up. So far, only Coffey and former Anchorage Assembly member Paul Bauer have filed forms with APOC to allow them to collect campaign donations. The official filing deadline for the 2015 Anchorage mayor's race is more than 10 months away. Also rumored to be interested in the job are current Assembly members Dick Traini, Elvi Gray-Jackson and Paul Honeman, as well as Anchorage Economic Development Corporation President and CEO Bill Popp and Anchorage Chamber of Commerce President Andrew Halcro.

For his part, Coffey said he wants people to judge his past for themselves, and he claims he has mellowed over the years.

"I am far, far from perfect," Coffey said. "I have made a ton of mistakes in my life. I am impatient. I move quickly, and sometimes when I move quickly, right off the cliff I drive. But I've learned."

Sean Doogan

Sean Doogan is a former reporter for Alaska Dispatch and Alaska Dispatch News.