Anchorage Assembly grapples with how and when to fill mayoral vacancy

Published: Oct. 25, 2020 at 10:43 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - The Anchorage Assembly is facing a choice on how and when to fill the mayoral vacancy created by the resignation of Fmr. Mayor Ethan Berkowitz, who officially stepped down on October 23.

The office is currently held by Acting Mayor Austin-Quinn Davidson, but how long she stays in office depends largely on whether the Assembly decides to hold a special election, and when the victor of either that or the April Municipal Election should take office.

Assembly Members Crystal Kennedy, Jamie Allard, and Kameron Perez-Verdia are sponsoring a resolution to hold one January 26.

“There’s a cost to the community in having over 200 days away from a regular election, and then having someone just kind of temporarily filling in for over eight months,” Kennedy said.

Additionally, there is a monetary cost associated with holding a special election. Municipal Clerk Barbara Jones said that would come with a price tag of roughly $350,000, with another $323,000 added if there’s a runoff election. For some, such as Assembly Chair Felix Rivera, that is simply too much money, especially when the next election is already set for April.

“It makes no sense at all for us to do four elections in five months,” he said at an Assembly worksession Thursday. “Besides being extremely confusing for the public and complicated for the clerk’s office to pull off, I think it also just doesn’t fiscally make sense.”

If a special election isn’t held, the winner of the April election would replace the acting mayor.

Beyond that, the debate then turns to when that person should officially take office. The precedent set by the previous mayoral vacancy, when Fmr. Mayor Mark Begich left office, is to wait until the “normal” date of July 1. At the worksession, Rivera argued there should be some sort of transitional period, such as waiting until July 1, between the election’s certification and the next mayor swearing in.

“I think whoever is elected in April, and then likely in the run-off in May, should have the certainty and reliability of a transition period,” he said.

On the other side, Assembly Member John Weddleton is sponsoring an ordinance to put the elected mayor into office as soon as the results are certified, or as soon as is practical after that. He argued this would clarify the process for future vacancies as well.

“I think having a mechanism in place that would shorten the time of an interim mayor in a situation like this makes sense,” he said.

The resolution to set a special election could be voted on as early as Tuesday, though Weddleton said he plans to request a delay until his ordinance can go up for public hearing at the Assembly’s following meeting.

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