Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Anchorage Assembly Chair Matt Claman Slated To Succeed Mark Begich As Acting Mayor, But Other Assembly Members Putting Up A Fight

Although Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich has been elected to the U.S. Senate, he will still keep his mayoral job for the next several weeks. Begich said he wants to see a number of pending city issues through, including his last city operating and capital spending budgets, and four new labor contracts with city employee unions. But he must resign as mayor no later than January 6th, 2009, when he'll be sworn in as Alaska's newest U.S. Senator. A November 19th Anchorage Daily News story and a November 19th Anchorage Press story provide much of the background for this post.

But there is the small matter of the succession. Begich's term doesn't expire until July 2009. Not to worry, though. The Anchorage Municipal Charter specifies that whoever is the Chair of the Anchorage Municipal Assembly at the time of Begich's resignation would take over as acting mayor. The person would temporarily vacate the Assembly seat to perform mayoral duties, then after the election, return to Assembly duties.

That person is currently Matt Claman (pictured above left). It would seem straightforward that Claman would take over as acting mayor until July 2009, except for one complication: Claman is hinting at running for mayor himself, although he's not filed any paperwork yet.

And two other Assembly Members, Sheila Selkregg and Bill Starr, otherwise unlikely political allies, don't like that. They're talking about voting to replace Claman as Assembly Chair. The latest story published November 24th by KTUU Channel 2, with video.

Both Assembly Members believe that if Claman takes over as acting mayor and then runs for the office in his own right, his "incumbency" might give him an unfair advantage. In addition, Selkregg, who is the Assembly Vice-Chair and who is also one of eight declared candidates for the 2009 mayor's race, said she expects Claman to step away from the Assembly chair and the interim mayor's job if he decides to run. Selkregg has already agreed to give up her Vice-Chair position in order to prevent the appearance of an unfair advantage, and she claims Claman also agreed to do the same earlier this year.

But Claman says he made no such agreement, claiming that it never proceeded beyond the discussion phase. Claman expects to continue as chairman and to fill the temporary mayor's assignment.

And there's yet another complication - would it take six votes or eight votes (a supermajority) to remove Claman as the chair? The Municipal Charter doesn't specify, so in such cases, the Assembly generally falls back on Robert's Rules of Order, which specifies that two-thirds of the assembly, eight people, must vote to remove a chair in the middle of his or her term. However, former Assemblyman Dan Sullivan, who is a current mayoral candidate, says he recalls two instances when the Assembly voted to remove a chair in the past with less than eight votes. The last time was just a few years back. "It must have been 2002 or 2003, Faye Von Gemmingen was chair, and again, without a super majority vote, the body voted Dick Traini would replace her as chair," Sullivan said.

Update December 11: The Anchorage Assembly will present AO 2008-131 during the December 16th meeting, which will change AMC 2.30.010 to specify that an Assembly Chair/Vice-Chair may be elected by a mere 6-5 majority vote.

What a mess! Fortunately, the Assembly is not looking to remove Claman immediately, content to give him more time to decide whether or not to run for mayor.

Where does Mark Begich stand on all of this? Begich said he sees no problem with Claman becoming the interim mayor even if he decides to run, since incumbent mayors regularly run for re-election. "I think him serving as acting mayor isn't relevant," Begich said. Holding the job can cut both ways, and might be as likely to hurt a candidate as help him, the mayor said. So Begich is proceeding on the expectation that Claman will become the acting mayor, and his administration already is working on a transition plan to bring Claman up to speed before he takes over.

Local reaction: Andrew Halcro is quite critical of Claman, characterizing him as a wishy-washy hair-splitter, qualities he considers undesirable in a mayor. The Anchorage Daily News weighed in editorially on November 23rd, but called for the Assembly to keep it simple and let Claman keep his job as Chair. However, a growing number of people are disgusted with Claman for being unable to make up his mind at this late date whether or not he wants to run for mayor. His dawdling does not project decisiveness.

Of course, conservatives who support Dan Sullivan would love to see Matt Claman jump into the race. Claman, Croft and Selkregg would fight for the liberal vote, while Sullivan would have most of the conservative vote to himself. Honeman is an independent who would take votes from both sides. The upshot - Dan Sullivan would become the next mayor of Anchorage.

Here's the complete list of the eight mayoral candidates who've already filed paperwork:

- Dan Sullivan - former Assemblyman. Previous post HERE.
- Eric Croft - former member of the Alaska State House. Previous post HERE.
- Paul Honeman - former Anchorage police officer. Previous post HERE.
- Sheila Selkregg
- Merica Hlatcu - ran unsuccessfully for the Republican gubernatorial nomination in 2006
- Jacob Seth Kern
- Dominic S.F. Lee - President and CEO of Little Susitna Construction
- Melanie K. Leydon

Update December 11th: The Anchorage Press published an article providing more background on the last four candidates on the above list.

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