Monday, January 26, 2009

Matt Claman Enters The 2009 Anchorage Mayoral Race; Will Likely Divide The Left And Create A Final Runoff Between Dan Sullivan And Eric Croft

In one of the most unsurprising political decisions in recent Alaska political history, Anchorage's Acting Mayor Matt Claman has formally decided to run for the office conferred upon him when Mark Begich departed for the U.S. Senate. Despite anticipated budgetary challenges, Claman wants the Mayor's job full time. This is unsurprising because it was an open secret that he wanted to run, but kept deferring the issue. Media stories posted on the Anchorage Daily News' Alaska Politics blog and a more detailed ADN story later published. Blogger Andrew Halcro has also weighed on on Claman's candidacy, and he is distinctly unimpressed.

According to the Independent Alaskan, who was present at Claman's press conference, Claman said that he is ready to work for all residents of Anchorage and that he will tackle the big issues, to include fixing the budget first and foremost, and then making sure that Anchorage moves towards creating more jobs and providing high-quality education for all children.

Later on, KTUU Channel 2 picked up the story, and Claman explained what sets him apart from the other candidates. "I offer something to this community that none of the other candidates can offer, and the first is the actual experience in sitting in the mayor's office," Claman said. "I think that the voters will be pleased to have a choice that is a known quantity."

This increases the field of mayoral candidates to ten. However, based on the financing litmus test applied by the Anchorage Daily News, in which they only recognize candidates who raise money and don't take the municipal exemption as "marquee" candidates, six of them are considered marquee candidates. Claman is among the six.

Matt Claman is a big-government liberal. Case in point: In the summer of 2008, the newly-minted liberal Assembly reversed a previous decision to terminate the IM vehicle exhaust inspection program. The conservative viewpoint is that the IM program was so successful that it had fulfilled its purpose and was no longer needed. In contrast, the liberal viewpoint is that the IM program was so successful that it should be retained. Since liberals outnumber conservatives 6-5 on the Assembly, their point of view prevailed and we still have the IM program.

But the big issue confronting Matt Claman during his upcoming campaign will be the municipal budget dispute. Claman revealed that the Municipality of Anchorage has a $17 million budget deficit. Yet Claman was one of the Assembly Members who approved healthy pay raises for municipal union workers in December 2008. By this time, the national economic meltdown was in full tilt, and it was already well-known that Alaska's Permanent Fund had taken a huge hit. It was then learned that the Municipality of Anchorage's trust fund had also taken a hit, losing 26 percent of its value in 2008. Yet Claman and the Assembly approved these new five-year contracts anyway. So the big challenge for Matt Claman during his campaign is to explain to the voters why he and the Assembly approved the new contracts despite knowing that the Permanent Fund had taken a hit, and whether or not he knew that the city's trust fund had also taken a hit before deciding to approve the contracts.

Claman doesn't have an official mayoral campaign website yet, but he has a holdover Assembly candidate website HERE which has been kept current. For more information, an index of Anchorage Daily News stories on Matt Claman can be found HERE. In addition, KTUU Channel 2 aired two recent news stories on Claman after he became acting mayor; the two video links are "New Year brings new job title for Claman, Part 1" dated December 23rd, and "Claman Part 2: Will he or won't he run for mayor" dated December 25th.

Many political observers do not expect Claman to win. Claman is considered to be on the political left; but shares that distinction with Sheila Selkregg and Eric Croft. Consequently, those three will be fighting over the same liberal core constituency. Back in November, Claman and Selkregg engaged in one public squabble. In contrast, Dan Sullivan, who is conservative, is likely to have his core consituency all to himself, except for a few inroads by Paul Honeman and Walt Monegan.

In addition, Matt Claman is not the most electable politician around; charisma is not exactly his strong suit. Unlike Sarah Palin, who can be inspiring without being informative, Claman is informative without being inspiring. In 2005, Claman was soundly thumped by Dan Sullivan in his first Assembly race. In 2007, Claman just barely squeaked by conservative opponent Sherry Jackson; it's widely believed that had Jim Bailey not been the third person in that race, Jackson would have won. This is the same Sherry Jackson who was solidly beaten by Harriet Drummond a year later.

So what's likely to happen on April 7th is that Dan Sullivan will finish noticeably ahead of the other candidates, while the three liberal candidates, taking votes from one another, will finish back in the pack. Because of his superior political experience and skills, I expect Eric Croft to be the leading liberal candidate and finish second. However, having six marquee candidates in the race will prevent any single candidate from getting the percentage necessary to win the election outright. This will set up a runoff election on May 5th.

I expect the runoff to be between Dan Sullivan and Eric Croft. And while it will be close, Dan Sullivan commands sufficient respect throughout the entire community that he will narrowly prevail.

Here's the complete list of mayoral candidates, with links to their campaign websites where available:

-- Dan Sullivan
-- Eric Croft: Official campaign website HERE. Myspace website HERE.
-- Matt Claman: Holdover Assembly candidate website HERE.
-- Paul Honeman: Official campaign website HERE. Myspace website HERE.
-- Walt Monegan: Official campaign website HERE.
-- Sheila Selkregg: Official campaign website HERE.
-- 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

NOTE: The APOC summaries now indicate a prospective 11th mayoral candidate, Larry Shooshanian. He will be taking the municipal exemption.

The Anchorage Press published an article on December 11th providing more background on those candidates.

APOC summaries on municipal candidates available HERE.

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