Home Community Politics Assembly Beat: Anchorage Downtown Anchorage Assembly Race Bordering on Open War in Days Before Election

Downtown Anchorage Assembly Race Bordering on Open War in Days Before Election


The final days of any election often turn ugly, as candidates make last ditch efforts to shore up support from their base (as well as opposition against their opponents). Ahead of Tuesday’s vote, Anchorage’s municipal elections have proven to continue with the norm.

Candidates for the Anchorage Assembly and School Board have spent the final days trading barbs — both in campaign literature and in exchanges at the final forum, held on Friday by the Anchorage NAACP.

In one case, the negative campaigning is an in-house problem for Democrats.

The Assembly is a nonpartisan body, but campaigning rarely is. While the state parties do not endorse municipal candidates, local parties do. That has resulted in a house divided for the Anchorage Democrats. Christopher Constant and David Dunsmore are challenging each other from the left-of-center and Chris Cox, running as a conservative, hopes they split the vote and accord him a pathway to victory.

The downtown district hasn’t had a competitive contest on a left-right basis for over a decade, and outgoing Assembly member Patrick Flynn, ineligible to run for reelection due to term limits, averaged 72 percent of the vote over his three wins.

While Cox was a late entry to the contest, filing on December 30th of last year, Constant and Dunsmore have been running for the seat for over a year.

The Anchorage Democratic Party and the Anchorage Education Association have issued dual-endorsements. Dunsmore has gained the support of current East Anchorage Assembly member Pete Petersen — for whom he served as staffer during Petersen’s tenure in the Alaska State House — House Majority Majority Leader Chris Tuck, and former East Anchorage Assembly member Paul Honeman. He also shored up an endorsement from the Alaska Public Employees Association.

Constant has received endorsements from Sen. Mark Begich, Mayor Ethan Berkowitz, Gov. Tony Knowles, outgoing Assembly Chair Elvi Gray-Jackson, and current Assembly member Eric Croft (Croft also was a cosponsor of Dunsmore’s campaign kickoff event), among others. He also has the support of Planned Parenthood Votes Northwest, Alaskans Together for Equality, the AFL-CIO, and several other unions and organizations.

Another notable man with the last name Begich, State Sen. Tom Begich (D-Anchorage), had endorsed Dunsmore, but rescinded that endorsement. The move came subsequent to the release of a campaign mailer last week by the Dunsmore campaign.

The literature in question asks, “Who Is The Real Chris Constant,” and, citing reported campaign income filed with the Alaska Public Offices Commission (APOC), notes that prominent Alaska Republicans like former State Rep. Cathy Muñoz and former Palin aide John Bitney have donated to his campaign. The literature also notes that an Alaska campaign co-chair for the Donald Trump campaign, Paul Fuhs, is one of Constant’s “top fundraisers” “bankrolling his candidacy and that he is “trying to use special interest money to buy our Assembly seat.

In a conversation Sunday night, Constant noted that his top contributors actually came from a married couple, Tina Tomsen and Patrick McGownd, who live in his district and have donated $2,500 over three reporting periods, according to APOC.

On the other side, the Dunsmore campaign mailer plays up a 2008 Democratic Primary contest between current State Rep. Les Gara (D-Anchorage) and Constant, citing a back and forth they had in the pages of the Anchorage Daily News.

“In 2008 Republicans backed Chris Constant’s dishonest campaign against our Les Gara,” it reads in part. “Now Chris is trying to buy our Assembly seat.”

That prompted a response from Sen. Tom Begich.

“While David Dunsmore is my friend, and I endorsed him, I don’t support his misleading attack on Christopher Constant who has done so much for this community,” he announced, according to a Facebook post from the Constant campaign Friday evening. “It is unfortunate and unfair. Consequently, I must withdraw my endorsement.”

“I’m grateful to Tom Begich for sending a clear message that there is no place for misleading personal attacks,” Constant told me Sunday evening. “We hope that more young people and average citizens will engage in the process and hopefully our positive campaign and message will inspire more people to do so.”

His campaign posted a YouTube video as well, adopting the popular line First Lady Michelle Obama employed during her address to the Democratic National Convention: “They go low, we go high.”

Gara reiterated over the weekend both his decision not to make an endorsement in the race and and his decision to decline to comment on the campaign literature.

I spoke with Dunsmore Sunday evening and asked him about Begich’s decision to rescind his endorsement.

“Tom is a good friend and friendship is more important than politics,” he said. “We’re still going to be friends on Wednesday.”

“There’s been some misinformation out there we needed to correct,” he said of the mailer.

There is nothing factually incorrect about the claims made in the campaign literature. The people Dunsmore identified as donors to Constant’s campaign are, in fact, donors. The critique of Gara did unfold in the ADN. The contention, and umbrage taken over said contention by Constant supporters, is the framing in which it was conveyed: that Constant is being “bankrolled” by Republican donors in an attempt to “buy” the downtown seat to serve a conservative agenda.

I asked Dunsmore if he thought Constant was a “secret Republican.”

“That’s really a question you’d have to ask him. I can’t read his mind,” he said. “I do think the connection with Paul Fuhs is really troubling. At recent events, he’s been actually handing out literature that’s not even campaign literature, that’s just business proposals for Paul Fuhs’s projects.”

This was not an accusation Constant took kindly when I asked him about it.

Fuhs and Constant may be at political odds at the national level, but they’ve been working together towards revitalization efforts in Fairview for years, Constant said. The literature he has been passing out at campaign events, he claims, is the Fairview Economic Revitalization Plan — a project taken on by the Fairview Business Association (FNB), of which both Fuhs and Constant have been board members of.

Fuhs is the current project manager for FNB. Constant remains a board member, but intends to step down if elected.

In 2013, Fuhs wrote in Advancing Anchorage Magazine, published by the Anchorage Chamber of Commerce,

Most people in Anchorage imagine Fairview as a rundown part of town. There is some truth to that, but it doesn’t have to be that way. A group of Fairview businesses, some of the longest standing in Anchorage, have organized the Fairview Business Association (FBA) to revitalize this section of town as a thriving contributor to Anchorage’s economy.

The plan fleshed out by FBA had many recommendations, from street widening on Gambell, to tax abatement for developers wishing to invest in the area, to mixed use residential units. It’s not as much a business proposal being exploited by a municipal candidate as a neighborhood plan that was adopted unanimously by the Assembly into Title 21, Anchorage’s land use code.

“That Gambell Street work is some of the most honorable and laudable work of Paul Fuhs’s career,” Constant told me.

But he did concede that he recognized one part of the Dunsmore campaign mailer as honest, albeit, he said, likely unintended.

He pointed to the accusation at the center of the Dunsmore campaign advert,  which reads: “A GOP smear campaign.”

Except, Constant says, it’s a GOP smear campaign against him.

He noted that one campaign expenditure links Dunsmore, Petersen, and conservative candidate Albert Fogle in South Anchorage — the latter of whom is running against Suzanne LaFrance for the seat being vacated by Bill Evans, who decided not to run for reelection.

It’s a political strategy firm called Fire Island Strategies, headed up by former Alaska Democratic Party chair and two time state house candidate Patti Higgins’s campaign manager Peter Finn and former South Anchorage state senate candidate Forrest McDonald.

Constant points out that Petersen has spent over $12,000 this cycle in expenditures to Fire Island Strategies.

Fogle also spent $5,553.33 on advertising, door hangers, and “strategic guidance” on Fire Island Strategies for advertisements.

And Dunsmore has spent $150 on what they reported to APOC as “photography.”

“If Mr. Dunsmore is so concerned I might have some affiliation with the Trump campaign, it raises a parallel question: Is Pete Petersen working for Donald Trump? I’d prefer to see Suzanne LaFrance win in South Anchorage. It’s only a matter of time before we know if Dunsmore has invested his campaign treasure in the same firm.”

Final reports on expenditures will not be available until well after the votes are cast on Tuesday.

“We’re the only area that has only one representative. So, I have to be able to get twice as much done and work twice as hard,” Dunsmore told me. “And I think, on this campaign, people have seen how hard I’ve worked.”

He added,

My track record speaks for itself, with my record of accomplishment in the legislature and as an Assembly aide and as Anchorage Health and Human Services director. I have the experience on day one to step in and be a strong voice for our downtown neighbors and, also, a strong voice for pushing a longterm progressive agenda for Anchorage.

These are in-party battle wounds that are likely to fester rather than heal. So, we’re going to have to get used to that.

Polls open on Tuesday.

John Aronno is a co-founder, managing editor, and award winning political writer at Alaska Commons. Aronno has had his work featured in the Huffington Post, the Anchorage Press, the Alaska Dispatch, and the Rachel Maddow Show, and is listed among the state’s top reporters on the Washington Post’s “The Fix.” He writes the weekly column “On Politics” for Alaska Commons. Aronno lives in Anchorage, Alaska with his wife, Heather Aronno, and a lot of pets.

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