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Story Last modified at 10:39 p.m. on Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Two candidates vie for Starr's Anchorage Assembly seat

Alaska Star

Bill Starr, the well-connected Assembly member representing Eagle River, is defending his Assembly seat against two less-established challengers in the April 5 municipal elections.

There's Eagle River's Bob Lupo, a frequent and unsuccessful contender for public office, and Eagle River's Doug Urquidi, a first-time candidate who's running at the insistence of a family member tired of his political griping.

Starr said he's taking his campaign seriously despite the relatively untested nature of the other candidates.

"I'm not really here to beat anybody. I want the voters to re-elect me. I think there's a nuance there," he said.

Starr is the only one of the three to register with the Alaska Public Offices Commission as a candidate who expects to raise or spend more than $5,000. His deputy treasurers – someone collecting money for a candidate – are former Assemblyman Dan Coffey and Starr's daughter, Megan.

Anchorage Mayor Dan Sullivan was scheduled to kick off Starr's campaign at Jitters this week.

Lupo, a retired military veteran, ran for Assembly in 2007 against Starr. He ran for Anchorage mayor in 2009 and probably got more headlines for his unsuccessful bid to get his nickname "Joker" on the ballot than for his platforms. Last year, he ran a failed bid for lieutenant governor.

Asked what motivates him to keep trying, Lupo said, "I've been known to be relentless."

He said he only spent $20 in his bid for lieutenant governor and got 2,483 votes. Lupo said his goal is sharing information about his pet issues: public safety and emergency preparedness.

"I don't have a ton of money," he said. "Some of the people I run against have tons of money. And I don't ask for money. I would be looking to save people money (if elected) and you can't save people money if you're asking them for money."

Urquidi, an electrician, said a conversation with his wife, Sherrilyn, motivated his candidacy.

"For the past two and a half years, I've been talking to my wife about all the stuff Bill Starr has been doing, it's been upsetting me," Urquidi said. "She finally said, 'You know, I'm tired of listening to you. This year, do something about it.'"

Candidate platforms

Starr is managing member of Block 500 Development LLC, a facilities development and management company involved in property management and real estate. The company is currently overseeing development of a medical office complex on Lake Otis Parkway near Providence Alaska Medical Center.

On the Assembly, he serves as chair of the Finance and Budget Committee. Despite a raft of controversial cuts – a bus route, the Dimond library branch, a fire truck in Eagle River – the budget that emerged from Starr's committee early this year earned praise from other Assembly members for its relatively smooth progress.

Starr takes pride in his critique of former Mayor Mark Begich for labor contracts that Starr warned would lead the city into what he calls "unsustainable territory" – a warning he believes came true.

The city was said to be facing an up to $25 million shortfall going into this year's budget cycle. Finance managers did recently discover that various available fund balances came in roughly $10 million below budget in 2010, though that number could change and it's unclear how any surplus will be spent.

Starr said the other incumbents up for re-election who backed Begich and the labor contracts – Elvi Gray-Jackson, Mike Gutierrez and Harriet Drummond – are "going to have to answer up to that."

He is supporting Gray-Jackson and Gutierrez opponents Dave Bronson and Adam Trombley.

Lupo isn't singling out Starr as his reason for running.

Rather, the 70-year-old said the primary concern of any government representative is the safety of its citizens. He wants to staff Eagle River's unmanned emergency operations center next to the library. He said the administration nixed his offer to serve as the EOC's coordinator on a voluntary basis.

"If we have an earthquake and the bridge goes out, all the emergency services are going to be going where the massive population is," Lupo said. "Anchorage seems to think they can handle everything. We can run it much more efficiently if the EOC was in Eagle River where we knew what was going on in our local area."

Lupo did fault Starr, however, for allowing Sullivan to propose the elimination of a ladder truck at Eagle River's Station 11. Funding for the truck was eventually restored.

Lupo is a Vietnam-era veteran who served in the U.S. Air Force and Navy. He never went to Vietnam despite requesting an assignment there, he said. Instead he served at a satellite communications station on Oahu.

He took to task Starr's vote last month against putting on the ballot a proposal to extend a municipal property tax exemption to veterans and their widows younger than 60. The Assembly did vote to put the proposal on the ballot.

Urquidi identifies his "number one priority" as reducing property taxes by 10 percent. He wants to audit every municipal department and cut any unnecessary spending. He also wants to repeal any obsolete laws, he said, like the one that banned fireworks within city limits. The Assembly approved an exception to the city's fireworks ban for New Year's Eve; scores of residents, especially in dense neighborhoods, complained about noise.

Urquidi said he favors reducing waste in schools by spending more on students, less on administration.

He said that along with Starr's support of a tobacco tax and complaints about police taking their patrol cars home to the Mat-Su, his biggest issue with the incumbent was a 2008 cell phone conversation between Coffey and Starr that led to a state investigation of whether the men broke campaign laws.

The Alaska Public Offices Commission cleared Starr of any campaign violations linked to the conversation with Coffey.

Among other things during the more than three-minute call inadvertently left on late Assemblyman Allan Tesche's answering machine, the men talked about questionable fundraising tactics – Coffey claimed to have raised money for Sherri Jackson and Dick Traini and was doling it out at "$250 a crack" based on votes – and Starr responded positively.

Starr also mentioned his frustration with the lack of endorsement from the Anchorage Police Department Employees Association, and critics said he implied that he withheld support for a Chugiak shooting range in return.

Starr called any concept of vote-buying "frustrating." He said he supported a Birchwood range rather than the Beach Lake site picked by Begich.

Starr said he's not embarrassed by the conversation "but it's been three years. Nobody did anything wrong, nobody got violated, it was all basic business. I'm not too worried Mr. Urquidi is going to get a lot of mileage from voters, bringing that up. I've earned my stripes."

Yes, he supported the increase in the tobacco tax, Starr said, but he had hoped the proceeds would go to state health programs targeting smokers. And he stands behind his commitment to keep APD cars within the municipality.

Starr, former president of the Eagle River Valley Community Council and member of the city planning and zoning commission, offered some advice to Urquidi or anyone just starting out in politics.

"You don't jump into the major leagues. You do what I did – you go to community council, you become president of the community council, you go to boards and commissions, you engage," he said. "Then, when you're tasked with it, the voters put you in office, you're good at it."

This article published in The Alaska Star on Wednesday, March 2, 2011.