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Story Last modified at 10:43 p.m. on Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Starr cruises to easy Assembly win
Eagle River's incumbent surprised at success of other liberal candidates

BY ZAZ HOLLANDER
Alaska Star

Voters in Eagle River returned Bill Starr to the Anchorage Assembly for a second full three-year term in municipal elections Tuesday.

Starr defeated challengers Bob Lupo and Doug Urquidi by a wide margin, according to unofficial election results. The tally won't be final until absentee and questioned ballots are counted and the results certified. Absentee ballots will be counted April 15.

With 95 percent of precincts counted as of Wednesday morning, Starr received about 70 percent of the votes cast, or roughly 3,900. Lupo, who said he spent about $6 on his campaign, got just over 950 votes and Urquidi about 625.

Much of the drama in the race to represent Eagle River and Chugiak, however, wasn't if Starr would retain his seat on the Assembly but whether a trio of incumbents he painted as budget-busting liberals would join him there.

It appeared that at least two of the three liberal incumbents would survive hard-fought re-election battles against conservative challengers: in Midtown, Elvi Gray-Jackson led Dave Bronson by a decent margin, and West Anchorage's Harriet Drummond held a slim lead over Liz Vazquez. Mike Gutierrez, however, appeared to be going down to challenger Adam Trombley in East Anchorage, though that race remained too close to call Wednesday.

Reached by phone late Tuesday, Starr sounded disappointed that all three incumbents weren't defeated.

"I was surprised there wouldn't be a greater turnover," Starr said. "I think some of those incumbents have pretty much run out of ideas and run out of solutions that work. I think my suggestion to some of them was to sort of yield."

Television commercials from a group of developers and businessmen calling themselves Fiscal Sanity blamed the city's financial troubles on the trio's support for contentious 2008 labor contracts. Starr, as well as Mayor Dan Sullivan, have also condemned the contracts.

If the results hold, the balance on the 11-member Assembly will shift to five conservative members aligned with the mayor, with at least three liberals and the remaining members considered moderate.

Starr said his outspoken opposition to Gray-Jackson and Drummond's re-election shouldn't affect his relationship with them on the Assembly. He expects to continue his position as chair of the budget and finance committee, a post Gray-Jackson once held.

"We have an understanding," he said. "We know our strengths on the body."

Gray-Jackson on Wednesday morning said it was "a little premature" for Starr to assume he's going to remain as budget and finance chair. Asked about Starr's clear opposition to her incumbency, she said whether Assembly members like each other isn't important.

"We're elected to represent the people," Gray-Jackson said.

Starr said he's happy Trombley appears to be joining the Assembly to offer new ideas but also acknowledges that "rookies" generally take some time to gain influence.

Starr's win wasn't much of a surprise given the relatively unknown nature of his opponents and the benefits of incumbency.

Lupo, a retired military veteran who emphasized public safety, has run unsuccessfully for several public offices including mayor, Assembly and lieutenant governor.

This time around, Lupo said, he spent less than $10, and that was on new business cards. He knew the writing was on the wall when he noticed that Starr's fundraising was up around $18,000.

Then again, given his relatively strong showing dollar for dollar, Lupo said, "I shoulda spent $100."

He'll continue to run for public office, he said.

Urquidi, an electrician who made lower property taxes his platform, was making his first bid for public office. He has said he ran for Assembly in part because of questions he had about Starr's leadership including an inadvertently recorded cell phone conversation in 2008 with former Assemblyman Dan Coffey. The call captured the men talking about cash payments paid other Assembly members in exchange for votes. Starr was subsequently cleared of any wrongdoing related to the call.

Urquidi said he would likely run for elected office again when contacted Tuesday night. But this time, Urquidi said, he would try to run a campaign that emphasized his strengths rather than his opponent's weaknesses.

Lupo said Starr left him a voice mail message thanking him for running a positive campaign.

Voter Lee Carpenter, 45, said the ballot he cast Tuesday morning for Starr was influenced by personal experience. His Eagle River towing company was having municipal licensing issues over parking until Starr stepped in and made a few calls, Carpenter said.

"Just like that I was able to keep my license," he said.

Starr, a businessman who is managing member of a property management and real estate company, was elected to the Assembly in 2007 to fill a vacancy left by Anna Fairclough, then re-elected in 2008.

Voter turnout in Eagle River was relatively low – Starr's race netted about 14 percent of the registered voters for Section 2 Seat C, which covers Chugiak and Eagle River, as well as Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson and part of Muldoon. Some Anchorage seats tallied turnout numbers in the mid 20s.

Zaz Hollander can be reached at zaz.hollander@alaskastar.com.



This article published in The Alaska Star on Wednesday, April 6, 2011.