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Story Last modified at 8:31 p.m. on Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Assembly returns Ossiander to top post

Alaska Star

Debbie Ossiander gets back her old seat as chairwoman of the Anchorage Assembly.

The Assembly voted during its Tuesday night regular meeting to return Ossiander to the position she held for less than a year in 2009. Ossiander, who lives in Chugiak, represents Chugiak, Eagle River, the military bases and a slice of Muldoon.

Former chairman Dick Traini wasn't even nominated for the position, which is influential because the chairman runs meetings and sets the Assembly agenda.

Rather, Assembly members voted for their choice of Ossiander or Ernie Hall, who was then approved as vice chairman in a subsequent vote against Elvi Gray-Jackson.

Traini had served as chairman off and on for years.

But talk of his probable ouster gained traction after a video surfaced of Traini denouncing Mayor Dan Sullivan at a pro-union rally the night before April 5 municipal elections.

At least one Assemblyman, Ernie Hall, publicly questioned Traini's ability to work with the mayor.

Ossiander is seen as more politically aligned with Sullivan.

Ossiander was herself ousted as Assembly chairwoman, however, before even finishing a year.

The Assembly removed Ossiander as chairwoman in a surprising December 2009 vote and replaced her with Patrick Flynn.

Normally, the Assembly changes leadership following April municipal elections, though the body has the authority to vote for new leadership provided six of its 11 members support the action.

The move was said to equalize the balance of power between Sullivan and the Assembly.

Ossiander presided over charged issues including the bid to change the city's equal-rights laws to prohibit discrimination against gays.

She did hesitate to throw her name back into the ring this time around but overcame her doubts, Ossiander said by phone from her Chugiak home Tuesday morning.

"All the job really is or should be is just chairing a meeting and treating everybody fairly and being willing to work," she said. "I left in kind of a bad situation in a way and I'd like for people to remember a good situation instead of a bad situation."

As soon as the clerk announced Ossiander's name Tuesday night, Traini turned to her and said, "Ma'am, come down and take the gavel. The rest of the meeting's yours."

As she took her new seat, Ossiander addressed Traini.

"Mr. Traini, I don't think anybody has ever chaired this body as many years as you have. I want to sincerely thank you," she told him. "You did an excellent job this last year, and it's much appreciated."

She handed him the gavel as a keepsake.

Bill Starr, who also represents Eagle River and Chugiak, simply said he was "looking forward to working with the new leadership."

Gray-Jackson offered Ossiander her congratulations but reserved high praise for Traini, saying she'd known him since 1991 and appreciated the direction he gave staff and the fact he was voted chairman five years in a row.

"Frankly, Mr. Traini, you'll always be my chairman," Gray-Jackson said.

The video at the center of the stir popped up on YouTube. It was filmed at a union rally at the Z.J. Loussac Public Library on April 4. It shows Traini calling Sullivan the "mayor that hates the unions" and telling the crowd that they have the "opportunity to send the mayor packing" by voting against Sullivan-backed candidates for Assembly and school board.

As it turned out, two of three Assembly candidates Sullivan opposed were re-elected on April 5: Gray-Jackson in Midtown and Harriet Drummond in West Anchorage. Mike Gutierrez, in East Anchorage, was defeated by Sullivan-backed Adam Trombley, who was sworn in Tuesday night.

Gutierrez, who addressed each member personally before stepping down, gave Ossiander the nicest words she got all evening.

"The people of Eagle River and Chugiak are extraordinarily lucky to have you because you have nothing but their best interests at heart and you are dogged in your pursuit of that," he said.

This article published in The Alaska Star on Wednesday, April 20, 2011.