The three-way race for the East Anchorage seat on the Anchorage Assembly is pitting an incumbent against a former state House representative and a political novice.
It’s a close race against a diverse group of candidates that’s recently taken a turn for the dirty.
“This is what campaigning is all about,” Pete Petersen said cheerfully on Monday. A former Democratic member of Alaska’s state House of Representatives, Petersen was canvassing on foot in East Anchorage neighborhoods. “How do you know what people feel about certain issues if you're not out here talking to them?”
While the race for the District 5 still has candidates walking door-to-door to shake hands and speak with voters, the most contentious assembly race this year is seeing volleys of negative ads.
“There's a recent negative ad that's being run by Mr. Petersen,” said incumbent Adam Trombley, who’s held the fifth district seat since he was elected in 2011. “I never knew this, but apparently I don't support cops and schools.”
Trombley is a conservative who often sides with Mayor Dan Sullivan, supporting Sullivan-backed issues like the contentious labor ordinance known as AO-37. The negative ad he’s referring to is a radio spot paid for by a pro-union group that's part of a coalition backing Petersen for the seat.
The ad asserts Trombley “said no to hundreds of people who lined up to testify against the last-minute labor ordinance pushed through by Mayor Sullivan. No, you can't speak, no, I don't care what you have to say.”
Trombley has hit back with a radio ad of his own that claims, under his tenure in the assembly, “police and fire budgets went up, not down, and Adam certainly didn't fire teachers. Adam is on the assembly, and only the school board can fire teachers.”
The ad goes on to say “Petersen doesn't understand how our city works. He served in Juneau, not Anchorage.”
Trombley did vote against the Anchorage School District's preferred budget, which would have prevented potential teacher layoffs. But he is accurate in saying that Petersen moved from South Anchorage to his current district after unsuccessfully running for office there.
“I'm not a career politician. I've lived in East Anchorage, went to high school at East High. I've lived in the area,” Trombley said. “I didn't hop around and try to find a place I could run for office and win.”
As Trombley and Petersen trade barbs on the airwaves, political newcomer Mao Tosi—a former NFL player who also went to East High and considers himself a community activist—is also getting traction in his bid for the seat. Tosi has not declared a political party, and while both of his opponents applauded his work with children, they also note the campaign finance violations he was slapped with earlier this year.
Tosi manages the Northway Mall, and was found to have used his office space at mall for campaign activities, violating campaign laws.
“I think it was to discredit and to discourage me from being involved with the race,” Tosi said. “They tried their best to keep me out, but it's only made me stronger.”
Amid the noise, there is substance to the campaign: the candidates have different priorities for the diverse stretch of Anchorage, a district of more than 60,000 residents.
Petersen points to infrastructure projects as a priority, like the planned replacement of the Muldoon Overpass.
“The amount of traffic going across, over the Glenn Highway, has more than doubled since the opening of Tikahtnu Commons,” he said.
Tosi says improving public safety is his top priority, followed closely by getting city services better connected to residents district-wide.
“The services that are available, they need to connect to the communities out there,” Tosi said.
And Trombley points to overhauling the city’s transit center, and expanding Anchorage’s green spaces.
“One of the things that was really big but we got accomplished at our last meeting was Muldoon Park,” Trombley said. “We've got very high-density housing in East Anchorage, and they want those open green spaces.”
The voters will decide who will represent east side communities for the next three years when they go to the polls on April 1.