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Initial election results show Anchorage voters rejecting alcohol tax

Election workers Sheri Whitethorne, right, and Karen Walker scanned ballots at the MOA Election Center on Election Day, April 2, 2019, during the regular municipal election. (Bill Roth / ADN)

This story has been updated and expanded with three new stories:

Original story:

Anchorage voters were rejecting a local alcohol tax Tuesday night that was pitched as a way to raise money to tackle homelessness, substance abuse and illegal camp clean-ups.

Early election results posted just before 8:30 p.m. also showed Kameron Perez-Verdia, Meg Zaletel and Crystal Kennedy as the leaders in competitive races for Anchorage Assembly. In the Anchorage School Board races, Starr Marsett and Margo Bellamy were ahead of their opponents.

With close to 43,000 ballots counted, 52 percent of voters had voted against the tax proposition.

About 10,000 ballots had been received by election officials but not yet counted. The overall turnout rate so far was about 19 percent.

An unknown number of ballots were in the mail, or gathered from drop boxes and at accessible vote centers later in the day Tuesday. Those ballots likely number in the thousands, officials said.

Officials said additional results would be posted daily as results come in.

The alcohol tax faced an aggressive and well-funded opposition campaign from the local, state and national alcohol industry. Business owners characterized it as misguided and unfair. A string of companies that included brewing giants Anheuser-Busch and Miller Coors raised roughly $300,000 in ad money through a group called Alaskans Against Unfair Alcohol Taxes.

Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz and other supporters said the tax would help solve some of the community’s most pressing problems at a time of declining state support.

Of the five races for the Anchorage Assembly this election, three were for open seats and two were incumbents running unopposed. Assembly races are nonpartisan, though candidates sometimes advertise ideological leanings or party connections, and parties often get involved in fundraising and outreach.

In the West Anchorage Assembly race, former School Board president Perez-Verdia was leading Liz Vazquez, a former state legislator. Perez-Verdia had 4,017 votes, or 50 percent, in early returns. Vazquez had 3,164 votes, or 39 percent. In third place was city fleet maintenance worker and perennial candidate Dustin Darden, was at 9 percent with 765 votes. The winner of that race will replace Assembly Chair Eric Croft, who decided not to seek a second term.

In the results for Midtown Assembly, attorney Meg Zaletel had an edge over Christine Hill, the longtime owner of an auction company. Zaletel had 3,362 votes, 52 percent of the vote, compared to Hill’s 2,146 votes at 34 percent. Ron Alleva, the owner of Grubstake Auction Co., was in third place with 853 votes, or 13 percent of the vote.

The seat is currently held by Assemblyman Dick Traini, who is reaching his term limit.

In Chugiak-Eagle River, former Anchorage School Board member Crystal Kennedy held a solid lead over her opponent, Oliver Schiess. Kennedy had 3,666 votes, 57 percent of the vote. Schiess had 2,686 votes, 42 percent.

If the results hold, Kennedy would fill a seat vacated by former Assemblywoman Amy Demboski, who stepped down in December to work as a deputy chief of staff for Gov. Mike Dunleavy. Current Assemblymembers selected Gretchen Wehmhoff to fill the seat for the reminder of the term.

South Anchorage Assemblyman John Weddleton and East Anchorage Assemblyman Forrest Dunbar ran unopposed. Both cruised to re-election Tuesday night.

Meanwhile, the Anchorage School Board races appeared to lean in favor of Margo Bellamy, a political newcomer, and incumbent Starr Marsett.

Two of the seven school board seats are up for election this year. The races drew an unusual amount of advertising spending, including tens of thousands of dollars from a national Republican organization.

Veteran educator Bellamy had a 3,781-vote lead over her opponent Kai Binkley Sims, an engineer and part-owner of several businesses, including the Anchorage Daily News, in the race for School Board Seat A.

Bellamy had 20,732 votes, or 55 percent of the vote, and Binkley Sims had 16,951, or 45 percent.

The winning candidate will fill the board seat once held by Bettye Davis, who died in December 2018.

In the other school board race, incumbent Starr Marsett had a 5,120-vote lead over retired math teacher David Nees for School Board Seat B.

Marsett, a real estate agent, is the current school board president. Nees has often run for public office in the past decade but has not yet been elected. Marsett had 19,468 votes, or 52 percent of the vote, Nees had 14,348 votes, or 39 percent, and a third candidate, Ronald Stafford, had 3,328 votes, or 9 percent.

School board members are elected to three-year terms in area-wide, nonpartisan races, though candidates sometimes choose to display party connections.

The early results Tuesday night also showed most bond propositions passing. That includes a $59.1 million school bond package to pay for roof replacements, earthquake repairs and other projects within the Anchorage School District. Other bond packages cover areawide road, drainage, emergency services and public safety projects.

Other bonds for areawide public safety, roads and drainage, parks and recreation, fire and police were passing in the initial returns.

The exception was a bond for areawide facility improvements, with 52 percent of voters voting “no.”

Voters were also leaning strongly in favor ballot propositions that would expand enforcement of junk and abandoned vehicles, and make it easier for the city to negotiate lease-to-own agreements for rented real estate like City Hall and the new Anchorage Police Department headquarters.

Correction: An earlier version of this story misspelled the last name of a Chugiak-Eagle River Assembly candidate. It is Oliver Schiess, not Scheiss.

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