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Sitka elects McConnell mayor; Wrangell race too close to call

Two other Southeast boroughs voted for new mayors on Tuesday

Posted: October 4, 2012 - 12:11am

Voters in Southeast Alaska headed to the polls Tuesday, electing new mayors in three boroughs — though the outcome of Wrangell’s mayoral race is still uncertain.

Assembly Members David L. Jack and Donald McConachie Sr. are neck-and-neck in the race to succeed Wrangell Mayor Jeremy Maxand.

In unofficial Election Day returns, Jack has a narrow five-vote edge over McConachie, with 256 votes to McConachie’s 251.

“Right now, it’s still too close to call,” Jack said Wednesday afternoon.

About 100 absentee and questioned ballots remain to be counted, meaning Jack’s lead could be overturned.

“They normally follow pretty closely with the regular election, so you know, I feel pretty good,” said Jack of the absentee and questioned ballots.

McConachie was upbeat Wednesday.

“My personal hope is that it comes in a tie and we decide by a flip of a coin or something like that,” McConachie joked. “That’d be my personal favorite.”

Wrangell is counting its untallied ballots Thursday afternoon.

“We’ll just have to play the little waiting game,” said McConachie, comparing it to “the last final moments of a football game.”

McConachie added, “I’m hoping I pull it out, but if I don’t, I’m not going to complain. Dave’s a good man. We both have the same interest of making our town a good town. … I don’t think the town can lose one way or the other.”

Close elections in Southeast Alaska are far from unheard of.

Sitka Mayor Cheryl Westover was elected in 2010 over former Wasilla Mayor John Stein by just two votes.

But this year, in a three-way race, Assembly Member Mim McConnell convincingly defeated Westover.

McConnell grabbed a strong plurality of the vote in the preliminary Election Day tally, winning 965 votes to 688 for Westover and 411 for Vice-Deputy Mayor Thor Christianson.

“The dialogue was good,” McConnell said of the election campaign. “I think everyone ran a good race. As far as the future is concerned, I’m looking forward to getting to work and getting Sitkans involved in the process as much as possible.”

McConnell also gave a nod to the region’s mayors and mayors-elect, saying, “I’m looking forward to working with other mayors, especially in Southeast, and seeing folks in Juneau when we’re lobbying or they happen to be coming to Sitka for some event.”

The next annual meeting of the Southeast Conference, which met just last week in Craig, will be held in Sitka. Five members of the City and Borough of Juneau Assembly attended this year’s meeting.

“I think that the region can definitely benefit from the mayors communicating and working together on issues,” McConnell added.

Sitka voters also elected political newcomer Matt Hunter, giving him a hefty 1,755 votes, to the Borough Assembly. Assembly Member Phyllis Hackett was reelected, with 1,274 votes.

In Sitka, members of the Assembly are elected at large rather than to specific seats, the same way that Board of Education elections are conducted for the Juneau School District.

For the third-place position, to serve out the remaining year of an unexpired three-year term, Michelle Putz leads with 897 votes, but Aaron Swanson is fairly close behind at 812 votes, and Dallas Peavey is in fifth at 700 votes.

Close to 400 absentee and questioned ballots are yet to be counted in Sitka, meaning that while Putz is in a strong position, Swanson could conceivably overtake her if those ballots break disproportionately in his favor.

The only contested Assembly race in Wrangell was also to fill an unexpired term. Assembly Member Billie Younce, who was appointed earlier this year to the seat, lost her bid to continue serving, taking just 101 votes to 397 for Maxlyn Wiederspohn.

Ketchikan city voters also went to the polls Tuesday. Mayor Lew Williams III was easily reelected, taking 599 votes to 110 for challenger Lewis Armey Jr., according to unofficial results.

No mayoral election was held this year in Ketchikan Gateway Borough, which contains but is not consolidated with the city of Ketchikan.

Voters in Yakutat, the fourth Southeast borough voting for mayor this month, will head to the polls Oct. 16, under the City and Borough of Yakutat’s unusual election schedule. Borough Mayor David Stone is facing a challenge from former Assembly Member Cindy Bremner, and four Assembly seats are on the ballot.

• Contact reporter Mark D. Miller at 523-2279 or at mark.d.miller@juneauempire.com.

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