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ANCHORAGE - Former Assembly member Mark Begich was the top vote-getter in Tuesday's mayoral election in Anchorage, but whether he can avoid a runoff remains to be seen.
Begich had a significant lead over incumbent Mayor George Wuerch and former Mayor Rick Mystrom in a field of 11 candidates.
A new city election rule approved by voters allows a mayor to be elected and avoid a runoff with just more than 45 percent of the vote.
Begich fell just short of that threshold with 44.8 percent of the vote, not counting about 3,000 absentee votes still outstanding and an uncertain number of questioned ballots. Those votes probably won't be counted until next week.
Wuerch received about 37 percent of the vote Tuesday, apparently headed for a May 6 runoff with Begich. Mystrom ran a distant third, receiving about 16 percent of the vote.
Begich said he was elated with his showing.
"I thought with 38 or even 36 percent, I'd be ecstatic," he told the Anchorage Daily News. "Being at this point is a sign we can do a lot better."
Wuerch said he looked forward to a runoff that would offer voters a clearer choice.
"I think voters deserve a true majority, not a plurality," Wuerch said.
Eight minor candidates collectively drew a little over 1,100 votes.
A ballot proposition dropped the runoff requirement in the mayor's race from 50 percent to just more than 45 percent. Begich's share of the vote hovered around that percentage all night. A few hundred more votes could have put Begich over the hurdle.
On the other hand, Wuerch might have surpassed 45 percent had Mystrom not decided to try to recover the office he had held for two terms from 1994 to 2000. Both are Republicans and draw from a pool of conservative support.
Although Begich held a solid lead in votes, tradition suggests Wuerch might do well in the runoff. No incumbent mayor has lost an election in Anchorage since unification of the old city and borough governments in 1975.
Begich also led Wuerch in the 2000 mayor's election, but lost to him by about 2,500 votes in a runoff although he actually increased his percentage of the overall vote.
About 59,000 people went to the polls Tuesday.