Wuerch wins Anchorage mayoral election

Posted: Wednesday, May 03, 2000

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- George Wuerch, an Anchorage assemblyman, will be the city's next mayor following his triumph over ex-assemblyman Mark Begich in Tuesday's runoff election.

With all 114 of the city's precincts counted, Wuerch had 33,346 votes, or about 52.4 percent of those cast, while Begich had 30,264 votes, or 47.6 percent.

Wuerch's margin of victory was unexpectedly comfortable in what polls showed to be a very tight contest down the stretch.

Tracking polls taken during the last week of the runoff campaign showed Begich and Wuerch in a virtual dead heat.

The surveys by Dittman Research Corp. had Wuerch up by 12 percentage points on April 20, but a week later Begich was ahead by one point. In daily tracking polls in the final days leading up the election Begich led by two to four percentage points.

Some speculated that Wuerch, a retired Marine colonel, benefited from strong turnout at the city's military installations -- Elmendorf Air Force Base and Fort Richardson.

Wuerch, 64, himself wasn't sure about the origins of his upsurge.

''I haven't the slightest idea,'' he told KTUU-TV. ''I'm just the candidate. I'm not the analyst.''

The conservative Wuerch has served on the Anchorage Assembly since 1995, three of those years alongside Begich. He stepped down as the assembly's chairman last year in order to run for mayor.

For Begich, a 38-year-old real estate investor and small business owner, the mayoral loss is his second. In 1994, he was defeated by outgoing Mayor Rick Mystrom. Mystrom is finishing his second three-year term, and was not allowed to run again.

Despite his deep deficit, Begich was not ready to concede late Tuesday.

''George does have a good lead, but the key is how many absentee and questioned (ballots),'' he said. ''We're looking forward to seeing those numbers.''

The process of counting the absentee and questioned ballots is expected a week or even longer.

The municipal election four weeks ago trimmed a field of 10 candidates down to two. Across the city the blue-on-yellow banners touting Begich dueled the red, white and gold signs bearing Wuerch's name.

And both spend tens of thousands of dollars inundating the Anchorage airwaves with ads.

Wuerch relentlessly pounded his basic messages -- that he wants to privatize some government services and that Begich is a free-spender.

Begich pushed the notion that he better understood how to run a city government -- from fixing potholes to negotiating tough labor contracts -- because of his longer tenure on the municipal assembly.

On a sunny and mild Tuesday, the candidates and their stalwarts took to the streets to wave voters toward the polls. Others tirelessly worked the phones to make sure supporters and would-be supporters cast their ballots.

Still, turnout Tuesday was only 32.8 percent. That was up slightly from the 31.4 percent of registered voters who turned out for April 4's first round of the mayoral election, won by Begich with nearly 40 percent of the vote.

Meanwhile in Fairbanks, voters proved themselves unpredictable Tuesday by rejecting a $57 million school bond package by more than 900 votes.

Of the approximately 10,000 voters casting ballots, about 54 percent voted against the bond package.

The school board, borough assembly and even bond critics all were confident the measure would pass.

''Certainly it is not the news I expected,'' borough Mayor Hank Hove told the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner. ''I think we need to do a little post-election analysis and figure out what thee message is the voters are trying to send us.''

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