Anchorage Mayor Dan Sullivan is the lower profile Sullivan candidate in the upcoming elections. With two candidates—same party, same names, same state-wide campaign aims—this election cycle has been slightly more confusing than most. So, just to be clear, the next 700-or-so words are entirely about “Mayor Dan” Sullivan, born in 1951, co-owner of McGinley’s Pub downtown, and long-time Anchorage political presence.
Affixed to incumbent governor Sean Parnell’s campaign for re-election, Mayor Sullivan’s bid for state-wide office has been low-key: few lawn signs, scant press releases, and the campaign has no website of its own beyond a Facebook page last updated on July 26th.
But Sullivan aims to bring his focus on fiscal issues to the governor’s cabinet. Money has been the major theme of his time as mayor, and that’s how he’s framing his candidacy.
Sullivan comes from a long-line of Alaskans, and first arrived in the city, or the state for that matter, were transformed by waves of money and development.
“In 1959 we moved down to Anchorage,” Sullivan explained. The family had been in Nenana, and then Fairbanks before heading south. “It was literally still a small town in those days. You know, we grew up by the Park Strip on 12 Ave and those were dirt roads in those days.”
This is Sullivan’s first run for statewide office. After nine years on the Anchorage assembly he was elected mayor in 2009, and then again in 2012.
Having hit his term-limit as mayor, Sullivan decided to run for Lieutenant Governor, wanting to bring his record of financial prudence to the Governor’s inner-circle.
“As Lieutenant Governor, in addition to your perfunctory duties of running elections and keeping notaries from going rogue on you,” he joked, “you are a member of the governor’s cabinet, you have a seat at that table when policy is being developed and decisions are being made. And as the leader of the largest city in Alaska by far, the CEO of that city, I think I can lend some really valid experience to those discussions.”
Sullivan is a pocketbook politician: fiscal issues are his main priority. Even his early memories of Alaska are inflected with details about dollars.
“I grew up in a time…before there was oil money. And I don’t think we had any conception that we were somehow poor or lacking in either in facilities or opportunities,” he reflected. “And now that we have billions in the bank, students get charged for everything. And I still haven’t figured that out,” he finished, drifting off slightly.
Sullivan sees the successes of his time as mayor, and on Assembly, as being the financial policies that helped the city emulate a healthy business: budget surpluses, improved credit ratings, and the controversial labor reform AO-37 that will appear on the ballot with Sullivan.
Those who’ve worked with Sullivan in the past say it’s not just political posturing.
“As long as I’ve known him he’s been consistent in his philosophical beliefs,” says Debbie Ossiander, who, in her nine years on the Assembly, worked closely with Sullivan, and sees a straight line in the policies he pursued.
“I could have forecast that his focus would be on containing the budget and curtailing labor costs,” she continued. He talked about that when he was on the assembly, and it was no surprise to me that that was his focus when he was mayor.”
Sullivan believes that since 55% of Alaska’s population lives in Anchorage and the Mat-Su valley, what’s good for Southcentral is good for the state. Take, for example, an investment opportunity he’s eager to continue if elected: modernizing the port of Anchorage.
“The Port of Anchorage is considered the Port of Alaska,” he said, growing animated as he spoke. “Over 90% of all the goods that come in to the state, that are on the shelves throughout the Interior, Western Alaska come through the port…This port is so crucial to the entire state. That’s probably job number one in my mind. And it’s kind of self-serving because it’s my city and my port.”
Sullivan’s current plan for overseeing the Division of Elections, one of the few concrete functions of the Lieutenant Governor’s office, are managerial modifications that make the organization run more efficiently, much like those he’s sought at the municipal level while mayor.
It’s another example of Sullivan’s stance that the edicts of business should be imported to better deliver government.