Updated 12:29 a.m.
FAIRBANKS — Luke Hopkins won re-election to a second three-year term as the Fairbanks North Star Borough’s mayor by a six percentage point margin Tuesday.
Hopkins won 51.53 percent of the 14,579 votes counted in the election. Norm Phillips, a former Doyon, Limited executive and Hopkins’ main challenger, won 45.41 percent of the vote. Approximately 1,800 absentee and questioned ballots remain to be counted, but Borough Clerk Mona Drexler said experience shows it is unlikely they will change the outcome.
Robert Morris, a North Pole yoga instructor and convicted felon, brought in 2.8 percent of the vote.
In early returns, Hopkins had trailed Phillips in the vote count but by the end of the night had come in with a safe lead, a similar margin in 2009, when he defeated Tammie Wilson in a run-off election.
He said Tuesday night’s vote should be interpreted as support for the platform of reduced energy costs, maintaining borough services and stabilizing the borough budget.
“I think what it speaks to is that when I move forward with my priorities from my first three years,” he said. “Is it a referendum? Winning by approximately six points, that’s enough of a statement to me to say that’s what the community wants.”
The race had been a contentious one and had largely focused on borough spending and the budget. Phillips had made it a campaign pledge to “put more money” in the pocket of voters, a task he said he could accomplish through finding efficiencies in the borough’s services and by bringing in affordable energy for homes and businesses.
Phillips’ proposal was met with criticism by Hopkins, who questioned how exactly Phillips planned to reduce the budget without significantly altering the services offered by the borough.
Despite his loss, Phillips said he was happy with the campaign he ran and with the issues raised during the race.
“I think we talked about the issues and I hope some of my ideas will prevail and the mayor or this energy authority will deliver natural gas,” he said, “I’m confident that this community will pull together.”
It was the first dive into the public political realm for Phillips, and he said he’s not sure what the future has in store for him.
“Tomorrow is a new day, I don’t know,” he said. “I’m retired and I’m enjoying retirement.”
Hopkins was largely met with criticism over borough spending. An analysis of borough budgets by the Daily News-Miner, however, showed Hopkins had introduced the three smallest borough budgets in terms of annual growth during the last decade. The budget still grew under him but by less than Phillips’ supporters had claimed.
Hopkins will be faced immediately with the pressing decisions, such as the possible formation of a municipal gas distribution utility that is being considered by the outgoing assembly and will likely be voted on before Tuesday night’s winners are seated.
Hopkins will also be faced with the repercussions of the passage of Proposition 3, which bans the borough from regulating air pollution from home heating devices. The passage of the initiative comes a few months before a comprehensive plan of state and local actions be submitted to the Environmental Protection Agency to show the end of the borough’s air pollution problems is near. Hopkins will need to work closely with the state and the EPA to figure out the next steps for the community.
“There are many issues pressing the community,” Hopkins said. “We have Eielson Air Force Base, but right behind that is sequestration (pending federal budget cuts) and a state that has declining revenue. That’s what we have to be preparing for.”
Contact staff writer Matt Buxton at 459-7544 or follow him on Twitter: @FDNMpolitics.