Is Begich campaigning dirty already?

Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich definitely has a sense of timing, perhaps just not tact.

It’s been whispered around town for a while now that Begich has had his eye on the Senate seat currently held by Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens. That’s why it came as no real surprise to me that Begich immediately attached himself to the investigation of a possible ethics violation involving Stevens.

The recent “scandal” – if that’s what you consider it – involves a short string of e-mails sent between Stevens and Port of Anchorage Director Bill Sheffield. Now, I’m no fan of Stevens, but this whole situation seems a bit contrived to me.

The issue at hand is that while these two old (and I mean old) friends were talking about spending some time together at Christmas, six e-mails were sent from government addresses that briefly discussed holding an “FR.” Does Begich really want to attack two senior citizens who were simply trying to plan a Christmas party? If so, I know a certain green-haired Seuss character who might be interested in a position on the Begich campaign.

So what is this mysterious “FR”? The easiest assumption might be that Sheffield was talking about a fundraising event. I prefer to imagine what Sheffield jokingly suggested to the Anchorage Daily News – the two could have been planning a footrace. My money’s on Stevens; Sheffield’s seen better days. Whichever the outcome, I think that could be the makings of a Stevens fundraiser even I might contribute to.

Here’s the thing: Begich is focusing on the negative. Stevens and Sheffield are both so old, we should be proud of them for even knowing what e-mail is. Stevens only recently made the distinction between the Internet and a truck, after all. He’s been in office for forty years now; how is he supposed to know what address he’s sending his mail from? At his age I’ll be lucky if I can remember the address of where I live.

In all seriousness, it seems to me that if there was a violation of the new Anchorage ethics code – which is questionable, given that the e-mails were from 2006 – then it was on the part of Sheffield and not Stevens. Sheffield is the city employee.

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So what we’re left with is Begich making a big deal about this situation, when he didn’t really even have to get himself involved. The Alaska Public Interest Research Group, which was responsible for finding the e-mails, sent copies to Begich, reporters and the Anchorage city attorney.

Begich chose to step in and direct the matter to the senior ethics officer, involving himself, rather than let the city attorney do so. Is every possible ethics violation routed through the mayor’s office?

Begich is expected to announce by the end of the month whether or not he intends to run for Stevens’ Senate seat. I can’t help thinking that the timing of this investigation – which will likely have little to do with Stevens, besides further sullying his reputation – is rather convenient for the mayor.

I highly doubt Stevens, who has successfully avoided incrimination thus far in the FBI corruption probe (yes, it’s still ongoing), is going to be toppled by a few lines regarding “FR” at Christmas time two years ago. If anyone stands to be hurt by this, it’s Sheffield. How can you not feel sorry for Sheffield? He’s like a cute, jowly puppy dog.

My question is this: Given the questions about how forthright Begich has been in disclosing conflicts of interest as mayor of Anchorage, the exorbitant amounts of money he spends simply because the city currently has it, and now this tactless, thinly veiled attack on Stevens and Sheffield – is this the man we want representing us in the United States Senate?

While I find Stevens arrogant and deceitful, and firmly believe that no one should be as comfortable in their job as he has obviously become, I’m not sure I want him to be replaced by someone who’s willing to climb over the backs of our grandfathers to get there.

Can I have an option number three, please?