2 Anchorage School Board candidates drop out of the race, endorse their like-minded opponents

An empty conference room
The Anchorage School District School Board meeting room in 2020. (Mayowa Aina/Alaska Public Media)

Two Anchorage School Board candidates have suspended their campaigns and thrown their support behind their like-minded opponents ahead of the April 5 city election.

In both school board races on this year’s ballot, candidates supported by conservative groups are attempting to unseat incumbents.

Cliff Murray withdrew from the race for one of the school board seats — seat A — earlier this month. He encouraged voters to support Mark Anthony Cox instead.

“What we don’t want to have happen is for some people to vote for me and some people vote for Mark and have neither of us end up being victorious in the end,” Murray said in a March 13 video.

Cox thanked Murray for the endorsement and said they wanted to avoid splitting the conservative vote. 

Cox is facing off against incumbent Margo Bellamy, the current school board president. 

Meanwhile, Benjamin Baldwin has dropped out of the race for school board seat B and thrown his support behind incumbent Kelly Lessens.

“I believe that she stands the best chance of moving our shared ideals forward in this election,” Baldwin wrote in a statement posted on Lessens’ campaign Facebook page on March 11.

Lessens is up against candidate Rachel Ries. 

Both Ries and Cox have been endorsed by conservative groups like Alaska Family Action. They also share a campaign headquarters with Anchorage Assembly candidates Kathy Henslee, Randy Sulte, Stephanie Taylor and Liz Vazquez.

The school board incumbents, Lessens and Bellamy, hosted a joint fundraising event earlier this month. They’ve been endorsed by the Anchorage Education Association teachers union and several other labor unions.

Related: 5 questions with Anchorage School Board candidates

Even though they dropped out, both Murray and Baldwin are still on the April 5 ballot because they withdrew too late. A spokesperson from the Municipal Clerk’s elections office said votes for those candidates will still be counted.

Also in the running is Dan Loring for school board seat A and Dustin Darden for seat B. Neither attended a Feb. 24 candidate forum, and Loring did not respond to an Anchorage Daily News survey.

School board candidates are elected in citywide races. The winners will serve on the seven-member school board for three-year terms, overseeing the state’s largest district.

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