Anchorage Mayor Berkowitz has resigned

Mayor Ethan Berkowitz stands by the Coastal Trail in Anchorage on September 14, 2020. (Jeff Chen/Alaska Public Media)

Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz’s resignation was announced Tuesday, a day after acknowledging that he’d carried on what he described as a consensual, inappropriate messaging relationship with a television anchor.

Berkowitz’s chief of staff, Jason Bockenstedt, made the announcement at Tuesday evening’s Assembly meeting, where members were set to consider a request to extend the mayor’s emergency powers to manage the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It is with profound sadness and humility that I resign as the mayor of the municipality of Anchorage,” Bockenstedt said, reading from the statement.

Berkowitz’s resignation is effective Oct. 23, Bockenstedt said.

The mayor’s decision leaves a leadership void in Alaska’s largest city as economic stressors mount for businesses and the number of daily COVID-19 cases reaches record highs. Anchorage also remains deeply divided over the measures Berkowitz’s administration has taken to fight the pandemic.

In a vivid illustration of just how deep those divisions run, the audience at Tuesday’s Assembly meeting burst into boisterous cheers as Berkowitz’s resignation was announced. Many of those in attendance had gathered to oppose the extension of the mayor’s emergency powers, and their celebration interrupted Bockenstedt and prompted a rebuke from Assembly Chair Felix Rivera.

“This needs to end,” he said.

A woman with raised arms during an Anchorage Assembly meeting where Mayor Berkowitz resigned
People in the audience at the Anchorage Assembly meeting erupted into applause and cheers on Tuesday, Oct. 13, 2020, after Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz’s resignation was announced. (Jeff Chen/Alaska Public Media)

The mayor’s resignation is the latest chapter in a scandal that publicly unfolded over the last several days. It began Friday when Maria Athens, an anchor for a small Anchorage television station, posted allegations on her Facebook page that Berkowitz, who is married, had shared inappropriate photos on an “underage girls website.” She then published a photo of a nude man, taken from behind, which she claimed was the mayor.

After learning of the allegations, Berkowitz’s executive team decided to create a “firewall” between the mayor and the rest of city government, Municipal Manager Bill Falsey said at Tuesday’s meeting.

Falsey said he told the city police chief to proceed “by the book,” adding that a subsequent investigation by Anchorage police and the FBI found “no evidence of criminal conduct on the mayor.” In its own statement Tuesday, the FBI said it found “no immediate evidence to support a violation of federal law; however, the FBI Anchorage Field Office continues to monitor the situation.”

Falsey said top city officials discussed the situation and came to the conclusion that “it would be untenable for the mayor to continue in his role.”

“The mayor independently arrived at the same conclusion,” he said.

Under Anchorage city code, the chair of the Assembly serves as acting mayor in the event of a vacancy.

While Rivera currently holds that position, Assembly members said in interviews Tuesday that it’s likely the Assembly would reorganize if Berkowitz resigned, and the body could choose a different chair to serve as acting mayor.

If the vacancy occurs more than 90 days before a regularly scheduled election, a special election would need to be held. Since the regular election isn’t until April, that’s likely the case here, but Rivera said he’s still waiting for a legal analysis to determine whether the Assembly could avoid holding a special election.

This story has been updated with more information.

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