Anchorage’s mayor resigns amid sexting scandal with antisemitic overtones

Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz resigned Tuesday, effective at the end of next week.

An aerial view of Anchorage, Alaska.  (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
An aerial view of Anchorage, Alaska.
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
A day after disclosing a “consensual, inappropriate messaging relationship” with a local television anchor, Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz resigned Tuesday, effective at the end of next week.
The announcement was made during a meeting of the Anchorage Assembly. Berkowitz was not in attendance.
Berkowitz, who is married, announced his resignation in a statement read by his chief of staff, Jason Bockenstedt:
“It is with profound sadness and humility that I resign as mayor of the Municipality of Anchorage. My resignation results from unacceptable personal conduct that has compromised my ability to perform my duties with the focus and trust that is required. I know my conduct has done great injury to my family, my staff, to municipal employees, and to the people of our community, and for that, I am deeply sorry. To make this transition as smooth as possible, my resignation will be effective Friday, October 23, at 6 p.m.”
The rapid downfall of the state’s top elected Democrat began on Friday, just after noon, when Maureen “Maria” Athens, an anchor/reporter for stations KTBY and KYUR, posted unsubstantiated allegations against Berkowitz on social media, accusing him of posting inappropriate photos on an “underage girl’s website.” The mayor’s office on Monday released a voice mail it alleged was from Athens expressing antisemitic sentiments.
The chain of events in subsequent days included criminal investigations, a death threat against the mayor, criminal charges against Athens and a city government thrust into uncertainty and controversy, as the community remains sharply divided on how to deal with the coronavirus pandemic.
City manager Bill Falsey, who is running for mayor, told the assembly on Tuesday that top administration officials put up a “firewall” between the administration and the Anchorage Police Department, which investigated allegations that – if true – would have constituted a criminal act.
The Anchorage Police Department and FBI have said they found no evidence that the allegations about Berkowitz were true.
On Monday, Berkowitz admitted to the inappropriate relationship. Top staff members independently decided the mayor couldn’t continue in his job, Falsey said.
“Ultimately our team reached the conclusion it would be untenable for the mayor to continue in his role,” he said. Berkowitz agreed, he said.
The mayor had not responded to a detailed list of questions Tuesday, including whether he sent inappropriate messages to any other person, as the news anchor has alleged, and whether Athens is being investigated for potential criminal charges related to a death threat she left on his voice mail.
Athens, in the meantime, spoke to the Anchorage Daily News about the relationship, which she says began in early 2016.
At 11 p.m. on Monday, the mayor’s office released a threatening voice mail it said Athens sent Berkowitz on Friday.
In the voice mail Athens accuses Berkowitz of pedophilia, says she’s going to “expose” him in a TV story “and win an Emmy.”
“You either kill yourself, turn yourself in or do what you need to do,” she said.
She then threatened to “personally” kill Berkowitz and his wife.
“You Jewish piece of living f***ing s***,” she said on the voice mail. “You have met your match.”
Athens was arrested Friday afternoon on assault, disorderly conduct and criminal mischief charges for a fight that day with her TV station manager, whom she also described as her fiancé in a court hearing Saturday.
Athens is so far not facing any charges related to the voice mail threats or for posting what she said was a nude photo of the mayor’s backside on Facebook.
“Clearly, it was a death threat and an antisemitic death threat, and so how is he supposed to react to that but to say she’s not OK,” said Chris Constant, who represents downtown Anchorage on the assembly.
In a phone interview Monday, before the city released the recording, a Daily News reporter asked Athens whether she made a death threat to the mayor. At the time, she denied making the threat.
Athens said she and Berkowitz began exchanging messages more than four years ago.
“When he slided into my texts, he was so smooth with his little witty slogans and pictures,” Athens said. They wrote to each other using a communication app called WhatsApp, she said.
At the time, she said, she was feeling isolated in Alaska, away from East Coast family.
Between 2017 and 2018, Athens posted photos and video on her professional Twitter and Facebook accounts of at least six on-camera interviews with Berkowitz.
“He gave me attention when I was lonely,” Athens said. She would not say whether the relationship ever became physical.
Jerusalem Post Staff contributed to this report.