The unlikely story of Ethan Berkowitz: restauranteur and Anchorage mayor, felled by sexting
Anchorage’s Jewish Mayor Ethan Avram Berkowitz announced his resignation Tuesday evening a day after a tumultuous weekend that started with anti-Semitic death threat and ended with admitting to a “consensual, inappropriate text message relationship” with a local TV reporter.
That relationship turned hostile on Friday when the reporter, Maureen “Maria” Athens, posted a video to Facebook accusing the mayor of uploading pictures of his genitalia to an “underage girls website.” On Monday, a voicemail left by Athens, containing a death threat against the mayor and his wife and calling him a “Jewish piece of living s***”, was published by the Alaska Landmine.
The mayor’s office categorically denied Athens’ apparently unsubstantiated allegations on Friday, and the FBI and the Anchorage Police Department have cleared Berkowitz of any wrongdoing.
But on Monday, Berkowitz admitted to carrying on a texting affair with Athens several years ago, calling it a “major lapse in judgment.”
Less than 24 hours later, he resigned.
In a statement read by his chief of staff at a meeting of the Anchorage Assembly, Berkowitz said, “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.”
According to the Anchorage Daily News, Athens was arrested on Friday and charged assault, disorderly conduct and criminal mischief charges for a fight that day with her TV station manager, who she said was also her fiance. It is unknown whether she will also be facing charges related to the death threat.
Athens had also posted to Facebook a photo of a man’s naked backside, which she said was Berkowitz, on Friday. She told the Daily News they had begun texting on WhatsApp in early 2016, but did not say whether their relationship had become public.
Berkowitz, a San Francisco native, first moved to the state in 1990, where he began work as a law clerk for the state Court of Appeals.
His love for colder regions started long before that, however.
As an undergraduate student at Harvard he spent three stints in Antartica while working on a thesis in government and economics. After graduating, he earned a Master’s degree in Polar Studies at Cambridge University before returning to San Francisco to attend UC Hastings College of the Law.
Immediately after graduation he headed back north.
After a few years in the appellate court, Berkowitz moved on to politics and served five terms in Alaska’s House of Representatives starting in 1996. That’s where Berkowitz first met his wife, attorney Mara Kimmel.
Though she is also a native of San Francisco, the two never knew each other in California, but she fell in love with the 49th state just like Berkowitz did. Kimmel also spent time in Alaska as a college student, and then moved full time to the state to pursue a masters’ degree in natural resource management from the University of Alaska Fairbanks. During her studies, law career, and time as first lady of Anchorage, Kimmel worked with indigenous communities to protect their land and rights.
The two Jewish Californians are also active members of Anchorage’s small Jewish community, and gave their two children Hebrew names, much like Berkowitz’s middle name, Avram. They were honored earlier this year, by Anchorage’s congregation Beth Sholom.
From 2007 to 2015, Berkowitz took a break from public office — this period was also marked by electoral failures.
In 2006 he embarked on a failed run at the governorship before he was defeated by Sarah Palin. In 2008, he tried to unseat Alaska’s Rublican congressman Don Young. In 2010, just after Palin’s resignation, he made another run for governor, but was shot down by the incumbent, Palin’s replacement Governor Sean Parnell.
During that time he and his wife also engaged in endeavors in the private sector. In 2011, Berkowitz was hired as senior vice president of a consulting firm, Strategies 360, and he worked with the Kodiak Kenai Cable company to lay underwater cables and provide internet to rural Alaska. Berkowitz and Kimmel also own two Anchorage restaurants, Snow City Café and the Spenard Roadhouse.
He even had a brief stint on the radio, as co-host of the Bernadette and Berkowitz show, where he, a Democrat, sat across from Republican Bernadette Wilson to debate the news of the day.
Berkowitz ultimately made it back into public office when he was elected mayor in 2015 — the third Jewish mayor in the city’s history — and is now serving a three-year term for the city of 300,000, with a Jewish population of about 2,000.
“Being mayor is a great job because I get to rub shoulders with people on a daily basis, and I get to sleep in my own bed,” he said in an interview with Jweekly.com. “I love the public policy and I love the people.”
Though Berkowitz said it began “years ago” it’s unclear when his relationship with Athens actually began.
However, it’s not the first time he’s been part of a controversy related to what type of relationships are appropriate. On the Bernadette and Berkowitz show, he inadvertently seemed to speak in support of incest — although he was really trying to support same-sex marriage.
“I support the idea of adults being able to choose who they have a relationship with. Father and son should be allowed to marry, if they’re both consenting adults — if you’re defining marriage as the bundle of rights and privileges that’s now accrued to people, then yes.” Berkowitz said, though he later argued that it was all purely hypothetical and he does not support incest.
His resignation will be effective at the end of next week.