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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz on Monday admitted to having an inappropriate relationship with a female reporter, three days after she made online allegations against the married official.
“I apologize to the people of Anchorage for a major lapse in judgment I made several years ago when I had a consensual, inappropriate messaging relationship with reporter Maria Athens,” Berkowitz said in a statement released by his office late Monday afternoon.
“I’m embarrassed and ashamed for the hurt I’ve caused my family and our community. I take responsibility for my actions," he said.
The acknowledgement comes at the end of three days that roiled Alaska’s largest city, a span that saw both his denial of accusations Athens made on Facebook and her arrest.
It was not immediately clear what the messages involved and how long it lasted. Berkowitz declined an interview with The Associated Press through a city spokesperson. A message sent to Athens on Facebook was not immediately returned.
Athens, the anchor for the combined Fox/ABC station in Anchorage, posted a video on her Facebook page Friday, the same day the station barred her from the studio. In the video, she claimed she would break a story that Berkowitz posted nude photos to a website. She later also posted what she said was a photo of the mayor's nude back side.
Berkowitz’s office immediately denied the unsubstantiated allegation, and said they talked to the station manager, who is Athens’ boss. The release from the mayor’s office said her boss at the station also disavowed the story. Messages AP left for the station manager both Friday and Monday were not immediately returned.
Later that day, Athens was arrested after trespassing in the television studio after being told she could not return there. She allegedly accosted the station manager, who charging documents identify as her boyfriend, and she was arrested by police.
Athens was charged with criminal mischief and disorderly conduct, and was released on bail Monday.
Both Anchorage police spokesperson MJ Thim and Berkowitz noted police and the FBI investigated Athens' claims and found there was no evidence of criminal conduct on Berkowitz’s part.
“It takes time to rebuild trust and I hope you afford me the opportunity to do so. During the remaining months of my term, I will continue working on the important issues we face,” Berkowitz said.
“We were informed today of improper and distasteful actions taken by our mayor,” Anchorage Assembly Chairman Felix Rivera and vice chairman Austin Quinn-Davidson said in a joint statement. “We are disappointed and disheartened by this news and send our heartfelt support to first lady Dr. Mara Kimmel and the rest of the mayor’s family, who we know are going through a very difficult time.”
Despite the revelation, they said, the assembly remains “dedicated to continuing its important work.”
Berkowitz, 58, was elected to his second three-year term as mayor in 2018. The non-partisan position is limited to two terms.
Berkowitz, a native of San Francisco, is also a lawyer and Anchorage businessman. He served as a Democrat in the Alaska House of Representative from 1997-2006. He served the last two years as minority leader.