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Anchorage mayor admits past relationship with local reporter after allegations on social media

(KTUU)
Published: Oct. 10, 2020 at 12:38 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz released a statement Monday addressing the allegations made against him by a local journalist last week. In the statement, he admitted to having an inappropriate, but consensual relationship with her years ago and apologized for his actions.

Maureen “Maria" Athens took to social media last Friday to post claims of alleged illegal internet activity by Berkowitz, accusing the mayor of inappropriately posting nude photos to a website.

Athens followed up the accusations by posting a photo of the backside of a naked man, who she claimed was the mayor, alleging it served as “proof.” Though Athens posted that she would cover the story during her late-night broadcast on Your Alaska Link, the story never aired.

After Athens' allegations began circulating on social media Friday, the mayor’s office initially released a statement calling them “slanderous” and “categorically false.” The mayor’s office said they also spoke to Scott Centers, the station’s general manager, who disavowed Athens' posts.

A spokesperson from the Anchorage Police Department confirmed Saturday that they were aware of the allegations and a joint investigation with the FBI revealed no evidence of criminal conduct. On Tuesday, the FBI released a statement adding that the Anchorage field office is continuing to monitor the situation.

“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. I’m embarrassed and ashamed for the hurt I’ve caused my family and our community,” the mayor’s statement said on Monday. “[...] 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.”

Anchorage Assembly leadership also released a statement Monday after learning of the mayor’s former relationship with Athens. The assembly’s chair and vice chair expressed they were disappointed and disheartened.

“Despite today’s news, there remains much work to do to improve the lives of local residents and the Assembly is dedicated to continuing its important work,” the statement read.

Also on Monday, the mayor’s office sent Alaska’s News Source a recording of a voicemail that they said Athens left for Berkowitz on Friday morning.

In the profanity-laden voice message, Athens accuses the mayor of indecency, states she will expose his misdeeds and threatens to kill the mayor and his wife. She also reveals she was once in love with the mayor.

While police confirmed they posted extra security at Berkowitz’s residence after the mayor received a threat Friday, a police department spokesperson declined to say who the threat was from or how it was communicated, citing an active investigation.

Athens was arrested in the parking lot of Coastal Television Broadcasting Co. on East Tudor Road Friday afternoon after it was reported she and a man were involved in an altercation stemming from a work-related argument. She was charged with fourth-degree assault, criminal mischief and disorderly conduct.

Athens pleaded not guilty to the charges over the weekend. During her arraignment, the judge ruled she would be banned from the property until further notice and that she could not have contact with the victim. The restriction upset Athens, who told the judge she needed to be at the news station for work.

In a statement sent to Alaska’s News Source via email, Coastal Television’s president and CEO, Bill Fielder, said that Athens' post Friday about the mayor ”was not published by any of our news outlets, but appeared on a personal social media page not controlled by our company. We have demanded that Ms. Athens remove any mention of or affiliation with our stations and their call signs or logos in connection with this story."

Fielder declined to comment on Athens' employment status. Centers and Athens declined to comment to Alaska’s News Source for this story.

Monday evening, the original post, and follow-up posts by Athens remained on her Facebook page with no apparent changes.

Clarification: This story has been updated to clarify that the Anchorage Assembly leadership’s statement reflects the views of the chair and vice chair; it does not necessarily reflect the views of the other assembly members.

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