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Anchorage mayor apologizes for ‘inappropriate messaging relationship’ with news anchor

Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz (D) admitted to having an "inappropriate messaging relationship" with a female reporter, three days after she made online allegations against the married Berkowitz. (Mark Thiessen/AP)

On Friday afternoon, veteran Anchorage news anchor Maureen “Maria” Athens published a video on Facebook leveling unsubstantiated allegations that the city’s married mayor had posted inappropriate photos online. Hours later, Athens posted a nude photo, allegedly of the mayor, to bolster her case.

The saga soon turned even stranger. The mayor quickly denied the allegations, calling Athens “hostile and unwell,” and the news station she worked for also rejected her claims. By the end of the day, Athens was arrested for allegedly assaulting the station’s manager.

But on Monday afternoon, Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz (D) issued a public apology and admitted to engaging in an “inappropriate messaging relationship” with Athens, 41.

“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, 58, said in a statement shared with The Washington Post on Monday. “I’m embarrassed and ashamed for the hurt I’ve caused my family and our community. I take responsibility for my actions.”

The backstory of the scandal, which has transfixed Anchorage, remains murky, with Berkowitz continuing to deny Athens’s claims and noting that law enforcement also investigated and found he’d done nothing wrong. Athens, meanwhile, didn’t respond to a request for comment from The Post, and it is not clear if she is being represented by an attorney.

The Democrat became mayor of Alaska’s most populous city in 2015. Before that, Berkowitz served as a state representative from 1997 to 2007, when he unsuccessfully ran for lieutenant governor. He is in his last term as mayor and not up for reelection this year.

Athens has worked as an anchor and reporter for Your Alaska Link, which consists of the KTBY and KYUR stations.

The video Athens posted on Facebook appears to have been shot inside the news studio with a cellphone held by another person. In the video, Athens accuses the mayor, without evidence or sourcing, of posting inappropriate photos on an “underage girls website.” She pledged to reveal more details on her news broadcast later that night. Thousands of people shared, commented and reacted to the post, which is still live on Athens’s Facebook page.

In the hours after the post, Berkowitz emphatically denied the allegation.

“The slanderous allegations from Your Alaska Link reporter Maria Athens are categorically false and appear to be the product of someone who is hostile and unwell,” the mayor’s office said in a statement on Friday. “We spoke with Ms. Athens’ employer, general manager Scott Centers, who emphatically disavowed his employee’s comments.”

In response to that statement, Athens posted the photo, which showed a naked man from the back but does not show his face, with the caption: “Nice try damage control”

Later that night, Athens was arrested at the Your Alaska Link station after getting into a physical altercation with Centers, the station’s general manager. Court records noted that Centers was also in a romantic relationship with the reporter, the Anchorage Daily News reported.

Centers and Athens allegedly fought in a car parked outside the news station, in the parking lot and inside the station. Athens allegedly punched Centers in the face, the Daily News reported. Police said that when they arrested Athens at the station Friday night, she struck an officer and tried to kick the doors of a police cruiser. She was charged with fourth-degree assault, criminal mischief and disorderly conduct.

The news station did not immediately return a request for comment late Monday.

The journalist remained in jail Friday and Saturday before making a court appearance on Saturday afternoon.

The Daily News reported that Athens repeatedly interrupted the proceedings, saying she needed to return to work on Monday. At one point, she shouted, “I have pancreatitis,” the Daily News reported. She posted a $100 bail on Sunday, according to court records.

On Monday, Berkowitz said the Anchorage Police Department and the FBI had investigated Athens’s claims and found no evidence to substantiate her allegations.

“It takes time to rebuild trust and I hope you afford me the opportunity to do so,” Berkowitz said. “During the remaining months of my term, I will continue working on the important issues we face.”