Anchorage

Testimony over Anchorage mask ordinance to continue for a 4th night Monday

Testimony on a proposed mask ordinance in Anchorage will continue into a fourth night on Monday after the city Assembly’s efforts to hear from members of the public this week were marked by fiery speeches and — at the height of tensions — insults, outbursts, arrests and debates over the use of Holocaust imagery to express mask opposition.

At its meeting Thursday, which was slightly more subdued, the Assembly didn’t vote on the ordinance but instead decided to continue public testimony at 5 p.m. Monday.

The ordinance would require people in Anchorage to wear masks in indoor public spaces and at crowded, outdoor public events as Alaska leads the nation in COVID-19 case rates and local hospitals struggle with short staffing, limited resources and an influx of patients.

Some attendees of Wednesday’s Assembly meeting wore yellow Stars of David to signal their opposition to the mask ordinance and Mayor Dave Bronson defended their appropriation of the symbol, drawing national outrage and condemnation from Jewish community leaders. Four people were arrested at Wednesday’s meeting, including one man who called Assembly Vice Chair Chris Constant a homophobic slur.

[Jewish leaders decry use of Holocaust symbolism to protest Anchorage mask ordinance; Mayor Bronson says, ‘If I offended anyone, I’m truly sorry’]

On Thursday, several Assembly members and the mayor called on the public to behave with civility and respect. As in previous sessions, the chambers were packed with residents waiting to testify on the mask ordinance.

Assembly member Kameron Perez-Verdia on Thursday described the challenge of explaining to his children why meeting attendees were behaving the way they did. “Everyone has a right here to come up to speak and to share their thoughts and ideas ... but they don’t have a right to threaten, they don’t have a right to degrade, and they don’t have a right to be disrespectful,” he said.

Mayor Dave Bronson reiterated a statement he had released earlier that day saying he apologized “for any perception that my statements support or compare what happened to the Jewish people in Nazi Germany,” and that “I should have chosen my words more carefully.”

At the meeting, Bronson also apologized to Constant for not speaking out when a testifier called Constant, who is gay, a “cocksucker.”

“I apologize, I didn’t stand up and speak in your defense. And I apologize for doing that. Quite frankly, I was caught off guard. And then he was gone before I gathered my thoughts, and I apologize for not speaking up. What was said was intolerable,” Bronson said.

Constant spoke after Bronson and said he was not surprised by what the testifier said.

“The part that in fact shocked me to silence was when roughly 200 people cheered zealously. That was the part that zinged me and really took my breath away for a minute,” he said.

“What we have to do is figure out how together, we can be better. And that is not a that-tribe-versus-that-tribe issue. That is a community issue in Anchorage, and this moment is an opportunity for us to move through this to a better place,” Constant said.

The first few hours of the meeting were calmer. As the night continued, a few meeting attendees caused brief disruptions and one man was asked to leave the chambers.

Unlike the previous meetings, where the testimony was fairly split, most of the testimony Thursday was against the mask ordinance and was all in-person.

“Enough is enough — I do not consent to this mask mandate and do not support this ordinance,” one man said, adding he believed ivermectin should be used to treat people with COVID-19. Both the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have cautioned against ivermectin as a COVID-19 treatment, and it is not authorized or approved by the FDA for that use.

A woman who said she and her family decided not to be vaccinated said, “I’m here to tell you that I am an intelligent person who takes the time to read and study for myself. I am not one who takes anyone’s word for it. Science should be questioned, and if it’s not questioned, then breakthroughs will never be made and we will never advance. ... For you who say and are yelling ‘Trust the science,’ can you honestly tell me science has never been wrong?”

“I want to teach my children to learn when civil disobedience is appropriate, and as for me and my house, we will not comply,” she said.

Assembly members also spent a substantial amount of time arguing over procedure after Chair Suzanne LaFrance ruled that members could only ask clarifying questions of the people testifying, rather than questions leading to extensive further testimony.

Member Jamie Allard, an opponent of the proposed mask ordinance, frequently asked questions of testifiers throughout the night.

Conflict also broke out between Assembly members and the administration as they discussed what day the next meeting should be set for.

At one point, Bronson attempted to veto a failed vote from the Assembly setting the next meeting for Monday.

In response to Bronson’s veto, the chambers erupted in applause and many in the crowd leapt to their feet.

Still, the veto of a failed vote did not count, according to Assembly legal counsel Dean Gates.

A debate over when to set the next meeting began around 10 p.m. It lasted for more than an hour and a half as the Assembly and members of the mayor’s administration went back and forth over issues like whether setting a meeting for Saturday would require police department overtime, and whether, without resources to run the normal YouTube livestream, the meeting might violate the Open Meetings Act.

Eventually, the Assembly set the next meeting for public testimony for Monday.

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