Former state Rep. Ethan Berkowitz announced Tuesday that he is running for mayor of Anchorage, intensifying what was already shaping up as a competitive race for the city's top executive post.
Berkowitz revealed his plans Tuesday morning in the closing minutes of the KFQD radio show he co-hosts, "Bernadette and Berkowitz." Prompted by co-host Bernadette Wilson, Berkowitz ended several weeks of speculation by saying that the show would be his last and that he was running.
"So it's back into the breach," Berkowitz said at a crowded press conference three hours later, standing at a lectern in a packed section of Spenard Roadhouse, a restaurant in which he owns a small interest. He was flanked by his wife and two children along with Assembly member Elvi Gray-Jackson and a handful of supporters, some of whom were holding signs.
In the stump speech that followed, Berkowitz, 53, said he planned to focus on public safety, education and business development in the course of the campaign, as well as ways to weather the state's fiscal crisis. On Monday, Berkowitz, who is a senior vice president at the marketing firm Strategies 360, filed papers with the Alaska Public Offices Commission that allow him to accept campaign donations.
Berkowitz joins a field that includes former Anchorage Assemblyman Dan Coffey, an Anchorage lawyer; Amy Demboski, a current Assembly member from Chugiak-Eagle River; Paul Bauer, a former Assembly member; and former state Rep. Andrew Halcro, who was the Anchorage Chamber of Commerce president until he announced his campaign in January. Of the top candidates, Berkowitz is the only registered Democrat, though he described himself Tuesday as "socially libertarian."
His candidacy comes just days before the filing deadline for the April 7 election. Berkowitz said he had been waiting to see whether former U.S. Sen. Mark Begich would run. That didn't become clear until Jan. 31, when Begich, a former two-term Anchorage mayor, said he had founded a consulting firm in Washington, D.C., and would not be in the race.
Gray-Jackson considered a run of her own but said Tuesday she would be supporting Berkowitz instead.
A former Anchorage prosecutor, Berkowitz represented West Anchorage for 10 years in the Alaska Legislature, eight of them as the minority leader. He then made three unsuccessful runs in statewide elections -- for lieutenant governor, then U.S. Congress, then governor.
While in the Legislature, Berkowitz worked with Halcro, then a Republican legislator from the Sand Lake area of Anchorage and now his rival in the mayor's race, on a proposal for a personal income tax.
Recently, the two men met for lunch and Berkowitz told him his plans to run for mayor. In a phone interview recently, Halcro said he welcomed the news: "The more voices, the better," Halcro said.
While acknowledging that the two worked well together in the Legislature, Halcro characterized their personal histories as "dramatically different" and referred to his experience in the private sector.
"At the end of the day," Halcro said, "I'm hopeful that the election will be determined on who has the best experience and the best qualifications to move this city forward."
In the four years since he lost to Sean Parnell in the governor's race, Berkowitz has worked as a consultant on various telecommunications and energy projects in Alaska, including a geothermal project in Nome.
About a year ago, Berkowitz joined KFQD as the on-air foil for the conservative talk show host Wilson. Their political banter has been a hit with listeners, and the audience for "Bernadette and Berkowitz" has grown consistently since Berkowitz signed on, Joe Campbell, program director for KQFD, wrote in an email.
Starting Wednesday, Wilson will be hosting a solo show in the same time slot called "Bernadette Live." The topics will be similar but with more on-air guests and interviews, said Campbell and producer Toben Shelby.
After Berkowitz made his announcement on the show, Wilson, who later attended the Spenard Roadhouse campaign kickoff, joked that his candidacy was a "double-edged sword."
"I hope you don't win, but good luck to you," Wilson said.
"You remember if I don't win, I'm coming back," Berkowitz responded.
A few minutes later, Wilson told him: "The next time you come on, you'll be in the other chair."