Politics

Demboski stuns radio host by implying opponent might approve of incest

Conservative talk show host Casey Reynolds thought he would be asking Amy Demboski an easy question during his show Tuesday.

Two days earlier, Anchorage Baptist Temple pastor Jerry Prevo claimed in a recorded sermon that mayoral candidate Ethan Berkowitz said on the radio last year that he supported father-son marriages. Reynolds, filling in for Bernadette Wilson on KFQD-AM this week, heard about the sermon on Facebook and wanted to ask Berkowitz's opponent, Demboski, about it. He figured she would quickly denounce the accusation, and they would move on to business topics.

That didn't happen. Instead, Demboski said she wanted to hear the podcast from the 2014 "Bernadette and Berkowitz" show in which the topic allegedly came up. She said it "would be interesting to hear it."

In a lengthy exchange, she refused to back down, despite repeated promptings from Reynolds.

"I was dumbfounded, left speechless," said Reynolds, who voted for Demboski in the April city election. "I never would have expected her to stand by that as a reasonable inference of her opponent's positions."

In an interview Wednesday, Reynolds said he'd asked the question as a test of Demboski's character. Demboski's campaign didn't respond to a phone call and email seeking comment.

The Alaska Commons political blog first reported the exchange between Reynolds and Demboski.

In an interview, Berkowitz refused to acknowledge the underlying accusation.

"I'm not dignifying that with a response," Berkowitz said Tuesday.

Wilson, his co-host on "Bernadette and Berkowitz" at the time, declined comment, referring questions to Berkowitz.

The show's producer, Toben Shelby, said in an email that he was first contacted on Thursday or Friday of last week by someone seeking the audio from the episode in question. But the show's archives only go back six months because of limits on storage space, and the episode isn't available anymore, according to Shelby and station manager Joe Campbell.

Shelby said a co-worker at a sister station had also been contacted about the audio.

"It's definitely a request that's been going around," Shelby wrote.

Reynolds said it was his understanding from Demboski that her campaign had been researching the topic prior to his asking about it on the show.

Reynolds said he wouldn't be surprised if Berkowitz said something like Demboski claimed. Sarcasm and hyperbole are normal for an entertainment-focused talk show, he said.

"Who knows what (Berkowitz) said or the context in which he said it? Another part of the problem I have here, this was put out there without any sort of corroboration or context or anything," Reynolds said. "It's a lewd innuendo intended to start a whisper campaign."

During the Sunday sermon at Anchorage Baptist Temple, which is archived online, Prevo said to his congregation: "I've been told that last October, on his radio show, Ethan Berkowitz said … 'I would have no problem if a father fell in love with his son and wanted to marry his own son.' Is that the kind of mayor we want to have in the city of Anchorage that's going to promote that kind of sick lifestyle?"

Prevo told the Alaska Dispatch News on Tuesday that the remark attributed to Berkowitz "has been reported to me by a person that swore that they heard it." He said he hadn't heard the episode in question himself.

An archive of his program Tuesday shows that Reynolds brought up the Prevo sermon and told Demboski: "Now, the implications of that -- of both incest and pedophilia -- bug the living hell out of me. And I just want to put you on the record, you know that that -- even if a sarcastic comment was made on the radio at some point -- you know your opponent does not support that, right?"

"Actually, I would love to hear the podcast from this show, because I think that's where it came up, so I would like to go back and hear it myself," Demboski said.

"But you've done, like, dozens of debates with Ethan Berkowitz. You know he's not, there's no way he actually supports what the implication that's being said there --"

"I don't know anything about pedophilia, but I know, when I listened to 'Bernadette and Berkowitz,' oh, last year, I remember the conversation. And I remember him saying that people should be allowed to marry anything, and he said he supported if a dad wanted to marry his son. I remember him saying it but I don't remember exactly his words."

Reynolds said that before he asked Demboski the question, he was thinking back three years ago when he interviewed Berkowitz on his show about Assembly member Paul Honeman characterizing Mayor Dan Sullivan's 2009 veto of the city's gay rights ordinance as "bigoted."

Back then, Berkowitz was working for the "One Anchorage" campaign, advocating for the passage of the 2012 voter initiative that would have added legal protections for gay, lesbian and transgender people.

Reynolds said he played Berkowitz the segment with the Honeman attack on Sullivan. He said Berkowitz denounced it as inappropriate in the political sphere.

He said he was expecting the same of Demboski, not the suggestion he got from Demboski that he ask Berkowitz what he meant. Reynolds said he had no plans to do so.

"Frankly, (Berkowitz) shouldn't have to," Reynolds said. "It's beneath the dignity of the voters."

Alaska Dispatch News reporter Nathaniel Herz contributed to this story.

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