Alaska News

Recording emerges of Berkowitz's talk-show remarks, and Halcro offers an endorsement

In a final twist to an increasingly personal campaign, conservative talk-radio host Bernadette Wilson late Monday released a recording of a now-infamous exchange about same-sex marriage featuring her former co-host Ethan Berkowitz, a candidate for mayor in Tuesday's runoff election.

The discussion, from October, has been at the center of a debate over social issues in the week leading up to the election, in which Berkowitz has faced questions from conservatives over whether he supports marriage between fathers and sons.

Wilson's station, KFQD, didn't have tape of the exchange, leading to a back and forth between Wilson, Berkowitz, his runoff opponent, Amy Demboski, and their supporters over what was actually said.

But a listener ultimately provided a copy, Toben Shelby, a KFQD producer, said in an email. The station played the discussion during another talk show Monday afternoon, with Wilson as a guest.

The recording included an unidentified caller asking Berkowitz whether a father and son "should be allowed to marry if they're both consenting adults."

"If you're defining marriage as the bundle of rights and privileges that now accrue to people, yes," Berkowitz said.

"That's sick," Wilson responded.

"What's sick to you is you're thinking of sex. And that's not what marriage is," Berkowitz said. He added that when government gets involved in marriage, it's instead about the granting of "certain privileges" like spousal privileges and the passing of property.

In an interview after the audio played on KFQD, Berkowitz repeated earlier statements that he does not support the idea of fathers and sons getting married.

"I was frustrated," Berkowitz said of the conversation with Wilson. He called it a "very constrained hypothetical conversation."

Meanwhile, the third-place finisher in the April 7 first-round mayor's race, Andrew Halcro, said the last-minute personal attacks on Berkowitz over talk-show hyperbole had no place in the runoff campaign. On Sunday night, Halcro said he has changed his mind about endorsing no one and instead threw his support behind Berkowitz.

Halcro, a former Republican legislator who used to lead the Anchorage Chamber of Commerce, finished behind Berkowitz, a Democrat, and Demboski, a Republican.

The top two finishers stand in the runoff if neither reached 45 percent of the vote in the first round. The election is officially non-partisan, but both Demboski, who received 24.1 percent of the vote last month, and Berkowitz, who got 37 percent, have received partisan backing.

Halcro, who polled 21.5 percent, said in a Facebook post late Sunday that he was worried about Demboski's honesty, integrity, and maturity, "and her decision to allow the most extreme elements of the Republican Party to lead her campaign."

Halcro encouraged his supporters to vote for Berkowitz.

A spokesman for Demboski declined to comment on the endorsement.

Over the past week, the focus of the mayoral campaign shifted from municipal budgets and public safety to the comments Berkowitz made on his talk-radio show last year.

One of the first references to the comments came in a sermon from a local Christian leader, Jerry Prevo. But on another talk-radio broadcast last week, Demboski was offered the chance to denounce the accusations against Berkowitz, and wouldn't. Instead, she said she would be "interested to hear" an audio recording of his comments.

Berkowitz said over the weekend that he does not support father-son marriages and that the argument amounted to an "an obscene accusation."

Halcro said in a phone interview Monday morning that he became frustrated at the direction of the campaign.

"After the last week, it was like, 'I'm sorry, I can't bite my tongue any more,'" Halcro said. "To watch this campaign degrade over the last two weeks into this personal attack at Ethan was just way too much."

"At any point in time, Amy could have stopped this," Halcro added.

Halcro said his Facebook post was referring to Demboski campaign staffers and volunteers including Matt Johnson, a former campaign manager for U.S. Senate candidate Joe Miller, and David Boyle, who works with the conservative group Alaska Policy Forum.

Halcro also cited what he called an "egregious" recent Facebook post by a Christian conservative group, Alaska Family Action, that has supported Demboski and her opposition to a potential city law barring discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

The Facebook post, which was removed Monday morning after being live for about 12 hours, referenced the candidates' positions on same-sex marriage. It used a Holocaust-era photo of a destroyed Jewish business in pre-war Austria to illustrate its argument that moral issues are inherently tied to fiscal matters.

Alaska Family Action's president, Jim Minnery, said in a phone interview Monday that the post had been made by someone else, whom he wouldn't identify. He added that the post was "wrong" and "crossed the line," and was not connected to Berkowitz being Jewish.

"But the secondary message is, there's very much an equivalency to what happened in the early 1940s, with the church being silenced and pressured by the government -- which is happening today," Minnery added.

He referred to a German Christian leader, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was hanged in a concentration camp in 1945 after being one of the only church figures to criticize the country's treatment of Jews.

Today, churches are being similarly pressured over their advocacy on social issues, Minnery said. He cited a case in Houston where several pastors were subpoenaed after they worked on a campaign opposing a city law to protect transgendered people from discrimination by businesses.

"There is an equivalency in terms of silencing the church," Minnery said. "It's not an equivalency whatsoever in the heinous acts of the concentration camps -- that's missing the point and that's hyperbole."

Asked about the Facebook post, a spokeswoman for Berkowitz, Nora Morse, said in a prepared statement that it was "done in particularly poor taste."

"Unfortunately, this is yet another example of a desperate campaign trying to divide our community," Morse's statement said.

The fourth major mayoral candidate in last month's balloting, Dan Coffey, hasn't endorsed a candidate in the runoff, and he couldn't be reached Monday. But he was critical of Demboski last week in an interview, saying she "knows very little about anything at all."

That prompted a response from Demboski's campaign, which quoted her as saying that Coffey, in a recent phone conversation, had asked her for a job in her administration.

Nathaniel Herz

Nathaniel Herz is a reporter for the Anchorage Daily News. He’s been a reporter in Alaska for nearly a decade, with stints at ADN and Alaska Public Media. He’s reported around the state and loves cross-country skiing.