The last five days have been some of the wildest in Anchorage politics I can remember. Events that began on Friday led to Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz issuing a statement on Monday admitting a “consensual, inappropriate messaging relationship with reporter Maria Athens” and culminated with the mayor’s resignation the following day. The bewildering chain of events has left countless people in Alaska and beyond asking the same question:
What the hell just happened in Anchorage?
Today, I’m going to explain how we got here. Buckle up.
At 12:09 PM, FOX/ABC reporter Maria Athens posted a breathless video on her official Facebook page claiming that Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz “had his male genitalia posted on an underage girl’s website.” Athens did not explain the nature of the website or provide evidence for this shocking and bizarre accusation. She then stated there would be a story on the evening newscast. Athens’ post exploded on social media and quickly racked up thousands of shares and tens of thousands of views.
At 3:29 PM Berkowitz released a statement calling the allegations “slanderous” and “categorically false.” The statement also said the allegations appeared “to be the product of someone who is hostile and unwell.”
At 3:32 PM Athens posted a photo of the backside of a man, presumably intended to be Berkowitz, with the headline “PROOF Mayor Ethan Berkowitz #TakeThatHaters.”
At 4:42 PM Athens posted a more revealing version of the same photo with the headline “Nice try damage control, certainly First Lady Killer Mara Kimmel can confirm that is her husband’s hairy ass and bathroom tiles 🤣.” She also included a Landmine Facebook post in her post.
By this point the story had exploded across social media. Many denounced Berkowitz, and just as many rushed to his defense–all based on a questionable video and an ambiguous photo of a man’s naked back. But then it got even weirder. Later that afternoon Maria Athens was arrested for criminal misdemeanor assault. Athens reportedly attacked Scott Centers, the General Manager for Coastal Television Broadcasting (the parent company of the local FOX/ABC affiliate). Athens is (or was) reportedly in a romantic relationship with Centers.
Centers apparently called the police. According to a source at the Anchorage Police Department, Athens acted erratically and punched a police officer in the face outside the station, leading to her arrest. It did not take long for this to get out on social media. It was a wild ending to a wild day.
But we were just getting started.
On Saturday morning, a Twitter thread appeared from @angelbbx2, who goes by the online moniker “Redhead Rae.” Rae’s posts proved to be the key that unlocked everything. Redhead Rae works as a model on OnlyFans, a British website known for providing subscription-based adult content. She is the daughter of Molly Blakeley, an Anchorage woman who sells booze-infused cookies.
Here is where it starts getting real loose.
In the Twitter thread, Rae explains that she worked as a “non-sexual escort” in Alaska in 2018. When Blakeley found out her daughter was escorting she was not happy. According to Rae, she told her mom her favorite client was a short man who “worked for the State of Alaska.” On Twitter, Rae goes on to say that her mom was doing an interview on Friday with Athens about her booze-infused cookie business. During the interview, Athens had apparently expressed her disdain for Berkowitz. Blakeley asked Athens whether Berkowitz was short. When Athens responded in the affirmative, Blakeley decided that the short man her daughter had told her about was none other than Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz.
Rae makes it very clear this assumption was unfounded, and states that she has never met Berkowitz.
These tweets attracted immediate interest in Alaska. I reached out to Rae and she agreed to an interview.
I conducted an interview with Redhead Rae, the former escort and current OnlyFans model, on Sunday afternoon. According to Rae, her mother “lies for attention and makes up things for attention.” Rae explained that according to her relatives and her mother’s friends, Blakeley “like hates Ethan Berkowitz, and talks about it all the time, and like just genuinely hates that guy and wants him out of office.”
My interview with Redhead Rae is here:
I think it is important to note that Blakeley’s daughter, Redhead Rae, seems to be–by far–and I mean by miles and miles–the most honest and credible person in this entire saga.
I also contacted many people on the Kenai Peninsula, where Blakeley grew up, to ask about her. I was repeatedly directed to this episode of Hotel Impossible about Hooligans Lodging & Saloon, which Blakely used to own. The episode provides insight into Blakeley’s character.
Shortly before my interview with Rae I learned that Blakeley is Andy Kriner’s half-sister. In August, when Berkowitz ordered limitations on indoor restaurant dining due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Kriner refused to comply and Kriner’s Diner remained open to dine-in service. The Kriner family became a symbol of defiance to Berkowitz. Following my interview with Rae I published this story, “Maria Athens scandal gets even stranger, Andy Kriner now part of the story.” I attempted to contact both Kriner and Blakeley before publishing, but neither responded. After the story came out I was threatened with litigation by Kriner’s daughter and Blakeley.
Blakeley then sent me this statement:
This past weekend there has been numerous rumors and allegations shared on public media. These false allegations are causing harm to my friends and family and as a result I want to clarify this situation: I have not nor ever was a source for any allegations/statements/conspiracies made by Maureen “Maria” Athens. I do not have an association with Ms. Athens and disavow any rumors which attempt to make a veiled connection with her and my family. These are misguided attempts to make connections which simply do not and have never existed. These allegations appear to be the result of inappropriate attention seeking and inaccurate information. They are slanderous to my personal and professional integrity and are categorically false.
But text messages and audio recordings between mom Blakeley and daughter Redhead Rae paint an entirely different picture. In an audio recording obtained by the Landmine, Blakeley acknowledges that she was the source of the story. In the recording, Blakeley states that she did not “make it up on purpose” and that she merely “added one and one together.” Blakely states that “nobody knows about us being involved in any way” and insists that she is a “full grown adult.”
Listen to the Landmine’s recording of Blakeley’s admission here:
Here is where the story truly flies off the hinges. Athens was arraigned on Saturday and was set to be released on Monday. At this point it was still unclear whether the photo actually showed Ethan – or what the hell was going on at all. Berkowitz’s staff had not responded to repeated inquiries over the weekend. At this point, rumors were beginning to spread that there was more to the story than Berkowitz’s initial press release had acknowledged.
At 4:30 PM Berkowitz released the following statement:
Three minutes later the Anchorage Assembly followed with their own press release:
It now seemed that the person in Athens’ photo was indeed Berkowitz. It was unclear what would unfold after this admission. Hours after Berkowitz and the Assembly released their statements, I obtained a disturbing voicemail that Athens had left Berkowitz on Friday. I published a story that evening that quickly went viral. In fact, the Alaska Landmine server was so overloaded we had to increase capacity by a factor of eight to stay online. In the voicemail Athens accuses Berkowitz of pedophilia, threatens to “personally” kill him and his wife, suggests that he commit suicide, declares that she will win an Emmy, and states “You have met your match, mother fucker! You have met your mother fucking match!” Athens calls Berkowitz a “Jewish piece of living fucking shit,” and states that she thought she couldn’t believe she thought she loved him.
You can listen to the wild voicemail here:
Strangely, after Blakeley falsely told Athens that her daughter was an escort for Berkowitz, they headed over to Kriner’s Diner for a snack. According to screenshots of texts sent by Blakeley to Rae, Athens had an emotional breakdown at Kriner’s. Blakeley claims that Athens had a “3 year affair” with the mayor, though she does not divulge the source of that claim.
Sadly, the story on the cookie business never aired. I am told the booze-infused cookies are delicious.
And just when you think it cannot possibly get any weirder…
On Tuesday afternoon I received a Facebook message from Sarha Shaubach, who grew up with Blakeley on the Kenai Peninsula and is a childhood friend. She provided me with additional audio recordings and screenshots of her conversations with Blakeley, which she also sent to Anchorage Assemblymember Christopher Constant. Over the weekend Blakeley had taken to social media to try and discredit her daughter. She told Shaubach that Rae was unwell and suicidal.
Blakeley wanted Shaubach, who is an advocate for mental health treatment, to convince me to stop reporting on the story because the growing drama could scuttle an important business deal between her booze-infused cookie business and Nestle Toll House. By now, events in Anchorage had snowballed into a national news story, and Nestle Toll House presumably wouldn’t appreciate discovering that a business partner had fed a reporter false claims about the Anchorage mayor’s involvement with a teen escort.
Shaubach was initially reluctant to send me recordings and screenshots of her conversations with Blakeley because of Shaubach’s lifestyle. Shaubach runs Northern Exposure, which she says is Alaska’s only BDSM and sex educational conference. Shaubach was International Ms. Leather 2013 and Ms. Alaska Leather 2011 and 2012. Oddly enough during the Charlo Greene debacle in 2014, Schubach’s sex club was the downstairs neighbor in the Downtown Anchorage building Greene was renting. Greene was later evicted in a what became a major media scandal. Shaubach eventually agreed to go on the record because, after reading Blakeley’s online statements, she felt it was important to get the truth out.
The Anchorage Assembly held a meeting Tuesday night. Berkowitz was not in attendance. Amid a flurry of speculation, Berkowitz’s Chief of Staff Jason Bockenstedt read a statement announcing that Berkowitz had resigned effective October 23 at 6 PM. The anti-Berkowitz crowd erupted in cheers. The meeting got close to coming unglued, and degenerated from there. One public commenter told the Assembly that the Assembly’s “Satanic laws” will be “cast into the fire,” further stating that the Municipality’s Sister Cities Commission (which I currently chair) had made Anchorage “the world’s best brothel.” Local personality Dustin Darden read Bible passages warning of the dangers of fornication while fumbling a large array of flags. Anchorage politico Bernadette Wilson, who used to host a talk radio show with Berkowitz, accused the Assembly of tyrannical overreach in its response to the COVID-19 pandemic, quipping that “it was definitely a little awkward to be told to wear a mask by a guy who didn’t even wear pants.” People throughout the room laughed and cheered. It was one of the most surreal and chaotic Assembly meetings in recent memory.
And here we are. It’s obvious there is more to the story. Athens has been silent on social media since her release from jail.
The next weeks and months will prove pivotal for Anchorage. Once Berkowitz’s resignation takes effect, the chair of the Assembly becomes the acting mayor. Assemblymember Felix Rivera is the current chair, but few people seem excited about the prospect of Rivera becoming acting mayor. The Assembly is set to hold a special meeting on Friday to reorganize, at which point they will likely elect a new chair. The Assembly could choose to hold a special election 90 days or more after the vacancy occurs, but there is already an election scheduled for April. If a special election were to be held in late January, a runoff would be a likely outcome. This would collide with the regular April election. Because Berkowitz had already reached the end of his second term, the statutory limit, Anchorage was set to have a new mayor even before the recent drama began to unfold. Whoever becomes acting mayor on October 23 will likely stay in that role until July 1, when the new mayor takes office.
The randomness of the events leading to this moment is truly hard to comprehend. The entire ordeal appears to have been the result of a chance encounter between Blakeley and Athens related to Blakeley’s booze-infused cookie business. Blakeley apparently fed Athens a false story about former-escort daughter Redhead Rae’s involvement with Mayor Berkowitz, which caused Athens to go into crisis because of her own romantic involvement with Berkowitz. Athens apparently flew into a rage, left Berkowitz a threatening anti-Semitic voicemail, posted a nude photograph of the mayor on social media, and began fomenting a false news story before being arrested and jailed. Meanwhile, Athens’ breakdown forced Berkowitz to disclose the “inappropriate” relationship with her, leading to his resignation. In less than a week, Athens’ career as a journalist appears to be in flames, Mayor Berkowitz has resigned in chaos, and Blakeley’s booze-infused cookie deal with Nestle Toll House may be in jeopardy.
The only person who appears to have come out ahead is Redhead Rae, whose OnlyFans account received a major bump in subscribers.