Thursday night’s Assembly meeting, which nominally provided a forum for public testimony regarding the proposed “mask mandate,” saw the Anchorage Assembly majority and Office of the Mayor locked in a chaotic and bewildering struggle for control of the Assembly chambers.
The night opened with a ruling by Assembly Chair Suzanne LaFrance that follow-up questions to audience testimony would no longer be permitted. The ruling followed tedious questioning in previous meetings initiated primarily by Assembly Member Jamie Allard, whose aide, Elizabeth Welsh, has publicly called for a “People’s Filibuster” of the mask mandate vote.
The Mayor’s Office and Assembly Members aligned with the mayor immediately fired back at LaFrance. Municipal Manager Amy Demboski accused LaFrance of limiting freedom of speech and violating the First Amendment, and threatened a legal challenge. Adam Trombley, Mayor Bronson’s Director of Office of Economic & Community Development, abruptly walked to the podium where members of the public give testimony and removed a plexiglass shield meant to serve as a COVID-19 precaution. The audience was not confused about the meaning of this gesture, which symbolized both the Bronson Administration’s rejection of COVID-19 public health measures and the Administration’s control over the physical space of the Assembly chambers. The crowd erupted in cheers.
Shortly thereafter, Mayor Bronson’s office dismissed private security personnel at the meeting, curtailing LaFrance’s ability to enforce order in the overwhelmingly hostile room. For the remainder of the evening, security was provided by remaining APD officers. Frequent disruptions to the meeting went almost entirely unaddressed.
Throughout the night, numerous attempts were made to interfere with media coverage of the event. Members of the audience yelled at, followed, or accosted Landmine staff. One individual (who had been photographed at a previous meeting taunting Assembly Member Forrest Dunbar with a yellow Star of David) unplugged Landmine cameras.
One person with firsthand experience of the incident told members of the media that partway through the meeting, Municipal Manager Amy Demoski walked back to the room where the public recording is managed and ordered the public live stream, which is run by the Anchorage Fire Department, to be cut. The individual responsible for the live stream adamantly objected and refused Demboski’s order, prompting a behind-the-scenes power struggle that ultimately involved Anchorage Fire Department leadership. The live stream feed continued throughout the evening.
By the end of the night, it was clear that the only part of the room still under the clear control of the Assembly was the area behind the dais. The boisterous unmasked audience cheered, engaged in group songs, gave protracted standing ovations for those giving testimony, and loudly jeered and booed when members of the Assembly attempted to speak. One person did push-ups next to the dais. Individuals screamed “FUCK YOU” and other insults, and openly taunted and heckled LaFrance and other Assembly members.
The meeting ended at 11:30pm and will continue Friday, October 8, at 3pm.
All photos below are available for free public use via the Alaska Landmine Flickr gallery.