OPINION: Berkowitz inspires a revolution he can’t embrace
Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz isn’t a big fan of Van Hale right now.
Safe to say Hale is no fan of Berkowitz, either.
On Aug. 3, the day that the mayor once again shut down bars and restaurants, Hale’s trademark sign outside Van’s Dive Bar on Fifth Avenue had a message:
“Berkowitz is a Dick Tator
“Hell yeah, brother!”
Berkowitz’s heavy-handed decision to deal a potential death blow to scores of small businesses across Anchorage sparked a resistance and the first real civil disobedience from otherwise law-abiding folks who have largely gone along with the mayor’s mandates.
A crowd of people well in excess of his arbitrary limit on gatherings of no more than 50 people popped up to protest on Aug. 3 at the Loussac Library where the Assembly meets to regularly rubber stamp the mayor’s actions.
Kriner’s Diner did not close and defied a stop work order delivered by municipal employees on Aug. 4.
A bartender at Jens’ Restaurant started a petition opposing the shutdown that was rapidly nearing 4,000 signatures out of a goal of 5,000 as of midday on Aug. 4.
Not only did Berkowitz decide to shut down bars and restaurants on July 31, he did so without even a proposal for a relief plan despite the municipality having received more than $150 million in CARES Act funds four months ago.
While the state has had its own issues with its business relief grant program thanks to the rushed nature of its approval at a time when the Paycheck Protection Program had run out of money, the municipality is not encumbered in any way to provide help to the businesses ordered closed by the mayor.
Here is the guidance for eligible uses to distribute the millions of dollars now in possession of the mayor and his merry bunch of marionettes on the Assembly:
“Expenditures incurred to respond to second-order effects of the emergency, such as by providing economic support to those suffering from employment or business interruptions due to COVID-19-related business closures.”
“Expenditures related to the provision of grants to small businesses to reimburse the costs of business interruption caused by required closures.”
That is about as clearcut as it gets. In his typical buck-passing fashion that he regularly exhibits when it comes to the humanitarian crisis of homelessness that has exploded on his watch, Berkowitz is pointing his finger at the state and federal government rather than admit he has come up with no plan to aid the businesses he is closing down.
While the governor may well need to call the Legislature to a special session to amend the state relief program, he is not the one who is shuttering businesses across the state.
Berkowitz has stamped his feet repeatedly asserting his local superiority to go further than state mandates, yet when it comes to mitigating the consequences of his power grabs he tries to blame others.
Nor has anyone on the Assembly proposed a plan to use the $150 million to aid small businesses as the lame duck mayor cripples them.
While the mayor and his allies dither over virtual town halls to talk about plans, and after they wasted weeks with the only plan they have come up with to spend $22.5 million of the CARES Act funds on shelter and treatment facilities, paychecks are running out and rents are coming due.
Berkowitz didn’t wake up on July 31 and decide to shut down a huge swath of the Anchorage economy. He had months to craft a relief plan and has done nothing except come up with a legally questionable use of CARES money to address a problem that entirely predates the pandemic.
Here’s the federal guidance for using CARES funds on homeless services:
“Expenses for care for homeless populations provided to mitigate COVID-19 effects and enable compliance with COVID-19 public health precautions.”
That would mean the temporary shelters at the Sullivan and Ben Boeke areas are well within a proper use of the funds. Buying four properties to deal with issues the mayor and Assembly have neglected for years hardly seems to qualify, yet this administration is plowing ahead with it while leaving small business owners to suck it up.
The mayor certainly had no such concerns about large gatherings or risks of transmission when he attended a June 6 protest of more than 1,000 people at the Park Strip and praised everyone in attendance.
“I look out and I see a crowd full of revolutionaries, and it makes my heart glad because more than 200 years ago this country was founded on a revolutionary idea that all would be created equal and treated equally.
“If you want change, you have to change the future.”
Judging by the early response to the mayor’s decision to not treat everyone equally, a growing number in Anchorage are willing to take him up on his challenge.
Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected].