Anchorage mayoral candidates Ethan Berkowitz and Amy Demboski went head to head Monday in their first debate since moving into the runoff election.


The debate was organized by the University of Alaska Anchorage debate team and was held during the Chamber of Commerce’s Make It Monday meeting.


Demboski and Berkowitz had three key topics presented to them. Each candidate had previously decided if they agreed with the statement, or disagreed.


The first motion: The Municipality of Anchorage should enact anti-discrimination legislation that would consider sexual identity a protected statute.


Berkowitz agreed, citing the Pledge of Allegiance.


“Liberty and justice for all. For all. There is no exception for people who are lesbian or gay or bisexual or transgender,” Berkowitz said.


Demboski disagreed, saying Anchorage is a tolerant city and doesn’t need legislation to back that. She said formal legislation would conflict with religious freedoms.


“It goes back to liberty,” Demboski said. “What is your view of liberty? Is your view of liberty the government should tell everybody exactly what they should do at every time? That’s not my view of liberty, and I think religious liberty is protected under our constitution, and I will stand firm on that point.”


The second motion: The Municipality of Anchorage would be better off if AO37 — a now-repealed controversial labor ordinance — had stuck around. Demboski agreed, Berkowitz did not.


“We need someone with a steady hand at the helm. We need someone who will negotiate hard with our city employees, but who will be fair,” Demboski said.


“When I think of AO37, it’s more than just a labor management issue. It’s a question of how are we going to negotiate and who do you trust to negotiate for you?” Berkowitz said.


The third motion: No more money should be spent on the Knik Arm Bridge. Berkowitz agreed, saying funding just isn’t there.


“How are we going to pay for it? If there’s no plan to pay for this project, there’s no reason [to be] throwing more money at it,” he said.


Demboski argued the bridge is needed, but acknowledged funding must be secured first.


“We are a young state. We have to recognize we don’t have the same population that we had 40 years ago. We just don’t. We’re growing and with that growing community, the infrastructure has to grow as well,” she said.


As each topic was discussed, audience members had the opportunity to text in their vote for who won each motion. Berkowitz came out ahead in all three topics. Political analyst Dr. Forrest Nabors said it was clear Berkowitz had the support of the room.


“Berkowitz today, I thought he did a very good job in the debate at really nailing down his candidacy as a socially liberal, pro-business Democrat,” said Dr. Nabors.


Nabors went on to say that despite the debate’s outcome, Demboski could still be poised to win the race.


“She didn’t land any hard blows, but, more importantly, she didn’t receive any hard blows. And, I think, at this point of the race, that’s what she needs out of an event like this,” Nabors said.


Monday’s debate was the first of several slated for the candidates before next week’s election.