Austin Quinn-Davidson is the first woman and openly gay mayor of Alaska’s largest city. She hopes to be an inspiration, too.

Jessica Flores
 
| USA TODAY

Many women reached out to Austin Quinn-Davidson when they heard she would become the first woman and openly gay person to serve as mayor of Alaska’s largest city, Anchorage.

They congratulated her. Some of them cried.

But the most touching reaction for Quinn-Davidson was from a 6-year-old girl who watched as the Anchorage Assembly announced her as the city’s acting mayor following a salacious scandal that forced Ethan Berkowitz to submit his resignation. 

“Wow, she looks like me,” the girl said, according to Quinn-Davidson.

“That just really resonated with me that this is less about me and more about who comes after me and about giving young girls or LGBTQ folks this vision that we all belong,” Quinn-Davidson told USA TODAY.

Quinn-Davidson, 40, an attorney, was sworn in Friday — nine days after Berkowitz stepped aside following his admission to an “inappropriate messaging relationship” with a local television anchorwoman who had threatened to report he had posted nude photos of himself on a website.

In recommending Quinn-Davidson to succeed Berkowitz, Assembly Chairman Felix Rivera praised her as “a dedicated public servant, a superb listener, a critical thinker and most importantly, in my opinion, level-headed, and even-keeled.”

Originally from Hayfork, California – a rural town in the northern part of the state near Redding – Quinn-Davidson moved to Anchorage in 2011 and has served on the Assembly since 2018. She attended the University of California at Santa Barbara for her undergraduate degree and, later, the University of California at Davis for her law degree.

“My family’s been from California for many generations, but I kept trying to find the place that really spoke to me,” she said.

After multiple trips to Alaska to visit friends, Quinn-Davidson said Anchorage felt like home and a “mix of both worlds” of where she grew up.

“Anchorage is mostly progressive but also has all these sorts of more rural, outdoor, natural experiences as well and I think I really like the combination of all of that and how everyone has to work together as part of a larger community,” she said.

But while local and national media have focused on Quinn-Davidson becoming the city’s first woman and LGBTQ acting mayor, she said her main priority is to help Alaskans through the coronavirus pandemic and the resulting economic devastation.

“I feel that my primary goal here is not about, you know, breaking barriers for myself, it’s about continuing to serve Anchorage and to making sure that we get through this tough time,” she said.

She also must help steady Anchorage following a sudden scandal that forced Berkowitz to resign during his second three-year term as mayor.

The saga started Oct. 9 when Maria Athens, the anchor at a Fox/ABC combined station in Anchorage, claimed in a video on her Facebook page that Berkowitz had posted nude photos to an underage website. She later also posted what she said was a photo of the mayor’s nude back side.

While Berkowitz denied Athens’ allegations, he admitted to an “unacceptable” relationship with her that he said “compromised” his ability to continue as mayor. He also apologized to his wide, his family, city staff and the people of Anchorage.

“It is with profound sadness and humility that I resign as mayor of the Municipality of Anchorage,” he said in a statement read at the Oct. 14 Assembly meeting by his chief of staff, Jason Bockenstedt. “My resignation results from unacceptable personal conduct that has compromised my ability to perform my duties with the focus and trust that is required.”

Contributing: The Associated Press

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