As expected, Mayor Dave Bronson on Wednesday vetoed a mask requirement for most indoor public spaces that the Anchorage Assembly passed late Tuesday night.
Bronson’s veto comes after days of chaotic and combative public testimony about a proposed mask ordinance that was similar to the emergency measure approved Tuesday.
In the veto letter, Bronson blasted the Assembly for using an emergency ordinance that didn’t require public testimony, claimed the ordinance violated the Alaska constitution’s guarantee of privacy and said the city’s declining case numbers show the mandate is unnecessary.
Anchorage’s case counts have declined slightly for the past two weeks but remain high. Alaska still has the highest COVID rate of any state in the country.
Bronson, a conservative, and the largely progressive Assembly have sparred over numerous issues since he took office this summer, including masks. The Assembly will weigh Thursday whether to overturn Bronson’s veto and is expected to do so.
Bronson wrote in his veto letter that the masking measure was “stoking widespread fear in an attempt to scare the public into submission.” He said the Assembly had “openly displayed their scorn for the public process” by passing the ordinance around 10:30 p.m. on Tuesday in a mostly empty Assembly chamber.
In a separate lengthy emailed statement, Bronson said that the Assembly had violated the public trust in passing the masking rules.
“They have made their agenda clear: shut down the people, shut down the public process, and shove the heavy hand of government mandates into your personal health decisions. Make no mistake, the Anchorage Assembly is not done with such intrusions,” he said.
Downtown Assembly member Chris Constant fired back in a phone interview, pointing to record COVID-19 hospitalizations and some of the deadliest months of the pandemic since Bronson took office in July.
“The mayor continues to harp on this idea that we have broken the public process. Well, I would rebut that and say that clearly, he has, as people die,” Constant said.
In his statement, Bronson underscored that there are no penalties for not complying with the mask measure.
“I am against forcing individuals to make medical health decisions, based on the personal desires or views of nine elected representatives, especially when the public’s participation in the process has been prematurely and deliberately curtailed. Please know, there are no fines, no fees and no punishments for violating this ordinance,” he said.
The Assembly can override Bronson’s veto with eight votes. The emergency ordinance passed with nine votes on Tuesday.
Before Tuesday’s vote, the Assembly held six public meetings on a similar masking ordinance and took public comment. The Assembly heard from 276 people in person and got written comments from more than 4,000 people. The Assembly has said while most of the people commenting in person opposed a mask mandate, a majority of the written comments supported one.