Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Democrat Jake Metcalfe, Dogged By Simmering "Ethangate" Flap, Bows Out Of Race For Alaska Congressman Don Young's Seat

At a 1:00 P.M. press conference in Anchorage, Alaska on May 7th, 2008, Democratic Congressional candidate Jake Metcalfe (pictured at left) announced his withdrawal from the race to succeed incumbent Congressman Don Young. Story just posted by KTUU Channel 2. Newer stories now posted by the Anchorage Daily News and the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.

According to the Anchorage Daily News Alaska Politics blog, Metcalfe cited the flap over anti-Ethan Berkowitz web sites was too much of a distraction. "I want to clarify, once and for all, I did not order or ask anyone to buy the sites. I did not ask anyone to redirect the sites. And I did not know until recently that anyone associated with my campaign had done so. It appears that a former campaign worker was involved in these acts, and I condemn them," Metcalfe said. Metcalfe said his former political advisor, Bill Scannell, still denies being behind the sites. But Metcalfe said the evidence points toward Scannell's involvement. He did not endorse any other candidate.

A KTUU unscientific poll administered May 6th may have administered the coup de grace. Out of 607 respondents who answered the question if Jake Metcalfe should withdraw from the race over the simmering "Ethangate" phony website flap, 73 percent said Yes, 22 percent No, and 5 percent undecided.

As I see it, two factors governed his decision. First, despite being the first Democrat in the race, declaring back in July 2007, his campaign never really gained traction despite an electable platform. Although Metcalfe had staked out a common sense "blue dog" Democratic vision rather than a socialistic Nancy Pelosi platform, the addition of insurgent candidate Diane Benson and veteran mainstream lawmaker Ethan Berkowitz further retarded Metcalfe's progress. In recent official and unofficial polls alike, Metcalfe found himself in third behind Berkowitz and Benson.

But as Metcalfe himself implicitly admitted, the preoccupation with Berkowitz, which may have become an obsession, triggered what we now call "Ethangate". With the reported collaboration of Metcalfe, Bill Scannell set up five derogatory anti-Berkowitz spoof websites, most of which focused on Berkowitz's San Francisco roots. According to the ADN's Alaska Politics blog, the websites, all of which are still ACTIVE as of this post, are as follows:

- Berkowitz For, which links to a page selling "Trust fund baby" t-shirts
- a phony page;
- a phony fundraising page
-, which redirects readers to a San Francisco gay/lesbian resource web page
-, linking to a gay-oriented San Francisco travel page

The Anchorage Press was actually the first media outlet to blow the whistle on these websites back on April 23rd.

The intent was to create the impression that Ethan Berkowitz had "left his heart in San Francisco", and was not truly "Alaskan". And considering what else San Francisco has become unfortunately famous for, a secondary intent may have been to impinge upon Berkowitz's masculinity.

But what transformed it into "Ethangate" was the reaction of the Metcalfe campaign after the media grabbed the story and ran with it. First, there were denials. But then the anonymous source, former Metcalfe campaign manager Dana Krawchuk, who stepped forward and claimed Metcalfe aide Bill Scannell talked about the scheme last year in front of her and Metcalfe. Krawchuk recalled that she, Jake, and Bill planned the ops together in strategy meetings. After pressure mounted, Scannell resigned on May 1st, and Metcalfe promptly circled the wagons and claimed he knew nothing about the spoof websites. He then said he would not talk about it anymore, claiming it was "time to move on".

And it was the latter decision that outraged the Anchorage Daily News editorial staff, because in February, Metcalfe earlier had played the ethics card against Don Young, criticizing the incumbent for refusing to answer questions about his million dollars in legal fees.

"Come on. If you're spending $850,000 on legal fees and you're a public servant and you're not telling people what it's for, how do we know you're doing your job?," Metcalfe said in February.

Yet Metcalfe has chosen to remain mum, despite a campaign that touts transparency. And the Anchorage Daily News junmped all over him in this Monday May 5th editorial, basically telling him to fess up or get out of the race.

And today, Metcalfe chose the second option.

So which of the two remaining Democrats benefit? My opinion - Ethan Berkowitz. Most of Metcalfe's supporters are more likely to be mainstream working Democrats rather than the more free-styled insurgents who would be more likely to support Diane Benson. So Metcalfe's decision will strengthen Berkowitz. But who would Metcalfe endorse? Would either of the two remaining Democrats want his endorsement? Click HERE to find out about all candidates for Alaska's U.S. House seat.

There's a reason why a wide variety of politicos, ranging from Don Young himself to the inimitable Theresa Nangle Obermeyer, PhD, have referred to Metcalfe in the past as "Jake the Snake". And now we've apparently seen it. And it cost him. Too bad, because he seemed like a fairly responsible Democrat. But in the climate of reform which has engulfed Alaska since the VECO scandal, this type of political behavior no longer passes muster in the Last Frontier.

Besides, if Metcalfe's hands are so clean, as he claims, why are the five websites in question still ACTIVE as of this post?

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