Governor, when will you talk with the mayors about covid?
New Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava is already facing what might be the most perplexing challenge she will meet in office: How can she get the governor to let her push the right buttons to tamp down the severity of the Covid-19 pandemic?
In more than a month in office, she hasn’t even been able to get the governor to talk with her. And since she leads one of the nation’s largest metropolitan areas – Florida’s biggest by far – that tells you all that you need to know about this state’s leadership in the worst pandemic in more than a century.
As Miami-Dade’s Covid-19 cases and fatalities soar, we see the same lack of state leadership that we saw on the national level starting in the days when the virus first appeared. This entire nation is feeling the increasing impact of that national failure on public health and, as a result, jobs and the economy. In microcosm, we in Miami-Dade are all feeling a similar local impact of the lack of unified action in Florida.
Let’s be perfectly clear: in both the nation and Miami-Dade the blame for failure to deal with the virus and – in fact – for making pro-active decisions that allowed it to spread more rapidly than was inevitable can be pinned directly on top leaders, our president and our governor, Ron DeSantis.
We all know what President Donald Trump refused to do, like listen to scientists or to embrace even the basic public health safety of social distancing and mask wearing. Actively defying the vital use of masks became Mr. Trump’s public badge of dishonor.
Governor DeSantis pushed to prematurely open up sports events, bars and nightclubs and in late September mandated the end of vital local Covid-19 restrictions such as those that Mayor Levine Cava’s predecessor, Carlos Giménez, had enacted to slow the spread of the virus.
Those key restrictions are on Mayor Levine Cava’s mind. Even as a victim of the virus herself, she wants to talk with the governor to seek help for her county. Mayors of the major municipalities are with her. It’s a pretty unified community.
But none of them can talk with the governor, who has yet over more than a month to reach out to the new mayor of a globally known community.
Ms. Levine Cava has tried to call him. So has Miami Mayor Francis Suarez. Neither has gotten through. Does he consider himself too important to talk with them? You can be sure his predecessors of both political parties would as a minimum have gotten on the phone. They would probably have seen the pandemic as something far more than a political issue.
Did I say that this isn’t just a matter of gubernatorial neglect: It’s a matter of orders by the governor to prevent local officials from doing the right thing to attack Covid-19. Governor DeSantis ordered an end to local fines for failing to wear masks in public, as though all Floridians have a divine right to decide for ourselves when we want to endanger the health of our fellow citizens by going maskless in public and possibly spreading the virus.
Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber said two weeks ago that regardless of what the governor has ordered, Miami Beach will still ticket those who go maskless in public – even though those tickets won’t result in fines.
But without any penalties, you can bet Beach police won’t issue many tickets. Deprived of the ability to fine offenders, Miami-Dade police didn’t issue a single ticket last month for failure to wear a mask where one is required. Under Governor DeSantis, the pandemic is all laissez faire.
So while Mayor Levine Cava has extended the curfew that her predecessor enacted, her hands are bound in many aspects of the pandemic battle. City mayors of both political parties are with her but not the one person who should count, the governor, who rather than taking the lead to battle the virus is taking the lead to shackle those who would wage the battle for him.
He’s not alone in impeding public health action – the majority of Miami city commissioners have prevented Mayor Suarez from enforcing a city curfew – but as the person at the top of the state Governor DeSantis should long since have taken the lead in the virus battle. Similar to the president, the first responsibility of the leader of the state is to protect Floridians.
Maybe if he deigned to talk with the mayors in Miami-Dade – from both parties – the governor might realize the enormity of what his policies are doing here.
Meanwhile, our mayors thankfully are unified in efforts to protect their citizens. Why can’t the governor leverage that unity for the benefit of the entire state? It wouldn’t cost him much: these days there’s no long-distance charge for a simple phone call. What is he waiting for?