Gov. Ron DeSantis was in Miami-Dade County for a second straight day Tuesday, as he and several of the county’s Mayors aimed to project a unified front in the fight against COVID-19.
An incident before the beginning of the Tuesday afternoon meeting muddied that message, as Hialeah Mayor Carlos Hernández was blocked from joining the meeting, prompting him to label the Governor “a spoiled child.”
The meeting featured Mayors from Miami, Miami Gardens, Miami Beach, Doral, Pinecrest and Bal Harbour. According to Aaron Leibowitz of the Miami Herald, Hernández also attempted to attend the roundtable after hearing of it at the last minute.
Leibowitz told the Herald a member of DeSantis’ staff barred him from entering. DeSantis was quizzed about the episode by reporters and expressed ignorance about what transpired.
“I wasn’t personally the one who invited the folks,” DeSantis said.
“Is he here?” the Governor then asked of Hernández. “I’m happy to meet with him. Hialeah’s a great town. I’ve got a lot of great friends there and I know they’ve had a tough go with some of this outbreak for quite a long time.”
Hernández — who leads the second-largest city in the county — was not so civil in a statement released after the episode.
“The reason why this pandemic is taking and destroying the lives of our residents is because our Governor acts like a spoiled child,” said Hernández, who holds a nonpartisan office but is a registered Republican.
“His lack of leadership and disrespect toward others was evident today. Gov. DeSantis has treated the residents of Hialeah like third class citizens by not allowing us to participate in such an important meeting.”
Hernández also roped in Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Giménez — who, like Hernández, and DeSantis, is a registered Republican — arguing Giménez should have pressed to allow Hernández to attend.
“The inferiority complex of both these elected officials overpowers any intent that they may have to save their community,” Hernández said. “This pandemic has only worsened due to their lack of competence to handle it.”
That drama overshadowed what was supposed to be a show of unity between DeSantis and the leaders inside the hardest-hit county in the state.
Those officials also emphasized the need to set guidelines for the public regarding a potential second shutdown should the county’s sky-high infection numbers continue to climb.
“There is a significant amount of pressure right now for us to shut down at some level,” Miami Mayor Francis Suarez said.
“We are at a critical juncture that if things do not improve quickly — over the next week or two — I think we’re going to be under a significant amount of pressure to do something like that.”
Suarez added it was important to explain to the public, “this is the point at which we’re going to have to shut down. This is the point at which we can reopen. These are the things we can reopen and how.”
Miami Gardens Mayor Oliver Gilbert III also echoed the need to relay milestones to the public, which may trigger closure.
“Right now, people don’t believe that actually can happen,” Gilbert argued.
Again, however, the meeting fell short in terms of delivering specifics. “There isn’t a metric right now,” Giménez admitted when asked what could prompt a potential shutdown.
Giménez reiterated comments from a Monday news conference, noting he’s reluctant to close down the county any further, but will do so if necessary.
“If the situation proceeds and moves forward in the wrong direction, we may have to take additional steps,” Giménez said Tuesday.
DeSantis earned some criticism from local Mayors, such as Gilbert, who argued the state and region reopened too quickly.
“The proximity is what’s hurting us right now, and we weren’t closed long enough to actually create good habits,” Gilbert argued. “We don’t have the habit now of wanting to wear a mask. It should be second nature.”
Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber also expressed concern about the Governor’s confidence that schools can reopen safely.
“I’m not sure all of our parents feel like they know, frankly, if it’s going to be safe enough,” Gelber said.
That prompted DeSantis to push back, noting that parents would have flexibility in sending their kids to school — an option he championed later during the meeting — or keeping their kids at home to learn remotely.
DeSantis again referenced research that younger individuals are less susceptible to the virus’s worst effects.
“That is just something that I think that we should understand,” DeSantis said.
“I think that that should be put out there and I don’t think that we should try to scare parents and act like somehow that this is more of a threat to their kids than it actually is. It’s a serious pathogen overall, but for whatever reason, kids are at lower risk.”
Gilbert responded that confidence may be unwarranted.
“We know so little about this disease, and I know there’s been some study on this,” Gilbert said. “When you say, ‘There’s a minimal risk,’ this conversation goes terribly different if one child contracts COVID-19 in school and dies.”