Charlie Crist added to the growing chorus Wednesday of people calling on Gov. Ron DeSantis to withdraw his Surgeon General nomination — not just because the doctor’s controversial COVID-19 policies but because he lacks common decency.
Crist, a Democrat running for Governor, appeared Wednesday with a panel of doctors to lambaste the nomination of Dr. Joseph Ladapo. Crist cited his 5-year-old niece’s at-school infection and subsequent infection of her infant sister as an indictment of Ladapo’s policies against student mask mandates and mandatory student quarantines after COVID-19 exposure.
Crist also cited Ladapo’s conduct in Sen. Tina Polsky’s office Oct. 20 when he refused to don a face mask at her request. Ladapo persisted in his refusal even after Polsky told him she was being treated for breast cancer and thus at more serious risk for COVID-19 complications.
“Dr. Ladapo has proven himself time and time again to be unwilling and truly unfit to hold such a high office at a time when our state needs true, medically sound leadership,” Crist said.
A spokeswoman for DeSantis said he is not considering withdrawing Ladapo’s nomination.
But calls for Ladapo’s appointment to be reconsidered have been growing with reports of Ladapo’s conduct in Polsky’s office. Twenty minutes before Crist’s news conference, gubernatorial candidate Nikki Fried, also a Democrat, put out a statement calling for Ladapo’s withdrawal from consideration.
Ladapo reportedly told Polsky “sometimes I try to reason with unreasonable people for fun” — a quote he has denied. But Crist recalled that reported comment at his news conference Wednesday.
“There is nothing fun about this pandemic we’re living through with hundreds of thousands of American lives lost and about 60,000 of our fellow Floridians who are now dead,” he said.
Crist says Ladapo’s definition of “unreasonable people” appears to be those who believe in science, social distancing, face masks and vaccines to control the spread of COVID-19.
“It took him no time to make clear that his appointment to the Office of Surgeon General was a political appointment, aimed at above all, serving Gov. DeSantis and his political agenda, not the people of Florida,” Crist said.
Crist has said DeSantis is trying to appeal to a national audience ahead of an expected 2024 presidential bid. DeSantis has denied he’s running.
DeSantis’ staff, meanwhile, points to Ladapo’s credentials. He has a medical degree from Harvard Medical School and served as an associate professor at the University of California, Los Angeles. But doctors appearing with Crist Wednesday noted Ladapo is a cardiovascular specialist, not an expert in immunology or public health, as one might expect of a state surgeon general or someone speaking authoritatively on epidemiology and virus prevention.
Ladapo has publicly questioned the efficacy of vaccines. And his office cites privacy issues in declining to say if Ladapo is vaccinated against COVID-19 himself, as the vast majority of doctors recommend.
“There are plenty of people who went to Harvard and worked at UCLA and had some appointments and are eloquent, who are also crazy,” said Dr. Jeff Berman, a Boca Raton pulmonologist. “I think just because you have those couple of credentials under your belt does not make you a credible expert. And if you notice, UCLA has already taken him off their website and tried to distance themselves.”
Crist said Floridians would be better served without Ladapo as the state’s top health official.
“The one person that the Governor decides to nominate to do this is one of these people who doesn’t understand the science of what’s happening here and doesn’t appreciate it, nor does he respect it,” Crist said. “… This guy has proven himself unfit.”
Ladapo is earning $250,000 a year as the state Surgeon General and is receiving a $262,000 annual salary as a University of Florida professor, the Orlando Sentinel reported.