Mayors to Governors: Toughen Up!

By: - March 30, 2020 12:00 am

A sign in Portland, Oregon, this week urges people to stay home. In some states, mayors acted without gubernatorial leadership; in others, governors pushed mayors toward bolder action. Alex Milan Tracy/Sipa USA via AP

Read Stateline coverage of the latest state action on coronavirus.

PORTLAND, Ore. — The optics were terrible, even if the weather was perfect. Absent a firm order from Gov. Kate Brown to stay at home, thousands of people with nothing else to do packed Oregon’s beaches, trails and state parks a couple of weekends ago.

Mayors in coastal cities panicked at the onslaught, begging Brown, a Democrat, to act. One after another, towns passed emergency ordinances that shut down hotels, campgrounds, RV parks and short-term vacation rentals to all but essential visitors.

Democratic Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler, joined by 25 other leaders in nearby communities and the state’s major health care providers, warned they would act if she didn’t.

“We’ve been told for weeks now by the Centers for Disease Control that we need to social distance,” said Bruce Jones, mayor of Astoria, a coastal Oregon town that often swells on weekends with tourists who drive 100 miles over two-lane roads from Portland. “We’re trying to reduce the spread of the virus, and putting visitors into our town just increases the risk of rapid transmission of the virus.”

To be sure, some governors have had to push mayors to take bolder action. In New York, Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo called the crowds he saw on New York City streets “a mistake.”

He urged Democratic Mayor Bill de Blasio to come up with a solution, including perhaps closing some city streets to vehicle traffic. “It’s insensitive. It’s arrogant. It’s self-destructive. It’s disrespectful to other people,” Cuomo said. “And it has to stop — and it has to stop now. This is not a joke. And I am not kidding.”

Cuomo’s blunt briefings have earned widespread praise. But for the most part, mayors have taken a harder line than governors on restrictions, perhaps because they are closer to the people they govern. That has led to some conflict — and colorful language.

“Listen up [dips–ts] and sensible people,” Gabe Brown, the mayor of Walton, Kentucky, wrote in a foul-mouthed Facebook post — which contrasted sharply with Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear’s reassuring nightly briefings. “I might not have the best bedside manor [sic]. I might not put you at ease like the Governor does, but I don’t care. You need to realize that this is a serious ordeal. In fact, it’s a big [f—ing] deal. Stay at home.”

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.