When Steve Adler, the mayor of Austin, Texas, urged his constituents last month to stay home — even as he and his family vacationed in Mexico — he showed all the symptoms of an ailment sweeping the Democratic Party: shutdown chutzpah.
From dining indoors to visiting hair salons to taking nonessential trips, cases of Democrats defying their own orders and guidances aimed at slowing the spread of the coronavirus are reaching epidemic proportions, posing risks to public health as well as political careers.
Longtime California Democratic political strategist Darry Sragow said politicians who flout COVID-19 protocols and public health rules are “being very self-destructive in two respects.”
“First, they’re putting their health at risk and perhaps the health of the people around them,” Mr. Sragow said. “Second, one of my ‘rule ones’ was don’t try to fool the voters. If they think an elected official is being a hypocrite and trying to fool them or game them, that oftentimes can be a [political] death knell.”
Examples of elected officials running afoul of their own advisories are on the rise amid the latest wave of shutdowns aimed at combating the rise in contagions.
U.S. cases grew by 196,227 and reached 13.8 million as of Thursday, while an additional 2,762 deaths brought the total number of fatalities to 272,525, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
With its strictest-in-the-nation lockdown rules, California has been a breeding ground for high-profile scofflaws. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, was famously caught in September at an indoor salon without a mask, even though San Francisco required masks and opened only for outdoor services.
San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo apologized Tuesday for attending a five-family Thanksgiving dinner after advising residents to “cancel big gatherings this year.” California Gov. Gavin Newsom and San Francisco Mayor London Breed were caught dining indoors last month in separate incidents with groups at the French Laundry restaurant in Napa Valley.
Mr. Newsom has apologized, while Ms. Breed said Thursday that she was sorry after the San Francisco Chronicle ran an editorial saying, “Hypocrisy’s on the menu when top leaders break the pandemic rules on dining out.”
“This criticism is fair. It doesn’t matter whether something is technically allowed or not — I need to hold myself to a higher standard and I will do better,” Ms. Breed tweeted. “What I especially regret is that the urgency of our public health message in this moment has never been more dire and my actions have distracted from that.”
Lawmakers who follow the letter of the law but break their own shutdown advice rarely get a pass from the public.
Los Angeles County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl was roasted for dining outdoors at a Santa Monica restaurant hours after voting to shut down outdoor dining, even though the proposal failed.
Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards defended himself Wednesday after a photograph circulated of him dining maskless outside at a private country club.
“There was absolutely nothing that I did that day that violated the rules that were in place in the phase three, which is when that actually happened, or today’s rules,” the Democratic governor said during his regularly scheduled coronavirus press conference. “If you’ll see, I was outdoors at a table. I don’t know exactly — it looked to me like I was getting up to leave.”
Mr. Adler came under fire after the Austin American-Statesman reported Wednesday that he posted a Facebook video urging residents to “stay home if you can” and warning that “we may have to close things down if we are not careful.”
He failed to mention that he had just arrived in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, after hosting an outdoor wedding and hotel reception with 20 guests for his daughter, even though Austin officials were recommending gatherings of no more than 10 people.
The Democratic mayor posted a Facebook video late Wednesday saying that “I recognize that my travel set a bad example.”
“In my position, I need to send a clearer message,” Mr. Adler said. “I’m sorry I took that trip. It was a lapse in judgment, and I want you to know that I apologize.”
Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, a Republican, said Thursday that the mayor should step down.
“[He] shut them down, but he doesn’t shut himself down,” Mr. Huckabee said on “Fox & Friends.” “He ought to do the honorable thing, the right thing. He should resign and let someone be mayor who won’t tell people to do what he didn’t do. His message to them was basically let them eat cake. And in his case, it was wedding cake.”
‘Little tyrant crap’
Then there was Denver Mayor Michael Hancock, who urged residents to stay home and afterward flew to Mississippi for Thanksgiving. He issued a statement Monday saying that “my decision was unwise and hypocritical.”
Jon Caldara, president of the free-market Independence Institute in Denver, agreed. “Here he is threatening us with the long arm of the law, saying that even in the privacy of your own home, you cannot peaceably assemble, but it doesn’t apply to him,” he said.
“This is little tyrant crap,” Mr. Caldara said. “It’s how the communists in the party live one life and the people they rule live a different life. It’s not really that different. It’s only a matter of scale.”
Republicans, meanwhile, have tended to inoculate themselves from the allegations of hypocrisy with their opposition to sweeping shutdown orders.
Sen. Rand Paul, Kentucky Republican, took a media beating in May for refusing to wear a mask in the Senate after he recovered from COVID-19, but he also never urged his constituents to cover their faces or stay home.
“I think that Democrats are more vulnerable when something like this happens in part because their voter base is pretty broadly supportive of the shutdown measures and the distancing,” said Mr. Sragow, the Democratic strategist. “If you’re a Republican in a heavily Republican district or state, it may cause you no problem at all because your voter base is going to be significantly more skeptical about and even contemptuous of these measures.”
Such Democrats in liberal enclaves like San Francisco and Denver have little to fear from Republican challengers, but critics say they should worry about fueling resentment among struggling small-business owners forced by shutdown orders to close or limit their occupancy.
Protesters turned out Wednesday night in Staten Island after Danny Presti, owner of Mac’s Public House, was arrested and led away in handcuffs for refusing to shut his pub in an episode that has drawn national attention.
“We respect law enforcement on Staten Island like no other place,” Republican state Sen. Andrew Lanza told the crowd, as shown on an Instagram video. “We also have questions as American citizens. You just took out one of our constituents, one of our neighbors, a business owner, in handcuffs. I asked why.”
Television host Mike Rowe, known for his “Dirty Jobs” show on the Discovery Channel, warned that the double-standard may be chipping away at the voters’ trust in the system.
“Something amazing is going on right now,” Mr. Rowe said Wednesday on Fox News. “I think what’s happening in Staten Island is sort of indicative of the old expression: You can forgive people for being wrong or even for being stupid, but hypocrisy is a hard thing to get over.”
He said “that bit with Gov. Newsom having dinner at the French Laundry? That’s not a small thing.”
“And it’s impacting people, people who would normally not say anything about it are shaking their head and saying, ‘Geez, what is going on?’” Mr. Rowe said.
⦁ Jessica Chasmar contributed to this report.