New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio spent the first Monday morning of a worldwide pandemic like he spends every other Monday morning – driving 11 miles to the Prospect Park YMCA for a leisurely workout.
It was just the latest sign that de Blasio isn’t taking the coronavirus outbreak nearly as seriously as public health experts say Americans should. While smaller cities less affected by the disease known as covid-19 were taking radical steps to contain the disease, de Blasio spent the last week leading from behind, only seeming to make decisions after public uproar reached a fever pitch.
"He has been slow to act, not realizing the seriousness of the situation,” a former de Blasio staffer told City & State, on condition of anonymity to speak freely about a former boss. "His normal reluctance to offend important interest groups has proved catastrophic during an epidemic.”
Current employees too, found themselves frustrated by de Blasio’s mismanagement. The Daily News reported Monday that leadership at the New York City
Department of Health and Mental Hygiene threatened to resign if the mayor wouldn’t take a bolder approach. De Blasio denied the reports at a Monday press conference. “I know when somebody comes up to me and says ‘I want to resign,’” he said. “That has not happened.”
De Blasio’s reluctance to take measures experts say are necessary to protect the city, such as closing schools and bars and restaurants, has drawn widespread criticism. In Italy, the authorities' same behaviors led to the explosion of cases and a public health infrastructure so overburdened that respirators are being rationed, with many of the elderly simply left to die. Italians have taken to airwaves and op-ed pages to warn Americans not to repeat their same mistakes. On March 11, former Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi went on CNN to say, “Italy wasted time and this was a mistake.”
Last week, many states that are smaller, less densely populated, and less affected by the coronavirus than the New York City region, including Maryland, Michigan, New Mexico, Ohio and Oregon, heeded the message and closed schools. Cities such as Los Angeles and Houston also closed their public schools. Yet de Blasio, who likes to play up his Italian heritage and his connection to Italy, didn’t. Instead he emphasized the importance of giving parents the freedom to go to work, rather than stay at home with their kids. “That includes people we desperately need,” he told CNN on Thursday.
“Like first responders. Educators. Health-care professionals.” And while the city and the state asked bars and restaurants to halve their capacity over the weekend, de Blasio still encouraged New Yorkers to go out. “I am not ready today at this hour to say, let's have a city with no bars, no restaurants, no rec centers, no libraries,” he said Saturday.
Now former allies think his slow response and muddled messaging could cause deaths in the city.
“By acting sooner and sooner, he could have saved lives. He didn't,” the former staffer said. “‘He is not a wartime mayor, and this is war.”
“If you love your neighborhood bar, go there now,” de Blasio said at a City Hall press conference Sunday evening. Merely hours later, de Blasio finally announced that all restaurants had to move to take-out only. Bars that didn't serve food would close, and movie theaters and all other entertainment venues must close too. The executive order would go into effect Tuesday at 9 a.m.