The following column is the opinion and analysis of the writer:
The sheer scale of the seemingly ever-growing COVID-19 is hard to quantify — and even harder to deal with. It requires a political response worthy of both the moment and the adversary. On both those counts our federal and state figureheads, both businessmen of means before being elected, have so far failed.
However, at least here in Arizona, three big-city mayors have led the way in combating the worst scourge our nation and state has seen since the Spanish flu of 1918. Their actions and responses loom large, casting a shadow over the meek retorts offered by their mostly male counterparts.
All three mayors, women who’ve fought their way up through the politics of their own communities, have been out in front of policy decisions and continue to press for more common sense responses from a reluctant Gov. Doug Ducey.
I’m talking, of course, about Mayors Regina Romero, Kate Gallego and Coral Evans of Tucson, Phoenix and Flagstaff, respectively. Between the three of them, their actions and declarations on public health and social distancing have outpaced the actions of state-level leaders like Ducey and Arizona Director of Health Services Director Dr. Cara Christ.
It all started March 16 with Evans, when Flagstaff became the first municipality in the state to limit restaurants and other dining establishments to take-out only service and close large gathering areas like bowling alleys and skating rinks. Evans had declared a state of emergency the day before that allowed her to issue such a declaration.
“As the mayor of the city of Flagstaff you elected me to look over our well being and that is what I am doing here tonight,” Evans said of her decision at the time.
Other cities, including Phoenix and Tucson, would soon pass similar measures, preempting Ducey’s similar, statewide order issued later that week.
But included in that same proclamation were provisions to financially penalize cities that didn’t comport to state law, making it nearly impossible for them to issue stricter ordinances in the case of a larger outbreak without being willing to go to court.
That would be important later, after Ducey decided to relax his March 30 stay-at-home order in early May, not long after President Trump’s May 5 visit to a Phoenix Honeywell plant.
“Will some people be affected? Yes. Will some people be affected badly? Yes. But we have to get our country open,” Trump said during the visit. While he wasn’t specifically referencing people “affected badly” in Arizona, shortly after that many more state residents would be, especially in Maricopa County.
That’s why it was such a surprise to hear that Gallego, mayor of the sixth-largest city in America and nearly half of Maricopa’s residents, hadn’t spoken with Ducey since right before the pandemic.
Luckily, Gallego was the bigger person and contacted the governor after seeing his plan to issue a curfew in response to protests in the name of George Floyd.
“I found out about the curfew from Twitter. I called the governor this morning and said we need to have better lines of communication, and he agreed,” Gallego said. Gallego would go on to reveal that she and the governor agree on one matter: funding for veterans.
Of course, perhaps no mayor (or city) has been a larger thorn in Ducey’s side than our own, even before COVID-19. Romero’s latest missive came in the needlessly politicized debate over face coverings. On June 17, Romero had the city attorney amend her earlier face-covering proclamation to include nearly all public spaces.
Later that day, Ducey finally relented, allowing cities more local control. Of course, he stopped short of issuing a broader statewide mandate on face coverings, something a slew of mayors had written to Ducey asking for.
That seems to be a trend for Ducey and Trump. Even though science, common sense and — if polls are to be believed — a majority of Americans favor mask wearing, a segment of the Republican Party is averse to the very idea. The results speak for themselves.
Thankfully, at least for some cities, there are leaders who are willing to risk being unpopular for mandating masks, and even more so for issuing measures that have reduced the capacity of most restaurants and bars.
It’s a difficult burden to bear, and one that should be shouldered and enforced by the state, if not federally.
All three women should be commended. And while it is not so for the whole world yet, women are definitely in charge in Arizona.
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