Saturday, August 20, 2016

Is Governor Rick Scott playing politics with the Zika outbreak on Miami Beach to punish Mayor Philip Levine for supporting Hillary Clinton?

UPDATE: Scroll down to bottom of this post to see comment from Miami Beach Commissioner Ricky Arriola.

There's nothing that Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine likes more than a little face time before news cameras.

In fact he's got an entire YouTube channel where he posts videos of his appearances on cable news shows that, more often than not, show him talking about his unwavering support for Hillary Clinton.

But the one video missing from Levine's YouTube channel is the one (above) that shows him appearing before a battery of microphones at a hastily-called 9:30 pm City Hall news conference last Thursday night to address the Zika crisis.

From a Miami Herald: story posted late Friday and headlined "Zika: Two days, two different stories from the mayor of Miami Beach....
On Thursday, hours after the Miami Herald reported that Zika was being transmitted in Miami Beach, Mayor Philip Levine looked at the TV cameras and made a blunt statement.

“There is no epidemic, no outbreak of Zika on Miami Beach,” he told reporters at a press conference. He added there were two cases that had “not been confirmed for Miami Beach.”

On Friday, Gov. Rick Scott made a stop in Miami to make an announcement: There were five confirmed cases of Zika on the Beach and a new area of local transmission that covers the majority of the county’s tourism central — South Beach.

Was Levine spinning, or was he just ignorant of a burgeoning public health crisis in his own city?

On Friday, the mayor pleaded ignorance. In another press conference, he blamed lack of communication from Tallahassee for his own misstep. He said he didn’t know about the five cases before Scott’s announcement at noon Friday and insisted he had used the best information that was available to him at the time. He said he and city officials have been frustrated by lack of information from the state health department.

And according to Miami New Times, "Just 14 hours after Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine stood in front of reporters and said there was "no Zika outbreak in Miami Beach," Gov. Rick Scott announced in a press conference today that five locally transmitted Zika cases had been identified in the city's highest-traffic tourist area."
Speaking at the Miami-Dade County Health Department headquarters, Scott said the cases had been transmitted in a 1.5-square-mile area stretching from Eighth to 28th Street, from the beach to the Intracoastal Waterway. That zone includes the majority of Ocean Drive, the city's famed Art Deco district, most of the barrier island's premier hotels, and many of Miami Beach's popular nightclubs.

During the conference, reporters accused Scott of muzzling doctors who wanted to speak to the public and of potentially downplaying the threat Zika posed to the city.

In a bizarre move, Scott then repeatedly refused to tell reporters when the first local transmission in Miami Beach had actually occurred and declined to tell the public how long the state had been aware cases were being transmitted in Miami Beach.

"It's a straightforward question," one reporter shouted at him.

Click here to enlarge.

From the Herald story, "Zika: Two days, two different stories from the mayor of Miami Beach"....
On Thursday, Levine also said he had no complaints about the flow of information between the city and state health officials: “From our point of view, there’s no frustration. … We’re actually happy that they’re on it, and they’re doing the right thing.”

Friday, his story changed: “I was very frustrated because I would like better communication,” he said. “I know the city manager was frustrated.” Despite that, he said he did not regret his statements Thursday.

The story concludes with these four paragraphs: "All three agreed that the flow of information from Tallahassee bureaucrats left a lot to be desired, particularly as worrisome residents call them for answers."
“The governor’s office is not communicating with me. He’s not communicating with our city manager. We don’t get the information,” Levine said. “The only information we get is from the Florida Department of Health as they are, I guess, allowed to give it to us based on what the governor tells them.”

He stopped short of saying he would demand a timeline of when Zika cases were first reported in Miami Beach:

“I’m not sure we can demand anything from the governor.”
But the question no one in the media has asked is: "Is Rick Scott playing politics with the Zika crisis by withholding information from Levine as payback for his support of Hillary Clinton?"


Florida Bulldog: Gov. Scott’s undisclosed interest – via First Lady – in Zika mosquito control company

Today, in a five minute interview with CNN, Levine answered that question, accusing Gov. Scott no fewer than three times of "playing politics" by withholding information.

Whether or not Scott is playing politics with the crisis remains to be seen.

But one of Levine's most persistent critics, Miami Beach-based filmmaker Billy Corben says, "Mayor Levine put out three different messages in less than 24 hours. Rick Scott didn't force him to go on TV Thursday night and disseminate misinformation already contradicted by multiple major media reports. I don't know who's advising him, but he never misses an opportunity to miss an opportunity. He's not a crisis mayor, he's a cruise ship director." 

UPDATE: Ricky Arriola, Levine's colleague on the City Commission responds: "Absolutely Gov. Scott is playing politics. The City of Miami Beach has been giving him problems with Climate Change/Sea Level rise for years. We are also challenging the state's minimum wage laws, moving forward with mass transit (and not waiting for state funding), we banned styrofoam etc.

"On top of that, the Mayor is one of Hillary's top surrogates and we are in the largest swing state. The Mayor may run for Governor one day and he'll likely be a strong Scott critic when he does.

"The sad part of all this is that the public's health is being held in the balance because Gov Scott wants to play games. [Scott] hates South Florida."

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