On Wednesday morning, Denver Mayor Michael Hancock urged residents to stay home and meet family online for Thanksgiving to help curtail the spread of the coronavirus.
“Pass the potatoes, not covid. Host virtual gatherings instead of in-person dinners,” the Democrat tweeted. “Avoid travel, if you can.”
Then, less than an hour later, Hancock boarded a flight on his way to Mississippi for Thanksgiving with his wife and daughter, his spokesman Mike Strott confirmed to The Washington Post.
The move left critics blasting Hancock for appearing to ignore his own advice at a time when the coronavirus continues to rise precipitously in Colorado.
Hours later, amid mounting blowback on social media and from local politicians, the mayor apologized.
“I made my decision as a husband and father, and for those who are angry and disappointed, I humbly ask you to forgive decisions that are borne of my heart and not my head,” he tweeted.
Hancock is the latest politician blasted this month for seeming to skirt the same restrictions that have curtailed life for millions of Americans during the worsening pandemic. Last week, California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) apologized after photos showed him at birthday party inside a high-end restaurant where no one at his table wore masks. And this week, New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo (D) canceled plans to host his 89-year-old mother and two daughters in Albany for Thanksgiving after critics noted that he had spent days pleading with New Yorkers to avoid family gatherings for the holidays.
Hancock, a three-term mayor elected in 2011 and a vice president of the National Conference of Democratic Mayors, has been an advocate for coronavirus restrictions. He has pushed residents to wear masks and last week warned that another stay-at-home order might be needed if cases keep rising in Colorado, which has seen covid-related hospitalizations rise in the past week by almost 13 percent.
He has also been vocal about limiting holiday get-togethers. At a virtual news conference on Friday, he suggested residents buy a small turkey and celebrate with their immediate family only. “Maybe next year we can all be together again,” he said. “I’m asking, I’m urging, I’m pleading with everyone. Please stay home.”
But just 30 minutes after tweeting his latest plea to avoid travel on Wednesday morning, Hancock boarded a flight, KUSA reported. Soon after, he was on his way to Houston for a layover before heading to Mississippi, where his daughter recently started a new job, he later tweeted.
After fierce backlash grew against his travels, Hancock offered a mea culpa and sought to explain his decision to fly despite his entreaties to avoid holiday travel, a suggestion echoed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“As the holiday approached, I decided it would be safer for me to travel to see them than to have two family members travel back to Denver,” he said in his statement. “I recognize that my decision has disappointed many who believe it would have been better to spend Thanksgiving alone. As a public official, whose conduct is rightly scrutinized for the message it sends to others … I apologize to the residents of Denver.”
Some politicians and residents said the explanation and apology weren’t enough.
Colorado state Rep. Kyle Mullica (D), who is also a nurse, said that public officials should lead by example.
“Let’s be clear. As elected officials we are leaders in our community. People look to us for guidance. Perfection is impossible, but as leaders we should always be striving to lead by example. @MayorHancock decision impacts all of us trying to do the right thing,” Mullica said Wednesday in a tweet.
Denver Councilwoman Candi CdeBaca retweeted a news story on Hancock’s travel with a face-palm emoji. Councilman Chris Hinds noted that the only other member of his household for Thanksgiving will be his dog, Porthos. “Our plans are to only interact with each other,” he tweeted.
“Hey Siri, what is the definition of hypocrisy?’” U.S. Rep. Ken Buck (R-Colo.) wrote in a tweet that has since been deleted.
Despite the mayor’s apology, Strott, his spokesman, argued to the Denver Post that Hancock didn’t see his travel as contradicting his advice to residents.
Hancock “has told people to rethink their Thanksgiving plans,” Strott told the Denver Post. “He has also said that if you do travel to follow health and safety guidelines and the mayor will still follow health and safety guidelines upon his return.”
Instead of his usual 50-person Thanksgiving, Hancock will share dinner with only his wife and daughter, with the rest of his family gathering virtually, the Denver Post reported. Strott said when Hancock returns to Colorado, he plans to quarantine and to follow other CDC travel guidelines.