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As Denver Mayor Michael Hancock sent messages on social media and to city staff Wednesday asking everyone to avoid traveling for Thanksgiving, he was on his way to Mississippi to celebrate the holiday with his wife and daughter.
Hancock spokesman Mike Strott confirmed that Hancock flew out of Denver on Wednesday morning to spend the holiday with his wife and youngest daughter, who are already there.
That hypocrisy — first reported by 9News — amounts to an unforced error on the mayor’s part and one that risks delegitimizing pleas from public health officials to try to stop the spread of the surging coronavirus, experts and officials agree.
“That is incredibly disappointing,” Dr. Sandy Johnson, head of the University of Denver’s school of global health affairs, said of Hancock’s actions.
“So many folks in the city of Denver have been doing the right thing,” Johnson added. “Unless there is some family emergency compelling the travel this just seems hypocritical at a time when we need leaders to lead by example.”
After news of Hancock’s flight drew national attention and consternation, the mayor issued an apology and said he should have shared his plan to travel for the holiday.
“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 who see my decision as conflicting with the guidance to stay at home for all but essential travel,” Hancock said in a statement. “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.”
State Rep. Kyle Mullica, D-Northglenn, who is also a nurse, said Hancock’s action is damaging at a time when scientific consensus is already battling heavy partisanship. Mullica said he sees families torn apart because of the virus every day and for Hancock to ignore his own advice on it just damages the mayor’s credibility moving forward.
“I don’t expect people to be perfect,” Mullica said. “But I think there is an expectation that you essentially try to practice what you preach.”
Colorado Gov. Jared Polis, who has said he will not spend Thanksgiving with extended family, declined to comment Wednesday when asked about Hancock’s travel.
Neither state nor Denver public health officials immediately responded to questions about how Coloradans can be expected to follow guidance that elected officials themselves are not following.
Mayor Hancock needs to resign
— Jeremy Entwistle (@JerEnt1) November 25, 2020
But the news drew widespread ire online. Some demanded that the mayor resign or questioned whether to start a recall petition. Hancock is in his third term as mayor and cannot run again.
Colorado Republicans including U.S. Rep. Ken Buck and U.S. Rep.-elect Lauren Boebert also weighed in.
“Hey Siri, what is the definition of hypocrisy?” Buck tweeted.
Hey Siri, what is the definition of hypocrisy? https://t.co/o9ymkxS3hj
— Ken Buck (@BuckForColorado) November 25, 2020
Strott said Hancock doesn’t believe his actions contradict what he has been asking Denverites to do.
The mayor typically hosts a 50-person family dinner for Thanksgiving, while this year he will be spending the holiday as just one of three at the table, albeit in Mississippi. The rest of the family will join in electronically.
“(Hancock) has told people to rethink their Thanksgiving plans. 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,” Strott said.
But Wednesday morning, Hancock tweeted out public health recommendations that included avoiding unnecessary travel. He also sent a memo to city staff that was obtained by The Denver Post.
Pass the potatoes, not COVID.
Stay home as much as you can, especially if you’re sick.
Host virtual gatherings instead of in-person dinners.
Avoid travel, if you can.
Order your holiday meal from a local eatery.
Shop online with a small business for #BlackFriday. pic.twitter.com/acQpWs2Ism
— Michael B. Hancock (@MayorHancock) November 25, 2020
“As the holidays approach, we all long to be with our families in person, but with the continued rise in cases, I’m urging you to refrain from travel this Thanksgiving holiday,” the memo says.
Colorado is experiencing a third coronavirus wave that state experts predict will result in the death of at least 2,000 more people by the end of December. The state has mandated tighter restrictions in counties across the state in an attempt to avoid another stay-at-home order that would devastate the local economy. Exhausted medical professionals are bracing for hospitals to run out of room.
“The mayor’s ‘do as I say but not as I do’ behavior is irresponsible and sets a poor example for city workers,” said Lisa Calderon, chief of staff for Councilwoman Candi CdeBaca. “He should have canceled his plans just like the thousands of Denver residents who are doing their part to stop the spread of the coronavirus.”
Councilman Chris Hinds tweeted that he will spend this Thanksgiving with only his dog, Porthos.
Hancock is one of a growing number of public officials across the country who have been spotted skirting their own COVID recommendations.