Democratic politicians from California to Georgia and New York are getting caught with their masks down, an embarrassing faux pas in liberal circles that is adding to the impetus to nix the unpopular mandates before the November elections.
Stacey Abrams, a Democrat who is running for governor in Georgia for the second time, deleted a photo over the weekend that showed her seated unmasked in a classroom full of masked children. She follows a litany of officials who flaunted COVID-19 rules they have imposed on a pandemic-weary public.
Other prominent politicians caught barefaced include California Gov. Gavin Newsom, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and San Francisco Mayor London Breed. They were pictured at the Rams-49ers game at SoFi Stadium last week flouting the state’s mask mandate, which has been extended until at least Feb. 15.
All three said they temporarily removed their masks for pictures. Mr. Garcetti said he was holding his breath.
They are catching heat for disregarding the rules they fervently impose on everyone else.
“Every Democrat that gets caught with their mask down reinforces for voters that there are basically two sets of rules: one for the elites and one for everybody else,” said Cally Perkins, a spokeswoman for the Congressional Leadership Fund, a super-PAC dedicated to electing Republican candidates. “That’s a precarious position for Democrats to defend as Americans are frustrated that their lives are still not returning to any sense of normalcy.”
The public’s frustration with COVID-19 mandates has started to resonate with more Democratic leaders in blue states who now say it’s time to lift the mandates.
New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, a Democrat, announced on Monday that he would lift school mask mandates on March 7. Delaware Gov. John Carney, a Democrat, announced that indoor mask mandates in public settings would end this Friday. The state’s school mask mandate, however, will continue until March 31.
Denver recently ended its indoor mask mandate, and the Portland, Maine, City Council on Monday was considering doing the same.
The relinquishing of mandates closely tracks public opinion.
A recent Monmouth University Poll found that 78% of Americans agreed that “we just need to get on with our lives” despite the pandemic. Among those polled, 52% backed mask mandates, the lowest number since July, when the virus was at its lowest ebb.
The photo of a maskless Ms. Abrams quickly drew ridicule and anger, particularly from parents fighting the prolonged mask mandates in schools that they argue make it difficult for children to learn and thrive.
“This is maddening,” tweeted Republican political strategist Rory Cooper, an advocate for ending masks in schools.
Mr. Cooper is among increasingly vocal parents fighting the mask mandates and other coronavirus restrictions imposed by blue-state political leaders that have dragged on for nearly two years.
Some leaders in blue states are doubling down on mask mandates despite a public that is increasingly fed up.
Northern Virginia officials have joined a lawsuit fighting an order by newly minted Gov. Glenn Youngkin, a Republican, that ended mask mandates in the state’s public schools. The state Supreme Court on Monday rejected on procedural grounds a petition from parents seeking to invalidate the executive order, but the justices said they offer “no opinion on the legality” of the order.
The mask debate is now at the forefront of the midterm election battles, and Republicans are eager to weaponize blue state mandates and maskless Democrats.
Republicans are guided by Mr. Youngkin’s stunning defeat of Democrat and former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe in November, aided by frustrated public school parents seeking an end to COVID-19 restrictions.
Former Sen. David Perdue, a Republican running in the Georgia governor’s race, slammed Ms. Abrams for posting her unmasked photo and plastered the picture atop his Twitter feed with the caption “Unmask Our Kids.”
Sen. Rick Scott of Florida, who heads the Senate Republicans’ fundraising arm, called the Abrams photo “a perfect encapsulation of Democrats’ Covid hypocrisy and staunch support for anti-science school mask mandates.”
House Democrats also are stumbling into mask mishaps.
On Sunday, Rep. Elissa Slotkin of Michigan kicked off her reelection campaign by posing maskless in front of a roomful of masked supporters in Owosso.
The House Republican fundraising arm took notice.
Republicans are just a handful of seats away from reclaiming the House majority, and the party considers Ms. Slotkin a top target. Election analysts rate Ms. Slotkin’s seat as a toss-up.
“Elissa Slotkin supports mask mandates for everyone but herself. She is a complete hypocrite,” National Republican Congressional Committee spokesman Mike Berg said in a statement.
Although Michigan does not mandate masks in schools or public places statewide, officials recommend universal masking to mitigate the spread of the virus and many Michigan districts mandate all-day mask-wearing in school. The list includes Owosso, which extended the requirement until at least Feb. 21.
In New York, where Gov. Kathy Hochul is challenging a court ruling against her statewide mask mandate, fellow Democrat and U.S. Rep. Jamaal Bowman appeared in a Jan. 31 tweet with a group of six students at New Rochelle High School. The students were masked, but Mr. Bowman was not.
Two days later, Mr. Bowman in a tweet urged the public to “make sure to mask up, stay safe and get boosted” to protect the elderly and immunocompromised.
The Instagram account for Little Italy in the Bronx posted a photo over the weekend of an unmasked and smiling Mr. Adams in several indoor restaurant photos.
Mr. Adams, meanwhile, is prolonging the city’s public school mask mandate as state officials challenge a New York Supreme Court ruling that declared it unconstitutional.
Mrs. Hochul hasn’t indicated when she will lift the statewide mandate. The state’s infection rate has dropped 43% and the hospitalization rate has declined significantly, but as of Thursday, 5,800 people were hospitalized with COVID-19 and 110 related deaths were recorded.
Mrs. Hochul said last week that she will keep the mandate in place beyond this Thursday, when it was set to expire, as she waits for more children to be vaccinated.
“We’re not taking our foot off the gas when it comes to fighting the pandemic,” Mrs. Hochul said. “The masks are one element of that.”
Mrs. Hochul, who took over when Gov. Andrew Cuomo resigned amid sexual harassment charges, is running for a full four-year term in November.
Rep. Lee Zeldin, a Republican opponent, demanded that Mrs. Hochul end the mask mandates immediately.
“It makes ZERO sense for Hochul to continue subjecting New York’s kids to her Cuomo-Esque ego, stubbornness and emperor mentality,” Mr. Zeldin said on Twitter. “She’s really just being a jerk at this point because of her own character flaws. All COVID mandates should end TODAY!”