Curry Testifies Before Congressional Subcommittee On City’s COVID-19 Response

May 29, 2020

Republican Mayor Lenny Curry represented Jacksonville at a congressional subcommittee hearing Friday afternoon, where he testified on the city’s coronavirus response and recovery process. 

Curry was also used as a foil for subcommittee members to attack other cities who they believed created unnecessary restrictions, and as a voice to showcase the need for a reopening sooner rather than later. 

During his testimony to the House Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis, Curry touted Jacksonville’s quick response to mitigate the response to the virus. 

“We took actions immediately to flatten the curve and protect our health systems,” Curry said. “We prevented dire situations like we saw elsewhere with doctors forced to make impossible decisions about who can live and die due to shortages of life-saving equipment.” 

Curry commended the ease of collaboration efforts with Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis and the White House to get adequate testing and federal help. He brought up the ways the city has helped through a variety of programs for small businesses and local residents. 

However, he did say that keeping the region closed created both direct and indirect consequences. 

“Since we declared a state of emergency on March 13, our overdose 911 calls have outpaced the 2019 numbers significantly every single week,” Curry said. 

He also brought up the economic effects, as some Jacksonville businesses have had to cut staff or close their doors permanently. 

Curry asked for other nations and “international health professionals” to look into China, and why “more wasn't done at the origin to stop the silent killer from invading the United States.”

He said local governments should get access to funds, but “not as a reward for poor fiscal decision-making.” 

Six other mayors were able to testify about their cities’ responses to the coronavirus as well, including Seattle, Atlanta, Los Angeles, Columbia, SC; Rochester Hills, MI; and Mangum, OK.

After all testified, representatives on the subcommittee questioned the mayors. 

Republican Rep. Jim Jordan used Curry to attack the practices of Mayor Eric Garcetti from Los Angeles, questioning if Curry ever closed places of worship, gun shops, or if they ever encouraged “residents to snitch on their neighbors?” 

“Absolutely not,” Curry said.   

“What a contrast that is with other cities and states, and frankly, what a contrast that is with Mayor Garcetti and Governor Newsom [who] closed churches in California and was sued,” Jordan said. “Mayor Garcetti closed gun shops in Los Angeles and was sued. Mayor Garcetti said that snitches get rewards.”

Jordan claimed other cities were trying to “suspend the constitution.”

When Curry had his work-from-home order in place, he did encourage employees to call the city’s hotline if they felt they were able to work from home and were being unsafely forced to come into work. 

He also said he’s been in close coordination with the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office, who has taken calls from concerned citizens from overcrowding at businesses and the beaches. 

However, Curry has stressed that “this is not a police state.” On Thursday, Curry encouraged people who were uncomfortable with someone close to them not wearing a mask to walk away and avoid a conflict. 

“To insinuate that any city in America is trying to restrict liberties is not helpful at this time,” said Democratic Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan.  “We must fight this virus as a country.”

Curry was called on again by Republican Rep. Jackie Walorski, who asked about his ability to lead while being criticized by the national media when reopening the beaches. 

“I did the best I could to ignore the national media when that was happening,” Curry said.  

On the backend of the subcommittee hearing, Republican Rep. Mark Green said it isn’t the job of one state to help bail out another, claiming that some states have put themselves in a rough economic position with careless spending.

“If I bounce a check, it's not your job to pay my debt,” Green said. “It's unfair, and, frankly, immoral to ask you to do so.”

Curry agreed.

“COVID-19 relief should not be used to bail out poor decision making,” Curry said. “In my city, we built up significant reserves over the last four years in the event we face a crisis. We reformed our pensions here in Duval County, secured a source of revenue, put new employees into defined contribution plans versus defined benefit plans. So relief from COVID-19 is needed. But it needs to be specific to the pandemic, not bailing out fiscal decisions.”

Sky Lebron can be reached at slebron@wjct.org, 904-358-6319 or on Twitter at @SkylerLebron.