Denver Mayor Michael Hancock flew to Mississippi to visit family despite sending messages on social media and to city staff asking them to avoid traveling for the Thanksgiving holiday.
The mayor’s spokesperson Mike Strott told The Denver Post that Hancock flew out of Denver on Wednesday to spend Thanksgiving with his wife and youngest daughter, who are already in Mississippi.
“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. Unless there is some family emergency compelling the travel this just seems hypocritical at a time when we need leaders to lead by example.”
Democratic state Rep. Kyle Mullica, who is also a nurse, said Hancock’s decision damages his credibility.
“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.”
On Wednesday evening, Hancock released a public apology admitting that he went against his own public guidance.
“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,” he tweeted.
In his statement, Hancock also asked for forgiveness.
“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 said.
Colorado Gov. Jared Polis, who has said he would not spend the holiday with his extended family, declined to comment when asked about Hancock’s decision.
Strott said Hancock does not believe his actions contradict his public messaging and that the mayor typically hosts a 50-person family dinner for the holiday but will be spending Thanksgiving with just his wife and daughter this year, albeit in Mississippi. The rest of the family will join the dinner virtually.
“(Hancock) has told people to rethink their Thanksgiving plans,” Strott said. “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.”
On Wednesday morning, Hancock tweeted public health recommendations that suggested residents should avoid unnecessary travel. He also sent a memo to city staff that was obtained by The Denver Post.
“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 said.
Colorado has been experiencing a substantial spike in cases that state experts predict will result in the death of at least 2,000 more people by the end of December, the Post reported. The state reported its highest-ever number of cases in a single day on Nov. 13 with 6,439 confirmed cases of the virus.
The number of infections is thought to be far higher because many people have not been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected with the virus without feeling sick.
For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some — especially older adults and people with existing health problems — it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.