The Zika virus arrived in Miami’s Wynwood neighborhood last week. The politicians came Thursday.
Miami-Dade County Commissioner Audrey Edmonson handed out mosquito-repellent wipes. U.S. Rep. Frederica Wilson advocated for safe sex. Florida Gov. Rick Scott zig-zagged from the Miami Under Ground coffee shop to the LiveNinja HQ start-up to Zak the Baker.
Their message: Don’t panic. But take Zika seriously. And please, please, please drain any water that could help breed more mosquitoes.
Oh, and if Washington could do something, that’d be nice, too.
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“The president and Congress have to figure out how to work together,” said Scott, a Republican, who had taken some political heat for not traveling to Miami soon after public-health authorities confirmed first cases of locally transmitted Zika last Friday. “I have to work with my legislature if I want to get anything done. This is a national, international issue — and I think the federal government has failed us.”
The denunciations didn’t stop there.
“This problem is much bigger than Wynwood,” said Miami-Dade Commissioner Daniella Levine Cava, a Democrat who in a letter called for a special county, state and federal meeting to review an action plan. “The fact that Congress recessed without addressing it is a tragedy. The fact that we don’t have clear direction from the state as to their specific investment calls out for greater communication and coordination.”
“Unfortunately, too many of our colleagues from around the country do not view this as their problem yet,” said U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, a Republican who met with Scott at the senator’s Doral office. “But it is America’s problem, and hopefully that’s addressed the way it needs to be addressed.”
“During Hurricane Katrina, we saw what happened when the locals didn’t contact the state, the state didn’t contact the feds, and it was another disaster after the disaster,” said U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Miami, a Republican who joined Scott and Rubio. “We’re trying our best to avoid that.”
Local politicians have been a fixture — along with TV news crews — in Wynwood for a week. In many cases, both the elected leaders and the reporters have been the ones directly informing workers and visitors about Zika, a mosquito-borne virus that can cause severe birth defects and other neurological disorders.
With Scott’s tour Thursday, county commissioners, state lawmakers and members of Congress had another opportunity to try to warn constituents about the virus — and get a little free TV time in the thick of an election year.
“We all want Congress to act,” said U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo of Miami, a Republican. “Congress should have acted months ago. It’s still not too late.”
“Republicans in Congress — with present company excepted — have been only willing to rob Peter to pay Paul,” said U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Weston, a Democrat. “We can leave the politics out of this and deal with this public health crisis.”
This being Miami, their news conference at a Wynwood seniors’ center was frequently interrupted by the shuffling of dominoes.
Perhaps the most important visitor Thursday was the least known: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Tom Frieden, who surveyed the neighborhood to check out mosquito-control efforts and declared himself “impressed.”
Scott’s busy schedule took him to local businesses, to a meeting with members of Congress, to Rubio’s office (where he ducked in through the neighboring Carolina Ale House) and to the county’s emergency operations center for a larger news conference.
He did not acknowledge state funding cuts to mosquito-control efforts during his tenure.
“We will allocate more dollars from the state budget if we need to,” he said, adding Florida has put $26.2 million toward fighting the virus. “We’ve turned our economy around. We have the funds to do it.”
Miami Herald staff writers Daniel Chang and Andre C. Fernandez contributed to this report.