Prominent Democratic mayors in Georgia on Thursday pledged to challenge Gov. Brian Kemp’s executive order barring local mask mandates, with Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms of Atlanta defiantly declaring, “I am not afraid of the city being sued.”
On Wednesday, Kemp banned localities from ordering people to wear masks in public to stop the spread of coronavirus. Mayors across the state hit back at Kemp and accused him of playing politics during a pandemic.
From the coastal city of Savannah to the county that holds the University of Georgia to the state capital, local officials have ordered Georgia residents to mask up while in public as cases continue to rise.
“It’s my belief that the city of Atlanta still has the appropriate standing to mandate masks,” Bottoms said at a news conference on Thursday. “Especially as it relates to buildings and places that we own and operate.”
Mayor Van Johnson of Savannah told MSNBC on Thursday that he was “flabbergasted” by Kemp’s order.
“On one hand we’re fighting Covid. On the other hand we’re fighting our governor,” Johnson said. “Our hands should be totally and unequivocally working to fight this virus, but unfortunately, for whatever reason, our governor has chosen and continuously chosen to make a public health emergency into some type of political issue.”
Johnson vowed to continue to provide masks in his city and wrote on Twitter that Kemp “does not give a damn” about his constituents. Savannah’s mask mandate went into effect on July 1.
In Athens-Clarke County, Mayor Kelly Girtz also blasted the governor’s executive order, which voided the county’s ordinance that required masks to be worn in public.
“We wanted science to lead us,” Girtz told CNN, adding that he had been in contact with other mayors and that he believed the local mask orders would stand.
“In Texas, in Alabama, you’ve got Republican governors understanding that the science has got to lead the way,” Girtz said. “Even if there were some reluctance earlier in this bizarre national environment that we’ve been in, at the end of the day we need to protect the health of the people who live here.”
White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said it was the role of local governments to dictate mask policies and said the president was not considering a nationwide mandate.
“We leave it to localities to make the decisions with regard to face coverings,“ McEnany said at a Thursday press briefing.
Republicans across the South are challenging mask mandates and claiming they infringe on personal freedoms.
Louisiana’s attorney general, Jeff Landry, released an official statement this week arguing that Gov. John Bel Edwards’ statewide mask mandate was unconstitutional. In Florida, a Republican state legislator is suing localities on the grounds that their mask mandates violate the state’s constitution.
A similar conflict surrounding Kemp flared up in the spring, when he drew criticism from both Republicans and Democrats for trying to reopen the state’s economy. While Kemp opposes mask mandates, he is publicly urging Georgians to wear masks voluntarily.
Georgia has recorded 3,091 coronavirus deaths and 127,834 cases as of Thursday, according to The COVID Tracking Project.
“It has nothing to do with politics,“ Johnson, the mayor of Savannah, told CNN on Thursday afternoon. “It‘s about protecting our folks.“