At San Francisco’s Black Cat club last Wednesday, San Francisco Mayor London Breed, D, rose from her seat and started getting down to the music.
In a room full of maskless people, the mayor moved her hips, swung her arms and appeared to sing along at the top of her lungs as the R&B group Tony! Toni! Toné! performed their 1996 hit “Let’s Get Down.”
But after a San Francisco Chronicle reporter posted a video of the mayor busting moves at the nightclub, critics noted that Breed may have been violating a city health order: She wasn’t wearing a mask, a requirement for patrons who are not eating or drinking indoors.
“Elected officials have a greater responsibility to model the behavior that’s necessary to control the pandemic,” John Swartzberg, an infectious diseases expert at University of California at Berkeley, told the Chronicle. “Any time the elected officials behave like this, it undermines public confidence in them and that translates to people saying, ‘Well, if the mayor can do this, I can.'”
The mayor deflected criticism at a Friday news conference, insisting that she was nursing a drink when she started feeling the music. “I got up and started dancing because I was feeling the spirit and I wasn’t thinking about a mask.”
She also implied that adhering to the city’s mask mandate might not be necessary. “Make sure you are vaccinated because of the requirements, but don’t feel as though you have to be micromanaged about mask-wearing,” the mayor told reporters. “Like, we don’t need the fun police to come in and try and micromanage and tell us what we should or shouldn’t be doing.”
San Francisco, with six other surrounding counties, reinstated its indoor mask mandate in early August as transmission of the delta variant caused a regional spike in COVID-19 cases. Like New York City, San Francisco last month began requiring proof of vaccination to enter bars, restaurants and gyms.
As the city’s mask and vaccine mandates remain in effect, San Francisco’s coronavirus cases remain relatively low, with an average of just over 100 new cases per day. About 73 percent of the city’s population is fully vaccinated.
San Francisco was among the first major cities to shut down in March 2020, and Breed has reaped praise for imposing strict measures to mitigate the virus’s spread. Throughout much of the pandemic, she continually told residents to wear their masks.
Several Democratic politicians have been blasted for skirting the very restrictions they suggest citizens follow. In August, the District’s Mayor Muriel E. Bowser was criticized for officiating a wedding soon after a mask mandate was reinstated. Hundreds of unmasked guests, including Bowser, reportedly dined indoors. And in November, less than an hour after Denver Mayor Michael Hancock pleaded with residents not to see each other for Thanksgiving, he boarded a plane to visit his wife and daughter for the holiday.
Breed also found herself on the defensive after the news broke in December that she had dined several weeks earlier at the French Laundry, an opulent restaurant in California’s wine country. Although she did not flout government orders, the high-end dinner came as restaurants in her own city prohibited indoor dining.
California’s Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom had apologized for dining at the same restaurant as the state was experiencing an uptick in cases and living with restrictions. The ordeal partially instigated a recall campaign he survived this month.
Explaining that she was proud San Francisco nightlife is returning to normal, Breed told reporters on Friday the focus should have been on the performance of Tony! Toni! Toné! — not her own maskless dancing.
“I’m not going to sip and put my mask on, sip and put my mask on, sip and put my mask on,” Breed said. “While I’m eating and I’m drinking, I’m going to keep my mask off.”