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Austin mayor blasted after bombshell report reveals he flew to Mexico as COVID cases soared

Austin mayor blasted after report reveals he flew to Mexico last month

Austin Mayor Steve Adler headshot
Steve Adler chartered a private plane to Cabo San Lucas last month, sparking outrage.  Courtesy photo

Turns out there is one thing that unites both the left and the right: being outraged at Austin Mayor Steve Adler. On December 3, the Austin American-Statesman and KVUE published a bombshell report, revealing that Adler hosted a 20-person wedding outdoors at an Austin hotel in November before chartering a private jet to Cabo San Lucas. 

According to KVUE's reporting, the outdoor wedding of Adler's daughter Sarah happened on November 7, when Austin was under Stage 3 restrictions. Adler says guests were given rapid COVID-19 tests and masks, though he concedes the masks were not worn the whole time. Most of the guests were from Austin, though some traveled from out state, including Seattle.

The morning after the wedding, according to the Statesman, the mayor boarded a private plane with eight other people and headed for a weeklong Mexican vacation. On November 9, Adler filmed a Facebook video urging Austin residents to stay at home as active COVID-19 cases hit their highest numbers since the summer. By November 19, just a few days after his return from Cabo, Adler and Dr. Mark Escott, Austin-Travis County Interim Health Authority, moved Austin back to the tighter Stage 4 restrictions for the first time since August. 

Quoted in the Statesman's article, Adler insisted he did nothing wrong, saying: “Not only did we not do anything wrong, we didn’t do anything that abrogated or violated the rules or regulations in the city, or the conduct that we were expecting of others that we also expect of ourselves." Yesterday, in the hours just following the report, Adler was interviewed by KUT and doubled down, giving their reporter the same statement. Technically, and let's not forget Adler is a lawyer and thus trained in the art of technicalities, he is right. He did not violate his or Texas Gov. Greg Abbott's orders. 

Later, on the afternoon of December 2, he issued yet another statement, this one saying he "regrets" traveling, a sentiment he echoed during a 12-minute video on Facebook posted on that evening. It wasn't until 8 minutes and 29 seconds into the video that he said "I'm sorry." 

Adler's apology wasn't enough to curb a swift reaction — and condemnation — with stories popping up in the U.K.'s The Guardian, Washington Post, CNN, Fox News, and politicians on both sides of the aisle taking to Twitter to issue their own criticisms of Adler. The international coverage reflects both the intense spotlight that's trained on Austin at all times now and the chaos and confusion caused by leaders in response to this virus.

But for Austinites, for the people who elected this mayor not once, but twice, this feels like a deep betrayal — and rightfully so. Adler began his video last night with a 7-minute explanation on Austin's color-coded COVID-19 chart, as if we misunderstood the situation. He was allowed to travel under his own orders, you see, and it's not his fault if we didn't understand that. He was allowed to charter a private jet after Austin's creative class lost nearly 30,000 jobs, while restaurants scrape by on takeout and delivery, while the hospitality industry deals with empty hotel rooms and barren convention halls. Let 'em eat cake, y'all.

To understand the level of betrayal, we must look at the nuance of a virus that has been deeply politicized. Travis County skews very liberal — 71. 4 percent of residents voted for Joe Biden in the most recent election — and our collective response to the virus has been dutiful. We've remained masked, we've stayed home, we've sat outside, we've stopped hugging loved ones, we've canceled travel plans, we've taught our children, worked from home, and kept a watchful eye on our neighbors in need. Mistakes have been made, certainly, but we've adjusted our lives in response to a pandemic that has been traumatic at best, and deadly at worst. 

And that adjustment has been largely because we've been asked to by our leaders, beginning in March when Adler, Escott, and then-Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt canceled SXSW. For 10 months, these same leaders have led press conferences urging us to stay home. And those same leaders chastised a group of UT Austin students who — wait for it — chartered a private plane to Cabo San Lucas last spring. 

Perhaps the most disappointing thing is that the "we're all in this together" mentality has been shattered. It's the realization that Adler may be the mayor of Texas' liberal bastion, but he's also a rich white man who is going to do what he wants to do.

Yesterday, Adler joined a growing list of politicians who have disregarded their own rules during the pandemic. The reasons vary, but the sentiment is the same: we're all so tired of this, even those in charge. We want to sit in a fancy restaurant with a big group of friends like California Gov. Gavin Newsom. We want to fly to see family during Thanksgiving like Denver Mayor Michael Hancock. We want to witness our loved ones get married, and go vacation, and live our precious lives. 

As we celebrate the holidays and near the one-year anniversary of the battle against COVID-19, we will remain dutiful. We'll wear our mask, look out for our neighbor, and live life the best we can under these extraordinary and trying circumstances. And maybe, if we're lucky, there is a beach vacation waiting at the end of it.