At a Monday press conference, Florida’s Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried again accused Governor Ron DeSantis of corruption by playing politics with the state’s distribution of COVID vaccines.
“This is what happened here in the state. If you’ve got financial access, whether it is campaign donations to the Republican party or to Governor Desantis, or if you happen to be on an influential board on one of these hospitals, you’re getting in the front of the line,” Fried, the only Democrat member of the Florida Cabinet, said today in Tallahassee, “And you also hear quite the opposite. If you have been critical of the governor — city mayors, county commissioners that have been critical of the governor — they’re not getting access. They’re calling me and saying, how do I get shots here in the City of Hialeah?”
She implied that because the Mayor of Hialeah Carlos Hernandez is a Democrat, his city has not received vaccines for distribution. Instead, she said, DeSantis has “utilized state resources for (vaccine distribution) … predominately in wealthier, ‘like-minded’ communities.”
DeSantis answered similar accusations about Hialeah at the end of January.
“It’s actually false,” said DeSantis. “I’ve been working with Senator Manny Diaz who represents that area. Manny asked if there’s any type of pod that could be done in Hialeah and we said we’d be absolutely willing to work with them. Just understand, there’s not singling out any county, we’ve sent a lot to Miami-Dade County, they’re trying to get it out, the hospital systems like Jackson, they’ve done a lot of vaccines, they’re doing a good job. And then we have a drive-thru site at Hard Rock Stadium that does a thousand shots a day. So Miami, they’ve had more shots than anybody in the state and they’ve had a pretty high percentage of per capita as well and we are going to continue to do it.”
Last week, a new allegation surfaced. The Miami Herald reported that Ocean Reef Club in Key Largo, home to 17 people who each made political contributions of $5,000 to DeSantis last year, gave both doses of COVID vaccine to 1,200 people there in mid-January.
DeSantis spokeswoman Meredith Beatrice tweeted in response, “This was not a state-supported senior community POD (point of distribution), nor was it requested by the Governor.”
Following the new accusation, Fried said in a press conference last week she would be asking the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), to look into claims of DeSantis playing favorites with the vaccine doses. Today, she told reporters she spoke with the FBI over the weekend. A public records request was filed with her office for her FBI complaint by The Capitolist, but the FBI has not responded.
“There is something happening,” she told reporters. “As a past public defender, I’ve seen thousands and thousands of cases, so I’ve seen fact patterns. These fact patterns are very clear. When you give campaign contributions you get access to the vaccine. So we know something is going on here that’s just not kosher. That’s why we’ve asked for an independent investigation by the FBI. That’s what they do — go into special types of corruption, political corruption to see if something’s happening. And then there’s the public perception of if something is happening and the governor is back on the ballot in 2022.”
At her news conference, Fried also claimed vaccines generally were going to white communities more than Hispanic and Black areas. She also said new guidelines allowing those 60 and higher with extreme vulnerability to receive the vaccine has added to the confusion.
“What we are seeing with this vaccine rollout is chaos, confusion, frustration, lack of clarity,” Fried said.
“Ron DeSantis is playing a Hunger Game for these vaccines to our Floridians and their lives are at stake. Rules are different everywhere you go. People are waiting hours without knowledge of what is happening in their communities and now have to prove their vulnerability on top of it,” she said.
She said she is asking the governor to expand the types of proof of vulnerability accepted to receive the vaccine.
“Let an individual come up and show you their prescription. Let them show you a doctor’s note or let them show you different types of forms of medical history or other types of medical bills. That way people can actually have to access to these vaccines and prove that they are medically vulnerable and not have to get a note from their doctor,” Fried said.
Fried’s accusations and comments come as Florida leads the country in vaccinating its senior citizens, with over 50 percent of Florida’s 4.5 million seniors currently vaccinated. Fried is widely viewed as a likely political challenger to DeSantis in the 2022 the gubernatorial race.
That may be a steep road to climb for the Ag Commissioner. A Mason-Dixon poll released last week showed, that 53 percent of Florida voters approve of the governor’s job performance.
The poll also has DeSantis leading in head-to-head matchups with Fried and U.S. Representative Charlie Crist. DeSantis leads Fried 51 percent to 42 percent and Crist by 52 percent to 41 percent, with the rest undecided.