David Morgan, who is Anchorage Mayor Dave Bronson’s pick to run the city’s Department of Health, on Tuesday distanced himself from a litany of posts on social media over the past year and a half that questioned the legitimacy of the covid pandemic as well several other posts that have thrown his confirmation in question.
Asked about a specific April 2020 post that paired a claim that the covid-19 pandemic was a political stunt with a picture of comedian Jeff Foxworthy, Morgan said the posting was sort of like Foxworthy’s signature “You know you’re a redneck if…” jokes and claimed it was intended at poking fun at southerners. Pressed on whether he thought the pandemic was a hoax Morgan said no and also said he recognized that Biden is the legitimate president.
“I didn’t think it was that big a deal. Nobody believes that,” Morgan said of the post. “The electoral college decides who president. President Biden is the President, the electoral college says that.”
Foxworthy also, notably, didn’t say anything covered in the post shared by Morgan. Co-opting Foxworthy’s goofy Southern humor to deliver extreme-right messages like the one shared by Morgan—which read “If you think the CoronaVirus panic in an election year right after 3 failed Coup attempts against Trump is a coincidence? You might be dumb as a rock!” with the subtitle “DEEPSTATE FOR DUMMIES,” a reference to the extreme-right conspiracy theory that Trump’s agenda had been thwarted by a secretive cabal of liberals embedded in government—has become a running issue for the Atlanta-based comedian. In an interview about the use of his image for far-right memes, Foxworthy told the New York Daily News that he doesn’t wade into politics for precisely this reason.
“It happens all the time. … It will have my name and my face and go: here’s what Jeff said about this. And I go, no, Jeff did not say that,” he told the outlet. “No matter which side you’re on, half of the crowd is going to hate you. That’s not my job.”
For his part, Morgan was generally dismissive of any and all concerns about things that he or Michael Savitt, who has been hired by the administration to fill in after the city’s epidemiologist resigned, have said on social media in the past year. Savitt has been a particularly vocal covid skeptic and harshly critic of the Anchorage Assembly, posting particularly crude and vitriolic things about the assembly.
“A lot of people say a lot of things on Facebook,” Morgan said, noting that he has advised Savitt to delete his Facebook account as he has done.
Morgan said Savitt, a pediatrician who has no clear experience in infectious diseases, will fill in with the administration while they work to find a permanent replacement for the city’s epidemiologist. During the meeting, he also noted that the city’s longtime chief medical officer with experience in infectious diseases and outbreaks, Dr. Bruce Chandler had also tendered his resignation effective Aug. 15.
Also, as Alaska Public Media pointed out, Morgan “also made a number of verbal slips during the hearing, calling the coronavirus ‘corvid,’ referring to former Anchorage epidemiologist Janet Johnston as ‘Jane,’ and misstating Alaska Chief Medical Officer Anne Zink’s last name as ‘Zinkle.'”
Morgan and Director of Human Resources Niki Tshibaka spent most of the meeting going over Morgan’s lengthy career and accolades, many of which were decades old at this point. The one thing not covered at all by either Morgan or Tshibaka was Morgan’s time at Choices Inc., a non-profit that Morgan briefly oversaw before he resigned. In the last week, allegations that Morgan acted inappropriately on the job and mismanaged the non-profit have surfaced from former employees of the non-profit, some of which were confirmed in reporting by the Anchorage Press.
But asked about it during Tuesday’s hearing, Morgan said he had no clue of what they were talking about and said he had never been provided a written explanation of the allegations.
“To sum it up: I don’t know what they’re talking about. Period,” Morgan said.
Following the hearing, Chris Blake, the former Choices Inc. employee who posted the allegations, said he was unimpressed by Morgan’s claim of ignorance.
“The seemingly only thing he didn’t mention was his time at CHOICES Inc. He even talked about things as irrelevant as his food handler’s card,” Blake wrote. “Doesn’t take a detective to piece together that if things had ended well for him there, he certainly would’ve have added saving that agency to his already long list of agencies he also supposedly saved. If he did nothing wrong, he could’ve confidently approached it head on.”
Morgan will face a confirmation vote at the Anchorage Assembly’s regular meeting next Tuesday.
Why it matters
With him needing six votes from the assembly to be confirmed, it’s looking like a very long shot that Morgan’s confirmation will be a success. Such a move is incredibly unusual when it comes to confirmations of government appointees as the assembly typically defers to to the mayor on how he runs his administration, but it’s likely a sign of things to come with a mayor who based much of his campaign on attacking the work of the assembly over the past year.
The assembly and Bronson have already butted heads over the mayor’s ill-conceived plan to build a $22 million temporary shelter, and the city’s spiking covid cases are likely to be another challenge for the two political bodies to navigate. Bronson has said repeatedly that he has no plans to be vaccinated and has continued to cast doubt on the vaccine by calling it “experimental.”
Perhaps in recognizing the hurdle that the relatively progressive Anchorage Assembly will face, both Morgan and Savitt have been far more moderate on vaccines and masking than their social media posts over the past year would have suggested.