Former US president Obama urges mayors to ‘speak the truth’ as they battle coronavirus


APRIL 10, 2020

Former US President Barack Obama. – BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI

Former president Barack Obama has a message for the nation’s mayors and local officials as they battle the coronavirus pandemic: “Speak the truth. Speak it clearly.”

Obama made the remarks during a virtual meeting for local officials from more than 300 cities around the world on Thursday. The former president urged officials to be forthright and transparent as they communicate with the public about the response to the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed nearly 100,000 people across the globe and left millions out of work.

“The biggest mistake any us can make in these situations is to misinform, particularly when we’re requiring people to make sacrifices and take actions that might not be their natural inclination,” Obama said, according to a press release from Bloomberg Philanthropies, former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg’s foundation, which organized the event.

It was a pointed message, and one that stood in contrast to the one coming from his successor, President Trump, who repeatedly downplayed the threat of the coronavirus as it arrived on American shores, and has continued to suggest a turnaround is just on the horizon.

Polls show Americans are increasingly looking to their state and local officials for information about the crisis, as states and municipalities have largely taken the lead on responding to the virus by implementing social distancing measures, finding ways to increase hospital capacity, and securing the personal protective equipment needed by front-line health care workers.

Obama on Thursday also called on local officials to surround themselves with experts and listen to them.

“The more smart people you have around you, and the less embarrassed you are to ask questions, the better your response is going to be,” he said, according to Bloomberg Philanthropies.

Even as they try to contain the immediate threat, he urged city officials not to lose sight of racial disparities in the response, pointing to data that show Black and Latino communities are being hit especially hard by the coronavirus. He offered concrete advice:

“You have to be intentional about it, and dedicate folks to thinking about those issues,” Obama said.

Though he has refrained from directly criticizing Trump over the coronavirus response, Obama has been an active voice in support of social distancing measures. He offered support for Senator Elizabeth Warren’s coronavirus response plans and on Friday, he again called for Americans to continue to remain at home.

Obama has been looking for ways to disseminate fact-based advice and information during the crisis, according to the Washington Post. The former president, like many Americans, has seen his public events canceled as stay-at-home orders remain in effect.

Courtesy/Source: Boston Globe