Twelve months into the pandemic, and local mayors are finally seeing brighter horizons. They’ve been through the lockdowns and seen their businesses shuttered, their citizens desperately trying to make ends meet as the economy tanked and thousands of people died from COVID-19.
"There isn't a road map, there isn't a blue book that tells you how to lead in a crisis like this," Miami Mayor Francis Suarez said.
With food lines growing and constituents losing their jobs, mayors and city managers said they often felt they were juggling competing priorities.
“It was very difficult because in some ways, there was a false narrative: you either cared about saving lives, or you cared about the economy, and they were juxtaposed against each other," Suarez said. "And I don't think life is that simple."
“My job was to make sure as little people got infected as possible, but at the same time, we had to maintain an economy and allow people to provide for their families," Suarez continued.
The mayor added that he was proud of what he and the city commission had accomplished, particularly with their quick response at the beginning of the outbreak.
“We were the first to cancel large events like Calle Ocho and Ultra, a decision which was very difficult," Suarez said. "We were the first city in the nation to provide direct rental relief and one of the first to stand up our own business assistance program."
That business assistance program has faced some controversy recently, as critics claim bureaucracy has made disbursements slow and cumbersome.
But Suarez, as well as Broward County's Mayor Steve Geller, are optimistic that if residents continue to follow safety protocols and get vaccinated, things can turn around soon.
"This has been a tragedy of almost unimaginable extent," Geller said. "But now things are coming together, I'm very pleased with that, and that's again why I'm begging people: we're almost out of this, please bear with us another couple of months."
Geller reminded residents to keep wearing masks and following pandemic protocols until the CDC has indicated that the majority of the population is vaccinated.
The mayors are also optimistic that the vaccines, combined with the federal stimulus law, will turn the economy around quickly.
Suarez, a Republican, praised President Biden for not only signing the American Rescue Plan into law, but also for including in it what many mayors around the country had been asking for.
The mayor said the City of Miami will be receiving about $140 million from the plan, money that will be used to help individuals and small businesses regain their footing, as well as make sure that civil servants and first responders aren't laid off.
He noted that it had been disappointing to him that none of Miami-Dade's Republican members of Congress, nor Florida's two Republican senators, voted in favor of the bill.