Miami-Dade mayoral challenger Raquel Regalado on Thursday came out against Miami-Dade's plan to start deploying insecticide from the air over Miami Beach in a battle to kill mosquitoes carrying the Zika virus.
"The property owners and citizens of Miami Beach have taken measures to stem the breeding of mosquitos, and now they do not want the county to conduct aerial spraying," Regalado wrote on her Facebook page. "The county must respect their wishes."
The statement puts Regalado, a school board member, in direct opposition to incumbent Carlos Gimenez, who this week took heat from some Miami Beach residents for announcing a plan to start aerial spraying. After concluding the first of two county budget hearings after midnight Friday, Gimenez blasted Regalado's statement. "For her to do that is highly irresponsible," he said. "I'm following the recommendations of the CDC, and the Florida Department of Health."
The mayor's administration initially said the county would only conduct ground operations on the barrier island, citing federal recommendations. Complaints about the switch to aerial spraying were strong enough on Miami Beach that Gimenez delayed a planned Thursday start until Friday morning to give the city more time to notify residents. Gimenez said Friday that the increasing number of mosquitoes found in Miami Beach traps triggered the need for aerial spraying.
Regalado's statement puts her on the side of some activists warning about the dangers of the insecticide naled. Gimenez was greeted by protesters wearing gas masks when he attended a Miami Beach forum on aerial spraying this week. But Regalado's opposition to aerial spraying now has her advocating a less aggressive response to Zika than Gimenez's -- a position that could put her on the wrong side of voters eager to see the virus tamped down at almost any cost.
Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine, who has endorsed Gimenez, issued a scathing statement Friday condemning Regalado for "shamefully" exploiting the Zika crisis for political gain.
"No one likes the idea of aerial spraying, but the State of Florida has made it very clear to Mayor Gimenez to move forward with this program," Levine wrote. "Shamefully, some politicians, like Raquel Regalado, are using this crisis, this threat to human lives, to score political points for themselves instead of pulling together and beating Zika once and for all."
Zika can cause birth defects, and its outbreak in Wynwood and Miami Beach prompted Washington to impose travel advisories on the areas and warning pregnant women to steer clear. That's prompting widespread concerns about damage to Miami-Dade's tourism industry if the outbreak continues into the winter vacation season.
When a Zika transmission zone was first announced for Miami Beach, county officials said aerial spraying conducted over Wynwood, site of the country's first Zika transmission zone, wouldn't work on Miami Beach, given the prevalence of high-rise buildings and coastal breezes. But with mosquito counts rising, Gov. Rick Scott pressing for aerial spraying on the beach and Washington giving the go-ahead, Gimenez announced the change Tuesday.
In her statement, Regalado said Miami Beach "may" have to accept aerial spraying if ordered by the Centers for Disease Control or the state. But she called on Gimenez to "stand down" when it comes to decisions on aerial spraying. "The county has lost the moral high ground on this issue and should not order aerial spraying on Miami Beach," she wrote.