Supervisor Jim Desmond is interviewed on Fox News during the pandemic. Image from video

Rewind to March of 2020 (I know, I don’t want to either). What did you feel? Fear. Uncertainty. Helplessness.

Those are just the tip of the iceberg when describing what I felt when the pandemic hit. I know I’m not alone.

Like most people, I looked to our leaders — those who were tasked with guiding us through this new, uncertain territory.  When I got COVID-19 in March of 2020 and was hospitalized in the ICU, my only concern was making sure no one else I loved had to experience this. And I found comfort knowing most of our local leaders made it their priority too.

But not all.

While I was in the hospital, and my friends were fighting for their lives, some of our leaders were denying the virus was real, or having any kind of impact in San Diego.

County Supervisor Jim Desmond has historically been a skeptic of science, claiming that climate change is going to happen with or without humans, and denying the human contributions that exacerbate it. But how could we know his science denial would take such an inhumane turn?

In May of 2020, he referred to only a fraction of COVID deaths as “pure,” dismissing thousands of deaths in San Diego, and echoing conspiracy theories we know to be untrue. He publicly claimed that catching the virus was a good thing, and he railed against COVID restrictions meant to protect front-line workers. Desmond went so far as to put COVID deniers and skeptics on his podcast and spread misinformation claiming COVID wasn’t killing people.

He was an active threat to public health.

Not only was it harmful to the community, by reinforcing a lack of trust in the science and the experts, but it’s incredibly insulting and insensitive to those that lost loved ones to this very real, very dangerous virus.

Now at least 3,786 San Diegans are dead.

In a recent op-ed,  Desmond reflected on the past year and claimed he’s learned how precious life is. He mentioned the lives lost, but nothing about how his actions and blatant disregard for facts maybe contributed to that number. He mentioned we have to work together and put people first, but never acknowledged how his actions did the opposite.

As someone who’s experienced this virus, I find it extremely reckless to downplay the risks of not following medical advice — to chalk it up to some conspiracy theory. And I find it morally corrupt and cynical to ignore what was done to our community to score political points.

We cannot allow history to be rewritten because some politicians may have realized the political makeup of their district isn’t what it used to be, just in time for their re-election campaign.

Acknowledging missteps and growing as we gain more information is one thing. Pandering is another.

This was a failure of leadership. We knew that following science, and trusting those whose job it is to guide the public during a public health crisis, would save lives. And Supervisor Desmond didn’t care.

What Supervisor Desmond did was antithetical to leadership. He put the lives of San Diegans at risk to align himself with the forces of hatred and division.

The last year and half have been challenging times, to say the least. It feels as though we’ve been fighting fires on every possible front, and while we’re not completely out of the woods, we’ve come a long way. That’s because of leaders who followed science.

We need to elect people who understand the growing threat of climate change and who prioritize policies that address it. Leaders who, when faced with an unprecedented pandemic, don’t sink to the lowest common denominator, but strive to raise the level of discussion and save lives. It’s time for Jim Desmond to go.

Will Rodriguez-Kennedy is chair of the San Diego County Democratic Party.

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