A guiding light? Current, past lawmakers rate Gov. DeSantis’ leadership as Ian lurches forth 

Not surprisingly, higher marks came from his Republican colleagues. 

Danny Aller and his wife Karen board up windows as they prepare for the arrival of Hurricane Ian in Indian Shores, 25 miles West of Tampa, Florida on Sept. 26, 2022.

Danny Aller and his wife Karen board up windows as they prepare for the arrival of Hurricane Ian in Indian Shores, 25 miles West of Tampa, Florida on Sept. 26, 2022. Photo by RICARDO ARDUENGO/AFP via Getty Images

Ed Koch, the mayor of New York City from 1978 to 1989, was known for his catchphrase, “How’m I doing?” City & State asked the same question about Gov. Ron DeSantis this week since, as Politico put it, the governor “still hasn’t faced one of the toughest challenges a Florida leader can encounter: a hurricane.” 

Hurricane Ian was a Category 4 storm as of Wednesday morning, verging on a Cat 5 in the Gulf of Mexico, with the latest expected landfall in Charlotte County, DeSantis said at a 7:30 a.m. (Eastern time) storm briefing.

City & State asked a number of current and former state lawmakers to share a few words about DeSantis’ leadership during the approach of the storm. Many had not replied by later Tuesday and a couple were remarkably, shall we say, pithy. But don’t be surprised that he got high marks from his former head of emergency management, Jared Moskowitz, also a Democratic former state representative now running for Congress in South Florida. 

“I worked with the governor for two and a half years,” Moskowitz, the Division of Emergency Management’s director from 2019 to 2021, told City & State Tuesday morning. “He's a calm, cool, collected guy and he takes in the information and the data. He doesn't just listen to people. He reads the briefings as well. … The challenge in this storm is that the information has been constantly changing as the track continues to change.” 

Moskowitz also praised Kevin Guthrie, his former deputy director and now the division director, and county officials. “The governor and Kevin are bringing focus … telling people, ‘Listen to your local emergency management directors because evacuation orders are done by the county.’ And bringing attention to evacuations right now is key. It's less people that you have to rescue. Once the storm passes, it will also mean less deaths.”

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis holds a press conference at Anna Maria Oyster Bar Landside in Bradenton. (Photo by Thomas Simonetti for The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Mandatory evacuation orders have been issued for “coastal communities, mobile homes and low-lying areas in several counties,” the governor’s office said in a Tuesday afternoon news release, including Charlotte, Hillsborough, Levy, Lee, Manatee, Pasco, Pinellas and Sarasota. 

In a testament to Ian's reach, Broward County – home of GOP state Rep. Chip LaMarca – is under a tropical storm warning and a tornado touched down there Tuesday evening – even though it's on the other side of the state. "A key indicator of leadership is the level of leaders that they surround themselves with and Director Kevin Guthrie is a consummate professional," LaMarca said in a text message.

He added: "The Governor has also served Florida well by rising above the political season and working directly with President Biden to provide the necessary federal resources for the State of Florida." White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre tweeted last night that President Biden spoke with DeSantis “to discuss the steps the Federal government is taking to help Florida prepare for Hurricane Ian. The President and the Governor committed to continued close coordination.”

Former Senate President Bill Galvano, a Bradenton Republican, said DeSantis “is handling the storm situation adeptly. He is communicating well and with confidence, keeping Floridians informed without creating panic. He is also ensuring coordination between local governments and state agencies. Under his leadership, we are well positioned to endure the storm and address its aftermath.”

And state Sen. Ed Hooper of Clearwater, a Republican whose district also will likely be affected by winds and storm surge, called the Ian response “the most comprehensive and thoroughly planned storm event I can recall. Well planned and executed in every detail to keep all of us as safe as possible.”

Dwight Dudley, a Democratic former state representative from St. Petersburg, was a bit more measured. He said DeSantis is “doing a seemingly competent job. He appears to be making himself highly available to a great degree. Is he politically motivated to be on air so much?”  

Still others were far more concise in their assessments. Republican state Sen. Jeff Brandes of St. Petersburg said, “Ask me in 7 days.” And Democratic state Sen. Janet Cruz of Tampa replied to a text message by saying only, “He’s a dictator.”

This story was updated Wednesday morning. Contact Jim Rosica at jrosica@cityandstatefl.com and follow him on Twitter: @JimRosicaFL 

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