Will President Donald Trump break curfew in Miami-Dade this weekend?
The President’s Friday announcement of an 11:30 p.m. appearance Sunday at a campaign rally at county airport in Opa-locka has the administration of Mayor Carlos Gimenez scrambling to deal with its latest headache tied to the mayor’s embattled midnight curfew.
If Trump doesn’t move up his arrival, the event promises the most high-profile curfew break yet at a time when county lawyers are trying to convince a state appeals court that the restriction is a vital public health measure against the spread of COVID-19. Saturday night, the White House released an updated schedule showing Trump arriving 30 minutes earlier, with 11 p.m. appearance in Opa-locka and departing at 12:20 a.m.
Imposed in July to discourage late-night socializing and drinking in large groups, the curfew was briefly suspended two weeks ago. The pause came after the Tootsies strip club in Miami Gardens convinced a Circuit Court judge that Gimenez’s order violated a decree by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. The statewide order said anti-COVID measures couldn’t force businesses to close or restaurants (Tootsies serves food) to reduce capacity below 50%.
The Third District Court of Appeal temporarily suspended that ruling as it decides which was to rule on the county’s appeal, so the Trump rally arrives at a delicate time for the county’s legal department.
Gimenez, a Republican candidate in a congressional district that leans Democratic, could be faced with changing the rules to bring the Trump rally into compliance or letting the president and his supporters flaunt a county rules the day before Election Day.
He’s already under pressure to keep the rules in place. Daniella Levine Cava, the Democratic county commissioner running to succeed Gimenez as mayor, issued a statement Saturday saying Trump “should not get special treatment” from the county.
“The President’s announcement shows complete disdain for the effort put forth by our community to keep each other safe,” Levine Cava said. “President Trump should not get special treatment and he must respect and follow the same rules as Miami-Dade County residents.”
On Thursday, event organizer Dawson wrote Daniel Agostino, assistant director for operations at the county’s Aviation Department, to request a “First Amendment permit” for a 10 p.m. rally, with an expected attendance of between 6,000 and 10,000 people. There’s no mention of an end time, and the permit was granted the next day, with use of the site until 2 a.m. Monday.
On Friday, Gimenez’s communications director, Myriam Marquez, said the 11:30 p.m. Trump appearance, revealed by the campaign that day, was news to the county. She wrote in an email “we don’t know where this time change comes from. Checking with our legislative office. The County Attorney’s Office is researching curfew issue.” There was no update Saturday morning.
Greg Chin, a spokesman for the county agency, which includes Miami International Airport, said the 2 a.m. end time was granted to allow “essential workers” to break down the rally site. The permit, granted in a letter from Agostino, doesn’t include any direct mention of a midnight curfew. It did attach the Gimenez order requiring masks be worn in most places outdoors.
Trump has violated the county’s mask order in appearances at Miami-Dade this year, though he wouldn’t have to wear one at Sunday’s rally. Ahead of Democratic nominee Joe Biden’s Oct. 5 appearance at an NBC town hall at the Perez Art Museum in Miami, Gimenez loosened the mask rule to exempt people speaking at an event if certain barriers or markers are present to keep people least 10 feet away.
Gimenez, a candidate for the 26th congressional seat held by Democratic freshman Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, could announce rule changes ahead of the Trump rally.
One option would be announcing a later curfew, an option the mayor floated earlier in the week before the Trump news. He told county commissioners Monday the curfew “could move back an hour or two” as an accommodation to restaurants and bars complaining about lost late-night business.
Another option would be adding an exemption to the curfew order allowing political events to last longer. In September, Gimenez exempted pro sports to allow Hard Rock Stadium to reopen for University of Miami and Miami Dolphins games.
If the rally hits the high end of its planned attendance range, it would be one of the largest public events in Miami-Dade since Gimenez first declared a coronavirus emergency March 9.
Jason Jenkins, a Dolphins spokesman, said Saturday that the maximum attendance for the three home Dolphins games played in September and October occurred on Oct. 4, with 12,369 spectators for the match-up against the Seattle Seahawks.
The Dolphins imposed a series of COVID restrictions for events at the 65,000 capacity stadium, including spaced-out seating, mask requirements and staged entrances to reduce close contact in public spaces.
Trump’s outdoor rallies have raised alarms by public health authorities in other cities for encouraging supporters to gather in large groups. Trump has been a leading skeptic of mask use as a COVID measure, and was diagnosed with the disease himself after a Sept. 26 reception for future Supreme Court justice Amy Coney Barrett where attendees mingled outside the White House without masks.
Sunday’s rally has given Democratic leaders an opportunity to preemptively link Gimenez to Trump’s Miami-Dade rally.
On Thursday, during a St. Thomas University virtual panel called “Leadership in the Land of COVID,” Gimenez said he remained concerned about expectations of a “second wave” of the novel coronavirus, and did not believe it a smart move to lift the midnight curfew.
“There’s been talk about lifting the curfew and right now I don’t think that’s the right move,” Gimenez said. “I’m not going to do it until we’re assured we’ve cleared this hurdle and try to keep this contagion as low as possible.”
Gimenez then questioned why Miami was allowing nightclubs to stay open past midnight while a county curfew remains in effect, referencing the E11EVEN nightclub’s plan for a 12-hour Halloween party starting at 8 p.m.
“I see now, I’m looking at my Twitter, and there’s a big Halloween thing going on in the city of Miami and they’re going to go on from 8 to 8. I hope that the city of Miami enforces the curfew. If not, then I guess we’re going to have to do it. Because we know these events are super spreader events,” he said.
Oscar Braynon, a Florida Senator who represents Opa-locka and sat on the St. Thomas panel, said it’s hypocritical and insensitive of Gimenez to accommodate a large gathering in the city.
“Opa-locka’s parks aren’t open. They’re not having any [public events] for Halloween because they’re an elderly population that’s afraid of COVID,” said Braynon. “They haven’t done anything but food giveaways and they’re going to have a 10,000-person event in the middle of their city? And the county is forcing it upon them?”