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Transcript: Austin Mayor Steve Adler Defends His Decision To Host A Wedding For His Daughter, Travel To Mexico

Austin Mayor Steve Adler speaks during the 2017 State of the City Address at Austin City Hall.
Gabriel C. Pérez
/
KUT
Austin Mayor Steve Adler, seen here at an event in 2017, spoke with KUT on Wednesday about his decision to host a wedding for his daughter and fly to Mexico during the pandemic.

KUT spoke with Austin Mayor Steve Adler on Wednesday, an hour after the Austin-American Statesman published a story about how he hosted a 20-person wedding for his daughter in early November and then flew to Mexico with a group of people. At the same time, Adler was asking people to stay home if they could to avoid contracting or spreading COVID-19.

In speaking with KUT after the Statesman story published, he defended his and his family’s decision. The mayor later apologized for his trip, saying he regrets it.

Below is his conversation, in whole, with KUT’s Audrey McGlinchy.

Adler: Hey Audrey.

KUT: Hi Mayor, how are you?

Adler: Good.

KUT: I was calling to confirm some details in this Statesman story about you traveling early in November.

Adler: Uh huh.

KUT: I was trying to confirm that you attended your daughter's wedding early November and there were a total of 20 guests and then the next day traveled with a total of eight people to Cabo San Lucas.

Adler: Both those things are true.

KUT: OK.

Adler: I think it's important to note that — and I hope that coverage notes that everything we did was consistent with the rules and guidelines, both from the city and from the state. My daughter canceled her planned wedding and instead did a more private ceremony. Despite the fact that it's not in the governor's order, she was going well beyond what the rules were.

KUT: What about — so we were under stage three at that point with those guidelines, and I recognize they're only recommendations, but they recommend that people gather in groups of no more than 10 people, yet there were 20 people at this wedding. So when you say that y'all were following local guidelines, I'm not quite sure.

Adler: Well, you know, people — we were in a restaurant situation. It was all outside, you know, and, you know, you go to restaurants in this city and there are events in this city where there are more than 10 people present. But you try to keep the groups of people to no more than 10. And we were in that kind of setting the entire time. I have a statement that I can give to you, too.

KUT: OK, that's fine. Um, um, I'm yeah, I'm just trying to understand the difference between ... when you say, "We were in that kind of setting."

Adler: We were outside the entire time. We were at a restaurant for the reception. We worked really hard to do a wedding and a trip that were consistent with the rules as and what I was what I have been asking the community to do, because there are no exceptions for me and my family. And I know I'm proud of my daughter for canceling her wedding and going to a more COVID-friendly wedding than is even required by the rules.

KUT: I mean, originally — when was the wedding that was canceled?

Adler: It was the same day, but it was originally going to have more than 100 people. But she disinvited people to take at the wedding to be back at the wedding, to be small.

KUT: Why not just wait 'til after. Why not just postpone?

Adler: Her wedding?

KUT: Yeah.

Adler: Because she wanted to be married.

KUT: But wasn't she already legally married before the actual event?

Adler: No. She had a wedding ceremony mainly with her immediate families. So Audrey, I have said every day since March that the safest place for people to be is in their homes, because that's true. But we haven't ordered people not to venture out of their homes. We've asked people to be as safe as they can when they do, other than the period of time when we, you know, of particular stress, have we told people not to travel, like we did during Thanksgiving, and I anticipate that we'll do probably during Christmas and New Year's.

But there's been no prohibition on travel other than those times where we recommended not doing it. When we traveled, it was during the yellow stage three. And there was not the recommendation not to travel as we did during Thanksgiving when we raised the risk level two weeks after I left town.

KUT: Right. But all of these are all of the local guidelines and recommendations, what you say the public is recommended, but at that time that you traveled, you were recommending you were telling people, asking people, I guess, to stay home.

Adler: Well, after I left on the trip, there, we saw some hint the numbers were rising. And when I saw that and I recorded that message that went out on the Tuesday. I was already gone at that point, but the message that I gave that said it's safest if people stay home is the same message I have said every day since March, because that is the safest place for people to be. But I have not — I mean, I also a few times have gone out to restaurants and eaten outdoors during periods of time when our numbers were lower than they are now.

We haven't had a lockdown order in our city. What we're asking people to do is generally be at home when you can and make sure that when you're not home, you're doing things as safely as you can. And we did and modeled, I think, what we have been asking of and expecting, hoping that people in our city would do. We went to Austin Public Health prior to — as people do all over the city — to say, "We'd like to do this kind of activity, what's the way that we should do it?" And we got that information and followed the directions, suggestion of Dr. Escott and public health. Just as people are doing all over the city, when they're doing something like this. What we ended up doing was something that was that was stricter than what the controlling guidelines would have.

KUT: Was anyone in the group that traveled to Cabo considered high risk, that you know of?

Adler: No.

KUT: So far, has there been any indication that anyone that attended the wedding or flew to Mexico has gotten ill with COVID?

Adler: No one has gotten ill. And I think we would have seen it because this was, what, three weeks ago?

KUT: Oh, um, is there anything else that you wanted to add, Mayor?

Adler: Well, I haven't I haven't read the story that came from — that Tony [Plohetski] did — he just described it to me over the phone, so I'll read it here shortly. But the statement I could send to you, and I don't know if any of this is different, is that every day since March, I repeat that being home is the safest place for people to be. Only at our most trying moments, like around Thanksgiving, have I asked people not to travel as part of extra precautions.

Several weeks ago, when my daughter canceled her planned wedding to replace it with a COVID-appropriate, more private ceremony, and when my family traveled, we consulted with health authorities and worked hard to model the kind of behavior that I have asked of the community.

We were in a lower risk, yellow level than we are now. These are trying times for everyone, and it is always safest to stay home. However, we are not asking people never to venture out. We do ask everyone to be as safe as possible in what they do. My family and I are no exception and will continue to do as I ask of our community. During Thanksgiving and as anticipated for Christmas and the New Year, we should all be especially mindful.

Adler: Do you want me to send that to you or did you get it?

KUT: I've got that.

Adler: The only other thing, is that he asked me why I would travel in light of the comment, the recording that I did on the Tuesday. And why I would travel after the health department on the previous prior day, Monday, suggested that we all start trying to keep numbers down low in anticipation of Thanksgiving. I just asked him to make sure that he indicated that both those things happened after I left Austin. I don't know whether he did or not.

KUT: Meaning that we move to stage four.

Adler: Well, we didn't move to stage four for another two weeks. But even what he was saying, which was there was a statement from public health suggesting that we start keeping numbers lower in anticipation of Thanksgiving. That statement was issued after I had already left town. And the numbers when I spoke on that Tuesday and said, you know, the numbers are generally flat, but we're seeing some increases in cases, but not hospitalizations. But it's something that we have to watch now and urged everybody to to be cautious. The numbers that I was reacting to were numbers that were issued after I left town.

KUT: What about in Cabo, because I imagine — I don't know, but I imagine Mexico does not have a similar kind of restrictions that we have here or safety protocols. I mean, did you all go out to dinner while there? What was the interaction — did you stay inside the timeshare, what —

Adler: Safety protocols in Mexico are not dissimilar to the ones here. But in any event, you know, we primarily stayed at a home.

KUT: So primarily, but so you did leave at times to to eat.

Adler: I'm trying to remember if we ever actually ate out at a restaurant. Maybe once or twice, and it would have been outside, so it would have been compliant with the restaurant rules in Austin.

KUT: And then when you returned, the Statesman story says you don't remember if you took a test after — a COVID test after returning.

Adler: [I] did not take a COVID test on returning. I did isolate. For a week.

KUT: OK, for a week, you said?

Adler: Uh huh, I basically am living that way, so I'm going to have to look at the schedule and see if I actually ventured out even and when was the first time after that that I did. But generally that's how I've been — the number of people that I have contact with is fairly small.

KUT: And then did you travel for Thanksgiving?

Adler: No. Because at that point, I was urging people not to travel, unlike the first week of November.

KUT: But you were urging people to stay at home.

Adler: I have —

KUT: — We need to stay home, if you can.

Adler: Right, which is something that I have said every day since March. Because the safest place for people to be is at home, and that's true, stay at home when you can. It's the safest place to be. But I have not suggested that people just stay home. Except during critical times.

So that message that I gave that day was no different than the message that I give every day. It is — home is the safest place for people to be, but we have not asked people not to venture out of their homes. Except for the period of time in March and April and when we did it in June.

In fact, in fact, in fact, we've we've we've adopted guidance and ordinances that allow people to go to restaurants. Which is not staying at home, we have adopted guidelines and ordinances that let people gather in places where there are more than 10 people. By my by my rules and ordinances, by my rules and by the governor's rules. And on the few occasions when I have gone to a restaurant and eaten outside, there have been more than 10 people in that place.

KUT: But do you agree with the idea that public officials who are like yourself, who are saying we need to stay home if you can, should be modeling the safest — even if yes, there's —.

Adler: No, I don't think that government officials shouldn't leave their house. And I think that that we see government officials all over the country who are leaving their houses. Including the president-elect, who's been on stage with with new cabinet appointees. I have been out of my home when we opened the new station downtown for Cap Metro. No, I don't think ... I don't think —.

KUT: The police cadet graduation...

Adler: Correct. At the police, the cadet graduation. No, I do not think that government officials should be sequestered in their homes. That does not change the fact that the safest place for people to be is in their home. That remains true.

But what we're asking people to do is to generally limit the physical interactions they have to the degree that they can and when they venture out of their homes, to do it as safely as possible and consistent with the — with the rules and guidelines. I expect government officials to model the behaviors that they're encouraging their communities to do. And I feel like I have done that. I have done that and continue to do that.

KUT: So you mentioned, you've gone to the Cap Metro — the downtown whatever it was — the cadets graduation. But all of those were arguably government business, within your role as the mayor and this is not government business. In your mind, is there any difference there?

Adler: No, when I've gone to eat at a restaurant with my family and eaten outside, that also has not been government business.

KUT: Anything else, Mayor? Those are my questions.

Adler: Well, just generally, Audrey, I just think yes, I mean I mean, probably nothing other than I think the implication of that story is unfair.

KUT: OK, tell me why.

Adler: Because I have abided by and continue to abide by the rules that we have in place, that we that we confirmed that with Austin Public Health before we — before my daughter replaced her wedding with a different one. I have not asked people to sequester at home. There's not an expectation that people are going to sequester at home. When you haven't — when you ventured outside your home, I don't believe, you know, that you have violated the rules. You know, this is different than mayors I've seen that issue an order telling people not to travel associated with Thanksgiving and then travel over Thanksgiving, which I did not do and would not do. But it's being conflated with that. And I think that's unfair.

KUT: Because we were at a different stage when you traveled?

Adler: In part — I mean, well, that is why there was no recommendation from either me or public health that that you, that people don't travel. What we said was people shouldn't travel over the Thanksgiving holiday, but we weren't even saying that then. You know, back when I did that, that hadn't happened yet. We didn't — we didn't go to stage four or orange for another two weeks. So anybody who traveled during that period of time was not violating rules or guidelines. Because we didn't have a rule or guideline that prohibited travel.

KUT: And so, when you say the implication of the Statesman article is unfair, you're saying you don't believe that you or your family or the guests who came to the wedding did anything wrong.

Adler: Correct. Not only do we not do anything wrong, we didn't do anything that was in — that abrogated or violated the rules and regulations in the city or the conduct that we were expecting of others that we also expect of ourselves. We are not in a place in this city where people are expected to sequester themselves in their homes. That's not the, that's not the rules we have, except during the period of time in March and in June when we were trying to to arrest numbers that were putting us in a dangerous place. We are asking people to be safe and to and to abide by certain recommendations — which I have done.

KUT: I guess I'm just having trouble squaring what you said in that Facebook video, which is that this is not the time to relax and it seems as if traveling, going to a wedding, going on vacation is indeed relaxing and that you were indeed going against what you were asking the citizens of Austin to do at that time.

Adler: Understand, first is, is that we were reacting — one is that when we asked people not to relax, by our rules, what that means is now is not the time to be gathering with groups in the city without wearing your masks or to not try to social distance. What we're seeing is across the country is that as the numbers go down, people stop following those kinds of rules. They don't get tested, maybe they head out if they're not feeling well. So now is not the time to relax. There was — there was no recommendation or suggestion that people not travel. When we made the recommendations for people to not travel during Thanksgiving, it was very explicit. I mean, there was no question but that we were asking people not to travel because that's what we said. But that didn't happen for another two weeks.

KUT: I understand that, I think it's just I feel like we're, um, getting really stuck on this bit on the semantics of it, which is that when when you say we need to stay home, yes, you don't use the word travel, but home is not Cabo.

Adler: I just don't think anybody hears that and believes that what I am saying there is people shouldn't leave their house. Because our guidelines allow people to leave their house, and I leave my house. There's not an expectation that people are going to sequester at home and not venture out. And I think that's fair. I mean, I don't think that people hear that and think that I'm asking them not to go outside.

KUT: I mean, the thing that I take away from that is you should stay home unless you have to leave. I don't really know how else to read that statement. We need to stay home.

Adler: Right — that's what I but I have said that every day since March. And clearly, by my actions and by what I have allowed in the order, there has not been an expectation that people would only leave their house if it was an emergency or if they were performing an essential function. That has not been the rule in the city except for March and during June. And I think people know that. I think people that go and eat at a restaurant outside don't feel like they are violating the rules — appropriately. I don't think that they feel like they're violating the rules.

KUT: Does your messaging need to be different because again, because I'm looking at what you said in this Facebook video and seeing there's discordance and I'm just understanding — I hear you when you say the guidelines or that you can eat at a restaurant, you can do these certain things. But you're not saying that it's OK for people to do that. You're saying we need you to stay home if you can. Now's not the time to relax.

Adler: Well, if you if you look at those recordings that I made on Got A Minute and did that night, you'll see that I said that same thing constantly since March. That's been a continuing message. And what you're asking me is, is that continuing message something that's confused people over the last eight months where people are all staying home all the time and feel like they're violating something if they go outside the house when that's not the case.

I hear that — I mean, I hear you, I just and maybe, you know, I should have been saying something different over the last eight months, you know. But I think the message has been clear. I don't think that I've confused people. I don't think that people have heard me say things and think they're supposed to sequester at home. I just don't think that's true.

KUT: But I would make the point that I think going — eating outside with a friend is different than having 20 people at a wedding or taking —

Adler: When you're — when you're meeting outside with a friend — as I've eaten outside a few times, there has — each occasion, there's more than 10 people present. [crosstalk] I don't know if you've been outside [crosstalk] but that's what you're saying, right? You're saying there's a difference between being at a wedding with 20 people and being somewhere with a friend. What if you're with a friend and there are 18 people around you at the restaurant? You're in the same place with 20 people.

KUT: Yes, I hear that, but we're not talking to the other people or not interacting with them.

Adler: No, you want to space them out. And the seating at the wedding was spaced out. I mean, there was no — there was no table of 20 people.

KUT: Were people wearing masks at this wedding?

Adler: They probably were not wearing masks all of the time, but every attendee got a wedding mask.

KUT: One question I have here, Mayor, and regardless of how you view your actions, are you concerned that those will view it differently and say, well, "The mayor's traveling internationally, having a wedding, so it's fine for me to go and do that." Is there any concern that people might view that and then indeed relax much, much more and feel like this is an invitation and a sign-off to do — to go about their daily lives. And to go to a wedding.

Adler: I think that that that to the degree that people read the story and believe that I was violating the rules and guidelines that have been set out, then, yes, I fear that people would hear that story and think that that that they shouldn't be abiding by the rules and guidelines, which is why it's so important for me to know — for people to know that that's not the truth. That's not what happened because I did and my family did.

In fact, we exceeded the rules and guidelines. So my conduct I don't think gives rise to that, because people have seen me sitting outside of restaurants, and people have seen me at the opening of the — at the Cap Metro deal and at the graduation of the officers. It's not my conduct. It's the way I fear that the Statesman characterized it. I mean, did the Statesman lead say that, that my daughter canceled her wedding, replaced it with a COVID-compatible wedding after visiting with Austin Public Health? It's a hard thing for a girl to do. But, there are girls all over the city that are having to do the same kind of thing, couples all over the city that are having to do the same kind of thing.

KUT: And there are plenty of people who have postponed until, you know, indefinitely.

Adler: And they certainly can if they want to. That's a choice that people have to make. But, but, but canceling a wedding with over a hundred people and having it primarily with, with, you know, the immediate family is, I think, the kind of behavior that we're asking people to do. We're not asking people not to get married. That's never been part of what we've asked for, any more than we've asked people to sequester at home. So, yes, my fear is not that what we did was inappropriate — because I know it was not inappropriate, but that it would be characterized in such a way as to let someone believe that it might have been. Unfairly. And thus send a message that I believe would be unfair.

KUT: Is there anything else, Mayor, that was —.

Adler: No. That's it.

KUT: OK. I appreciate your time.

Adler: Thanks. Bye.

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