Jeffrey Schweers | Capital Bureau
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Rob Landers, Florida Today
Jared Moskowitz, the head of Florida’s Division of Emergency Management and point man on the state’s coronavirus response, on Monday confirmed he is leaving office to spend more time with his family.
In a brief phone interview with the USA TODAY NETWORK – Florida Capital Bureau, Moskowitz said he didn’t want to provide more details about his departure until after Gov. Ron DeSantis makes a formal announcement, which is likely to happen Tuesday.
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“He’s worked incredibly hard and done a terrific job,” DeSantis said at a Monday afternoon news conference in the Capitol.
“Jared is the reason why” Florida has the best logistics response to hurricanes and the pandemic, the governor added.
Deputy Director of Emergency Management Kevin Guthrie will replace Moskowitz “when Jared is ready to leave,” DeSantis said.
Appointed by DeSantis in 2019, the lawyer and former state lawmaker made no secret on social media of the strain his job in Tallahassee has put on his family in South Florida.
“My kids are 7 and 4. When I started this job, they were 5 and 2,” he said. “I’ve been in this job for 50% of my younger one’s life.”
Leaving before hurricane season
The third anniversary of the Feb. 14, 2018, shooting massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School also weighed heavily as he decided to leave.
Moskowitz, who from 2012 to 2019 represented a part of Broward that included Parkland, was part of a bipartisan group of lawmakers that crafted unprecedented gun control legislation in the wake of that tragedy.
“My departure won’t be imminent,” he said Monday, but didn’t give a precise timeline.
His leaving was first announced in a Florida Politics text message news alert. It said he wanted to leave before the June 1 start of hurricane season to give ample time for a successor to get settled in.
Moskowitz is the latest in a long line of top officials whose departures from the DeSantis administration have been disclosed in recent weeks. Others include Chief of Staff Shane Strum, Department of Children and Families Secretary Chad Poppell, Department of Business and Professional Regulation chief Halsey Beshears and Department of Management Services head Jonathan Satter.
Moskowitz did not discuss his future plans.
He has over a decade of experience in emergency management as general counsel and vice president for the AshBritt Environmental firm, where he helped coordinate recovery efforts for hurricanes Michael, Irma, Matthew and Hermine, according to his public bio.
A newly sworn-in DeSantis, a Republican, tapped Moskowitz, a Democrat, in January 2019 to head up the Division of Emergency Management. Moskowitz immediately set to the task of fixing the state’s process for disbursing hurricane recovery funding, getting some $3 billion in federal disaster aid to cities and counties hit hard by those and other natural disasters, his online bio.
He also oversaw recovery efforts for hurricanes Dorian, Isaias, Sally and Laura — which hit Florida in August at the height of the coronavirus pandemic.
Contrast to DeSantis on COVID
Moskowitz recently told a legislative committee that his agency staff proved they “could walk and chew gum at the same time” by dealing with the coronavirus pandemic and hurricanes at the same time, ordering protective gear for the virus and processing hurricane relief claims simultaneously.
Moskowitz also provided a stark contrast to DeSantis, giving some blunt appraisals about the COVID-19 crisis in Florida as opposed to the governor’s more rosy characterizations.
Moskowitz compared the early days of the COVID-19 vaccine rollout to the “Hunger Games” movies and books. DeSantis meanwhile barnstormed the state and praised the great job the state was doing vaccinating its senior population.
He also was an ardent advocate for wearing masks and social distancing; the governor has been steadfastly against any mask mandates. When masks were in short supply in March, he jumped on Twitter to let 3M know he was going to be the company’s worst troll while begging for N95 masks.
Moskowitz described the situation as a Ponzi scheme: “… different distributors represented by brokers selling the same lot of masks bidding against each other. I’m chasing ghosts here.”
In November, a month before the first doses of Pfizer and Moderna vaccines were due, Moskowitz said the state had a solid distribution plan in place. He bought millions of syringes, alcohol swabs, gauze — even freezers for the Pfizer vaccine, which has to be stored at minus 80-100 degrees — in anticipation of the day there would be a vaccine to distribute.
“We’re ready to deploy the vaccine when it comes,” Moskowitz said.
But two weeks into the rollout, after DeSantis issued an executive order expanding availability to include Florida’s 4.5 million people aged 65 and over, people stood in long lines to get shots or experienced frustration as online registration websites crashed.
In January, he told a Senate committee that the state’s decentralized rollout did seem chaotic at times, but that was largely due to the federal government giving the states only a week’s advance notice on the size of the shipment they were getting.
Jeffrey Schweers is a capital bureau reporter for USA TODAY NETWORK-Florida. Contact Schweers at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @jeffschweers.
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