County Mayoral Candidates War Over Anti-Zika Naled Spraying in Miami Beach

Just a few short months ago, only a few anti-mosquito wonks had ever heard of a pesticide called naled. But now, thanks to the onslaught of the Zika virus, the mosquito-killing compound has become the touchiest issue in Miami-Dade County since LeBron James' defection back to his hometown.

As activists debate everything short of an aerial assault to stop the county from wafting naled over South Beach, the Zika-fighting pesticide has now become a central issue in the simmering race for Miami-Dade County mayor between incumbent Carlos Gimenez and Miami-Dade County School Board member Raquel Regalado.

Gimenez has led the charge to fight SoBe's Zika outbreak with aerially sprayed naled, which is banned in the European Union and may cause toxic reactions in people who are overexposed. As protests mounted in South Beach against that effort, Regalado seized the moment.

"The men, women, children, and pets that live in Miami Beach are being exposed to extreme measures, aerial spraying of poisonous insecticides, because Carlos Gimenez believes he knows better than anyone else how to manage the crisis his negligence has compounded," Regaldo wrote in a lengthy missive on her Facebook page last night.  

Gimenez quickly hit back, calling Regalado "highly irresponsible" for riling up opposition to naled spraying.

The war of words between the candidates, who face a runoff election on the November ballot, is just the highest-profile piece of a brewing political war over how to fight Zika, though. Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine backs Gimenez in his mayoral race. So it was no surprise to see Levine's most vocal opponent, Commissioner Michael Grieco, quickly jump in to back Regalado on naled.

"Consider this post my endorsement of Raquel Regalado," Grieco wrote on Facebook last night. "The current Mayor's decision to indiscriminately spray our city without seeking every less harmful alternative or asking for residents' consent is not something I can stand idly by and watch without taking action."

Despite all of the opposition — including another march down Lincoln Road by activists yesterday — naled spraying has already begun in South Beach. The first county planes wafted the chemical over the sea breezes at 5 a.m. today. 

The decision to use naled came after a confusing, poorly communicated about-face from city, state, and federal officials. When Zika first broke out in South Beach, the CDC said aerial spraying wouldn't be effective because of Miami Beach's tall condo towers and powerful ocean breezes. 

But last week, the county — with advice from Gov. Rick Scott and the CDC — decided to go ahead with spraying anyway. When a noisy opposition movement bombarded city officials with questions about the plan this past Wednesday, Gimenez agreed to delay the spraying by one day. But he says it's still necessary. 

"I thank the City of Miami Beach, residents, and visitors for their collaboration as we continue to do all we can to keep our community safe from the Zika virus," he said in a statement yesterday.

Regalado blasted that thinking in her message. She says that if Scott or the CDC wanted to order spraying, she would abide by that demand. But she says the county should keep its nose out of South Beach's Zika-fighting plans. 

"Gimenez has spent weeks blaming municipalities, the state, and the federal government for his failure to do his job. Showing up to conduct mosquito eradication operations in areas where multiple people have tested positive for Zika infection is too little, too late," she writes.
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Tim Elfrink is a former investigative reporter and managing editor for Miami New Times. He has won the George Polk Award and was a finalist for the Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting.
Contact: Tim Elfrink

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