Assemblyman Marc Levine. (James Cacciatore/Special to the Marin Independent Journal)
Marin Assemblyman Marc Levine said this week that he and his colleagues were complying with all state and local health guidelines when dining outdoors on Monday amid a statewide surge in coronavirus cases.
“I take health pretty seriously both for my family and for my community and I would never do anything to put that at risk,” Levine said Wednesday.
Levine, D-Greenbrae, attended the outdoor dinner at the Maydoon restaurant in Sacramento on Monday after being sworn in for his fifth term representing Marin County and southern Sonoma County. His fellow diners were assembly members Adrin Nazarian, D-West Toluca Lake, Chad Mayes, I-Rancho Mirage, Tasha Boerner Horvath, D-Encinitas, and Chris Ward, D-San Diego.
The state has issued new guidelines asking residents not to attend gatherings with people outside of their own households or to at least to limit any outdoor gatherings to three or fewer households.
Prominent Democratic politicians including Gov. Gavin Newsom and San Francisco Mayor London Breed have been criticized for going against the coronavirus health guidelines they had been calling on others to follow. Both dined at the French Laundry restaurant in Napa on separate occasions with up to a dozen people in early November.
Levine said there is a “pretty strong distinction” between incidents such as the French Laundry and his impromptu meal at one of the few nearby restaurants offering outdoor seating in Sacramento. All of the lawmakers being sworn in on Monday had to be tested for coronavirus prior to attending the swearing-in ceremony.
Several Bay Area counties including Marin put stricter coronavirus rules into effect, including prohibiting outdoor dining, on Tuesday. Outdoor dining was allowed in Sacramento as it was in Marin as of Monday, Levine said.
“It applied to both to my home county and also where I was working,” Levine said.
The dinner outing was also helping to support a local business, Levine said.
“I was glad to do that,” he said.
David McCuan, a professor of political science at Sonoma State University, said it was “epically stupid and politically tone-deaf” for the lawmakers to go out to dinner one month after reelection and on the same day of kicking off a new legislative session.
“In some ways, it is contemptuous of what his constituents are going through and struggling with,” McCuan said. “You need to set a better example and an example that is not about what is technically possible but what is politically smart and you need to do better by your constituents.”
McCuan, who lived in Levine’s district until recently, said Levine was happy to throw fellow legislator, state Sen. Bill Dodd, D-Napa, “under the bus” in November after Dodd was found to have traveled to a Hawaii conference with a contingent of legislators which also happened to include one of Levine’s Monday dinner companions, Assemblyman Mayes.
Levine told The Press Democrat at the time that Dodd’s trip was “a real slap in the face to people who are taking this seriously.”
“The member is correct; it’s not the French Laundry,” McCuan said. “But appearances in politics is everything combined with timing. This particular member showed a lack of sensitivity and a lack of understanding about the optics of what this means.”