Michigan health director resigns; Whitmer names successor
LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Michigan Health and Human Services Director Robert Gordon, who issued sweeping orders to curb the spread of the coronavirus after Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s powers were upended by a court ruling, abruptly resigned Friday.
No explanation for the resignation was given. In a tweet, he said it was “an honor to serve alongside wonderful colleagues. I look forward to the next chapter.”
In recent months, Gordon helped with President Joe Biden’s transition, co-leading a team that reviewed operations at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Gordon’s announcement came just hours after he signed a revised order that will let restaurants and bars resume indoor dining on Feb. 1, ending a ban that took effect in mid-November. In a written statement announcing the latest measure — he was not at the governor’s COVID-19 news conference Friday — he said unmasked, indoor activities like dining and drinking are still a high risk.
Whitmer, a Democrat, appointed Elizabeth Hertel to succeed Gordon at the state Department of Health and Human Services, effectively immediately. Hertel currently is the agency’s senior chief deputy director for administration.
“Elizabeth Hertel has dedicated her career to protecting Michiganders’ public health, and she is uniquely prepared to lead MDHHS as we continue working together to end the COVID-19 pandemic,” the governor said in a statement. “She has served across multiple administrations from both parties, and knows how to bring people together to get things done.”
Hertel’s appointment will stand unless the Republican-led state Senate rejects it within 60 days. GOP lawmakers have been critical of the administration’s restrictions. Sen. Jim Stamas, a Midland Republican, has called on the Senate Advice and Consent Committee to reject the governor’s appointments until the economy “is safely and fully reopened.”
“I am grateful for the opportunity to lead the department at this time,” Hertel said in a statement. “Michigan is faced with a crisis unlike any we have seen before, but our aggressive action against this virus is working. Let’s finish the job and end the COVID-19 pandemic once and for all.”
Whitmer put Gordon at the helm of the sprawling 14,400-employee state department in January 2019, shortly after she took office. He had been senior vice president of finance and global strategy at The College Board. He previously held jobs in the federal Department of Education and the Office of Management and Budget during the Obama administration.
He also clerked for former Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
Whitmer’s news release announcing Hertel’s appointment briefly noted that she had accepted Gordon’s resignation. Asked why he left, the governor’s office declined to comment. Whitmer tweeted that she was grateful for his service.
Gordon took to social media earlier this week to highlight the Whitmer administration’s November “pause” amid a spike in COVID-19, which included a ban on indoor dining, no in-person instruction at high schools and colleges, and the closure of entertainment venues. He pointed to significant drops in the case rate, hospitalizations and deaths, saying hundreds of lives were saved as a result.
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