ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist, a candidate for governor, on Wednesday called for the resignation Florida's surgeon general.
Surgeon General Dr. Joseph Ladapo has faced severe criticism the last few days after State Sen. Tina Polsky, D-Boca Raton, said he would not leave her office after he refused to wear a mask.
Crist made the announcement during a virtual news conference where he was joined by a group of local doctors who are concerned about Ladapo's leadership amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
"Dr. Ladapo has made it clear that he was appointed not to help our state battle this public health crisis, but to be an ill-informed political tool for the governor of Florida," Crist said.
The Democratic candidate for governor was critical of Ladapo for not sharing his vaccination status, claiming the usage of masks is "overrated" and also the way he handled the recent flare-up with Polsky.
"It is equally clear that Dr. Ladapo is not of the moral character and professionalism needed in order to best serve our fellow Floridians," Crist said. "I am calling on Gov. Ron DeSantis to pull back this nomination."
During the news conference, Crist shared a personal story about how his 5-year-old niece, who lives in Pinellas County, recently contracted COVID-19 while attending school this fall. Crist said the virus then spread to his 2-month-old niece about 10 days ago.
The doctors who spoke during Wednesday's virtual briefing all questioned Ladapo's qualifications and expertise in public health.
"Florida, after this appointment, has become a laughing stock in the public health arena," said Dr. Brent Schillinger, a past president of the Palm Beach County Medical Society. "Obviously he didn't care about (Sen. Polsky's) health, how will he care about the health of 20 million Floridians?"
DeSantis appointed Ladapo in September to succeed Dr. Scott Rivkees as the state's top doctor.
Since his appointment, Ladapo has voiced a stance of "rejecting fear" as a way of making policies.
Ladapo wrote an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal last year that said masks are a distraction from the pandemic reality.
Crist, who was the governor of Florida from 2007 to 2011, will face off in the Democratic primary next year in a bid to unseat DeSantis.
Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, who is also running for governor, has called on the governor to withdraw his nomination of Ladapo to serve as the state's surgeon general.