Sen. Tina Polsky says Dr. Joseph Ladapo seemed 'smug' in his refusal to wear mask

State senator battling breast cancer says surgeon general appointment 'unfit for the position'
Tina Polsky
Posted at 5:23 PM, Oct 25, 2021
and last updated 2021-10-25 17:23:05-04

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — A state senator representing portions of Broward and Palm Beach counties said Monday she hopes that Gov. Ron DeSantis will reconsider his appointment of Florida's top public health official after he refused to wear a mask in her office.

State Sen. Tina Polsky, D-Boca Raton, told WPTV that Dr. Joseph Ladapo asked to meet with her last week in Tallahassee ahead of his Florida Senate confirmation hearing.

Polsky was recently diagnosed with breast cancer and is about to undergo radiation treatment. Polsky said she "decided that the safest course of action for me to not catch any disease or COVID, in particular, is to make everyone mask up."

She said she has a sign on her office door asking anyone who enters to wear a mask.

'Please Wear A Face Mask' sign on door to Sen. Tina Polsky's office
A sign reading "Please Wear A Face Mask" is posted on the door to the office of state Sen. Tina Polsky-D, Boca Raton.

"Everyone has respected my wishes, except for the surgeon general," she said.

Polsky said she was wearing a mask, but Ladapo and his two aides were not. So she asked him to put on a mask.

Tina Polsky and Joseph Ladapo
State Sen. Tina Polsky, D-Boca Raton, says she asked Florida's new surgeon general, Dr. Joseph Ladapo, to leave her office after he refused to wear a mask.

"He says, 'I don't do interviews with the mask,' and I said, 'I can hear you perfectly fine,'" Polsky recalled. "And he said, 'Well, why don't we go outside?' I said, 'I am uncomfortable doing that.'"

Polsky said the back and forth continued for more than five minutes like "some kind of negotiation."

"I asked him why he can't wear a mask," she said. "He didn't answer it. His attitude was, in my opinion, smug, and I think he was enjoying himself, especially based on the comment he made after he left the office that was overheard by my other aide outside in the hallway, that he was kind of pushing my buttons on purpose."

WATCH: Sen. Tina Polsky speaks to WPTV

Tina Polsky: Dr. Joseph Ladabo's attitude about not wearing mask 'smug'

Polsky said she told him that she had "a serious medical condition" but that he "still didn't care."

"I kept backing up into my aide's office," she said. "I was so uncomfortable being so close to these three people who weren't masked, and it just went on too long and I should have asked him to leave earlier. Finally, I said, 'I know everything I need to know. Can you please leave now?'"

Polsky said she was uncomfortable being outside on hot, metal picnic benches.

"If he wanted to meet with me, he should have respected me and my health," she explained. "Even if I didn't have any kind of diagnosis, he still should have respected my wishes."

Senate President Wilton Simpson, R-Spring Hill, sent a memorandum Saturday to all state senators and Senate professional staff, calling Ladapo's actions "disappointing" and "unprofessional."

"I was very pleased and grateful" by Simpson's memo, Polsky said.

Florida Senate President Wilton Simpson letter on incident involving Sen. Tina Polsky

"We all have a lot of respect for each other," she said. "Obviously, we have big political differences, but when it comes to decorum, when it comes to kind of things outside the political sphere, we're very protective of each other."

Polsky said for the state's public health leader "to not care about my health really says all you need to know about him."

"I would be very unhappy if this person was the surgeon general, the lead public health officer in our state," she said.

DeSantis announced last month that he had picked Ladapo to succeed Dr. Scott Rivkees.

Ladapo said during his introductory news conference that Florida is "done with fear" when it comes to making public health policies surrounding COVID-19. He's also been vocal in his position that masks are a distraction from the pandemic reality.

WATCH: New Florida surgeon general discourages vaccine mandates

New Florida surgeon general discourages vaccine mandates

"I don't like his response to COVID," Polsky said. "He questions vaccines, he hates masks and those are the only tools we have right now."

Polsky said she believes Ladapo is "unfit for the position."

"I'd like to see the governor take away his nomination," she said.

Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried concurred, saying she was "severely disappointed" that Ladapo "didn't have enough respect and courtesy" for a state senator -- especially since, "from my understanding, he's also unvaccinated."

"So this is a wrong message for the people of our state, and certainly this is not somebody who should be leading our state during a health care crisis," Fried said.

WATCH: Nikki Fried says Dr. Joseph Ladapo 'unvaccinated'

Nikki Fried says Dr. Joseph Ladapo 'unvaccinated'

Weesam Khoury, a spokesman for the Florida Department of Health, said in an email to WPTV that the agency "is saddened to hear of Senator Polsky's recent diagnosis and wishes her well."

Khoury went on to say that the department "will be addressing this directly with members of the Senate, rather than letting this play out publicly."

"While we weren't aware of any specific Senate protocol, we will certainly ask members ahead of time and make necessary accommodations, such as meeting through Zoom or outdoors," he said.