Whitmer apologizes after photo shows her at bar violating her own order

Craig Mauger
The Detroit News

Lansing — Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer issued an apology Sunday after a photo emerged showing her at a restaurant with 12 other people gathered around tables pushed together in violation of her health department's current epidemic order.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer

The May 15 order from the state Department of Health and Human Services says no more than six people can be seated together and groups of patrons must be six feet apart. The conservative news outlet Breitbart first reported the photo Sunday.

"Throughout the pandemic, I’ve been committed to following public health protocols," Whitmer said Sunday in a statement. "Yesterday, I went with friends to a local restaurant. As more people arrived, the tables were pushed together. Because we were all vaccinated, we didn't stop to think about it.

"In retrospect, I should have thought about it. I am human. I made a mistake, and I apologize."

According to Breitbart, one of Whitmer's friends briefly posted a montage of images on social media from the Saturday gathering at the Landshark Bar & Grill in East Lansing that included the photo of the governor. In addition to Whitmer, the group also featured Tricia Foster, her chief operating officer, according to Breitbart.

Landshark's website describes it as "an essential part of the Michigan State University experience for years." Its signature drink is the Shark Bowl, the website says.

Tori Sachs, executive director of the conservative Michigan Freedom Fund, on Sunday blasted the Democratic governor, saying it was time for Whitmer to end her restrictions that she's isn't even following.

"Whitmer continues to defy her own ridiculous restrictions while everyone else is forced to abide by them," Sachs said.

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Restrictions on restaurants and bars have been a point of contention for the governor's administration during the COVID-19 pandemic. Amid a second virus surge that began in the fall, Whitmer's health department closed indoor dining statewide for 75 days, allowing restaurants to reopen at 25% of their normal capacity on Feb. 1.

The capacity limit moved to 50% on March 5.

Ted Goodman, spokesman for the Michigan Republican Party, said the governor was asking the public for leniency after her administration fined businesses for violating its COVID-19 restrictions.

"For Gov. Whitmer, it's rules for thee but not for me," Goodman said.

Whitmer has faced a wave of criticism in recent weeks after taking a private flight to visit her father, Richard, in Florida, in March. A nonprofit organization tied to Whitmer's administration paid $27,521 to charter the flight that carried her to visit her dad but Whitmer paid $855 for a seat.

The governor said she cooked and cleaned for her father, who is facing a chronic illness, while on the trip.

"For anyone to be surprised that I have a family member who’s been having a lot of health issues that I showed up to check in ... they’re obviously not paying attention to who I am or what I do," Whitmer said.

The revelations Sunday came nearly one year after a May 25, 2020, report in The Detroit News that the owner of a Northern Michigan dock company said Whitmer's husband, Marc Mallory, wanted his boat placed in the water before the Memorial Day weekend as the governor publicly urged residents not to rush to the region.

Whitmer said later that her husband had "made a failed attempt at humor" in asking for the installation of his boat to be sped up.

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On Thursday, Whitmer announced that her administration will end outdoor capacity limits and increase indoor limits to 50% on June 1. A month later on July 1, the state's broad mask and gathering order will end, she said.

The governor received her second dose of COVID-19 vaccine on April 29.

Michigan experienced a surge of coronavirus infections and hospitalizations the peaked in mid-April. The case rates have been generally decreasing for five weeks. Michigan led the nation in new cases per population for longer than a month beginning at the end of March.

As of Sunday afternoon, Michigan ranked third, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.