Months after the coronavirus outbreak, Michigan Democratic governor Gretchen Whitmer created controversy when she railed against plans to hold fall sporting events. Hundreds of miles away, the Democrat's sister—a former school board member who is now running for Congress—adopted the same policy.
As a member of the Katonah-Lewisboro school board in New York, Liz Whitmer Gereghty in September 2020 emerged as the top opponent of plans to play high school sports in the fall, meeting records reviewed by the Washington Free Beacon show. While Gereghty acknowledged that athletics make students healthier—both physically and mentally—she argued that moving forward with fall athletics was not an "equitable use of the school's resources" and was therefore "the exact wrong thing to do." Following Gereghty's input, district officials opted to only allow for varsity athletics, meaning freshman and junior varsity teams could not compete.
Years after the ordeal, Gereghty is running for Congress in New York's 17th Congressional District, where she will face a difficult primary against former congressman Mondaire Jones. Her crusade against high school sports suggests that her campaign will seek inspiration from her gubernatorial sister, who in 2020 imposed draconian stay-at-home orders that shuttered small businesses.
Just weeks before Gereghty railed against holding high school sports in her district, Whitmer vehemently opposed plans to hold fall football seasons at the high school and college levels, arguing that because "football is a very intimate sport where you are up in one another's faces," it would not be safe to play. Whitmer went on to praise the Big Ten Conference for canceling fall sports, saying the move would "keep their student-athletes safe and their families safe."
Both sisters' policy positions prompted criticism. Some parents in Gereghty's district, for example, lamented that the decision to snub junior varsity sports would harm the development of younger athletes and urged Gereghty to "reconsider." Small businesses in Michigan, meanwhile, mourned the hundreds of thousands of customers they said they'd lose without a football season. Those concerns could explain why Whitmer flip-flopped on the issue when the Big Ten later decided to hold a football season—the Democrat in September 2020 said she supported the move just days after arguing that a season would be unsafe.
Studies went on to show that large outdoor gatherings for sporting events did not cause large spikes in COVID cases, meaning Whitmer and Gereghty's concerns did not come to pass. In a 2021 study, University of Florida epidemiologist Cindy Prins said that while the sight of full stadiums might make "people feel nervous," outdoor gatherings "really are not the super spreader events that people have worried they're going to be."
Whitmer did not return a request for comment on whether her sister came to her for advice on the sports issue. Gereghty's campaign said the congressional hopeful "believes in the value of sports."
"Her top priority as a school board member was to get students back in the classroom full time while keeping the school community safe," the campaign told the Free Beacon.
Gereghty in May launched her bid to unseat freshman GOP lawmaker Mike Lawler, who in 2022 upset then-Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee chair Sean Patrick Maloney. Jones complicated that effort last week when he announced his campaign for the same district, pitting the two Democrats against each other in a primary that is expected to get messy. Jones ally and "Squad" member Jamaal Bowman (D., N.Y.) in April told Politico he "didn't even know [Whitmer's] sister lived in the district" and doesn't "know many people who know her." Gereghty countered by accusing Jones of moving districts "to chase a congressional seat," a reference to Jones's decision to run in the nearby 10th district in 2022. Jones failed to emerge from that race's primary.
Gereghty, who is largely considered an unknown quantity in New York, has courted support from Michigan's congressional delegation and hired a campaign manager who most recently worked in the Great Lakes State. Gereghty raised more than $400,000 in her campaign's first 10 weeks and has already received endorsements from liberal groups such as EMILY's List. Her campaign site attacks "extremist Republicans" for "banning books" and "fearmongering about crime."