Gov. doesn’t answer whether she asked Gordon to step down

By: - January 25, 2021 3:07 pm

DHHS Director Robert Gordon gives an update on COVID-19 | Gov. Whitmer office photo

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer evaded multiple questions Monday about former Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) Director Robert Gordon’s sudden resignation last week. As the Advance first reported Friday, he was replaced by veteran DHHS official Elizabeth Hertel.

When asked by reporters during a press conference about whether Whitmer asked Gordon to resign, she did not go into detail about why or how he left the department.

“To lead this department in unimaginable circumstances, it has been grueling. And on behalf of all the people in Michigan, I want to thank him for his service to our state,” Whitmer said, referring to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

It’s been a grueling couple of years, and changes in administration’s happen,” she added. “I wish Robert Gordon the very best, I truly do, and I am incredibly grateful for the hard work and the way that he showed up every single day over these last two years.”

Since Gordon’s resignation Friday, this was Whitmer’s first time publicly thanking Gordon for his service.

Whitmer announced Friday afternoon the appointment of Hertel, who previously served as DHHS senior chief deputy director for administration for the DHHS. On Friday morning, Whitmer held a press conference confirming that indoor dining would be allowed in bars and restaurants with restrictions starting on Feb. 1.

In a tweet on Friday, Gordon wrote “today, I am resigning from the Whitmer Administration. It’s been an honor to serve alongside wonderful colleagues. I look forward to the next chapter.”

Whitmer appointed Gordon at the beginning of her term in 2019, after he worked for the Obama administration. He also served as a volunteer lead on Biden’s Department of Health and Human Services transition team. 

In December, right-wing protesters showed up at Gordon’s house, angry about the state’s COVID-19 restrictions. He said that the protesters came to his house “in the dark of night, screaming through bullhorns, scaring my children, and trying to intimidate me.” Similar protests have occurred at the governor’s mansion starting last spring.

Michigan has about 550,000 COVID-19 cases and more than 14,200 deaths as of Saturday.

When asked about her relationship with Gordon, Whitmer said, “I don’t think I have anything to add with regard to my comments about the former director. I’ve shared with you that I wish him well, I’m grateful for his leadership and we’ve got a wonderful new director at the department so we’re going to continue to forge ahead here.”

“I’m also grateful that we have someone of the caliber of Director Elizabeth Hertel here in Michigan in the department who can step in and help us navigate this next phase of COVID, because certainly there is light at the end of the tunnel, but we’re not out of the tunnel yet,” Whitmer added.

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Allison R. Donahue
Allison R. Donahue

Allison R. Donahue is a former Michigan Advance reporter who covered education, women's issues and LGBTQ issues. Previously, she was a suburbs reporter at the St. Cloud Times in St. Cloud, Minn., covering local education and government. As a graduate of Grand Valley State University, she has previous experience as a freelance researcher for USA Today and an intern with WOOD TV-8. When she is away from her desk, she spends her time going to concerts, comedy shows or getting lost on hikes in different places around the world.