As we approach this coming Groundhog Day (with obvious excitement and exhilaration) it’s important to remember one important animal who gave their life so we can ask a large rodent if spring is soon.
Today, we are reminiscing about the Groundhog Day when Bill de Blasio accidentally dropped the New York City groundhog, Staten Island Chuck, who then died one week later - otherwise known as Groundhog-gate.
It began on Sunday, February 2, 2014 - a brisk 40-something-degree day with partly cloudy skies, the perfect day for Staten Island Chuck, to determine the outcome of spring.
In keeping with tradition, newly elected New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio took to the Staten Island Zoo to declare if the legendary groundhog would see its shadow or not.
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That morning, de Blasio put on a pair of thick yellow gloves to pick up Chuck in front of a crowd of people and the press. But before a formal photo-op could occur, the groundhog squirmed out of de Blasio's hands because his grip was not strong enough.
It lept from the mayor's hands and fell several feet from de Blasio’s hands, hitting the ground where a group of horrified schoolchildren looked onward.
Notoriously, de Blasio is and was known as being very tall - 6’5” so this was likely a pretty harsh fall for the groundhog.
\u201cHappy Groundhog Day to everyone except Bill De Blasio.\u201d— carly ortiz (@carly ortiz) 1643801522
At first, Chuck seemed ok as he was brought back to his cage where, no surprise, he saw his shadow and predicted six more weeks of winter. You would too had you just fallen several feet.
But a week later, on February 9th the groundhog was found dead in his cage at the Staten Island Zoo.
A necropsy revealed the groundhog died from “acute internal injuries” and people immediately blamed de Blasio for the groundhog's demise.
The Staten Island Zoo denied the mayor’s potential role in killing the groundhog but then a low-stakes investigation by New York Post seemed to reveal there was a supposed cover-up to make de Blasio look better.
“A zoo spokesman tried to downplay the mayor’s role in the critter’s death, saying the animal was examined and seemed fine,” The Post wrote in 2014.
But the real twist of the century was the revelation that it wasn’t Chuck who died, it was his 10-month-old granddaughter Charlotte who sneakily replaced Chuck that year.
See, the previous year when Mayor Mike Bloomberg attended Groundhog Day, Chuck bit the mayor. So that following year they decided to use Charlotte as a stand-in hoping the groundhog would be less violent.
But not only did the Staten Island Zoo fail to disclose that Charlotte was standing in for Chuck but apparently the zoo never told the mayor that the groundhog died.
“The mayor’s office learned of the death for the first time from The Post,” the publication said.
The zoo remained adamant that Charlotte’s death was not due to her six-foot fall from de Blasio's hands.
But it was too late. New Yorkers, and people around the US, forever associated de Blasio with killing Staten Island Chuck’s granddaughter.
\u201cNever forget Bill de Blasio killed a groundhog\u201d— Leigh Giangreco (@Leigh Giangreco) 1561601998
The groundhog incident haunted de Blasio for the rest of his mayorship as people often used it, along with a slew of other petty controversies about him, to describe him as uncharismatic or sanctimonious.
Whether it was mocking de Blasio for eating pizza with a fork and knife or being notoriously late to press conference, groundhog-gate only fueled de Blasio's reputation of being... disliked.
The following year, de Blasio attended Groundhog Day at the Staten Island Zoo but notably stood six feet away from Chuck and did not touch the rodent.
And after that, he never attended another Groundhog Day at the Staten Island Zoo.
“I tried it, it didn't end well, I won't be back,” he told news outlets in 2020.
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