Groundhogs can be unpredictable creatures. They might predict an unpopular six weeks of winter, or bring joy with news of an early spring.
Or they might take a bite out of a mayor, or even wriggle free from his hands and take a long, embarrassing and possibly deadly fall in front of news cameras.
So if Mayor Bill de Blasio opts to attend this year’s Groundhog Day festivities at the Staten Island Zoo, he is going in prepared for all possibilities.
“We have a task force of emergency preparedness officials and health officials who are trying to figure out how to wrap me in platinum so that no harm will befall me or any groundhog in the vicinity of me,” Mr. de Blasio joked today at an unrelated press conference in Brooklyn. “And that work is a team of scientists as we speak, so we’ll have an update shortly on that.”
Mr. de Blasio would not say for certain whether he will be on scene to watch Staten Island Chuck lumber out of his enclosure and predict the weather, and the Staten Island Advance reported this week that he has not confirmed his attendance with the zoo.
Hoisting the furry prognosticator in the air has become a rite of passage of city mayors—and sometimes, a bit of a headache. Last year, Mr. de Blasio—in office just a month at the time—dropped the squirming groundhog as he tried to hold Chuck up for the cameras.
The furry faux pas got much worse months later when the New York Post reported that the groundhog was found dead just a few days later of injuries consistent with a fall, citing “zoo sources.” The paper alleged a cover-up—though the zoo has insisted the death was not Mr. de Blasio’s fault. (The Post also uncovered that the role of Chuck was actually being played by a female groundhog, Charlotte.)
It was not the first time a groundhog has given a mayor trouble, though it was the first time a mayor was accused of killing one. Mayor Michael Bloomberg was famously bitten by Staten Island Chuck when the mayor tried to coax the stubborn rodent out of his enclosure.
If previous administrations are any guide, Mr. de Blasio’s groundhog troubles may not blow over quickly. Two years after he was bit, Mr. Bloomberg was apparently still holding a grudge against Chuck. He was caught on camera muttering, “That was so much better than having to reach in and let the little son of a bitch bite you.”
Mr. de Blasio said people will just have to stay tuned to find out whether he’ll take his chances with Chuck a second time.
“The formal answer is we announce generally our schedule closer to the actual day,” he said.
The event is typically held early in the morning—and may be a tough turnaround for Mr. de Blasio, not known as a morning person, who is likely to be up late the night before rooting for the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl.
Ross Barkan contributed reporting.