The city’s response to the deadly outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease in the South Bronx became the subject of the latest clash between Mayor Bill de Blasio and Comptroller Scott Stringer, as Mr. Stringer accused the city of having had a “laid-back attitude” toward the disease when the first fatalities began to appear late last month.
Speaking to radio host and ex-GOP mayoral candidate John Catsimatidis on AM 970 The Answer this morning, Mr. Stringer tore into the apparently delayed reaction of Mr. de Blasio and City Health Commissioner Dr. Mary Bassett to the disease that has infected 119 New Yorkers and killed 12. The comptroller argued that the city failed to recognize an epidemic—the largest of Legionnaires’ in the city’s history—in the early stages, or to prepare for such an occurrence in advance.
Mr. de Blasio, however, pushed back against his assessment, arguing his team had acted quickly and efficiently to contain the contagion. The mayor proudly highlighted that no new Legionella infections had been identified since August 3, and pointing to high marks Dr. Bassett and the rest of his administration from the federal agencies that got involved in the crisis last week.
“I think that’s absolutely inaccurate. This is the finest Health Department in the nation, it’s well-known as such. If you want an understanding of how New York City performed, ask the Centers for Disease Control, our federal agency that’s in charge of this exact kind of situation. They are the experts. And they have praised our efforts,” Mr. de Blasio said at an unrelated press event in Manhattan this afternoon. “I think it’s been a very strong effort, and I think the best people to comment on it are those who have been in the middle of doing it, or those who are experts in the field.”
Mr. Stringer, a fellow Democrat, praised the regulations that Mr. de Blasio, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito agreed upon to require regular disinfection of the air conditioning cooling towers where the Legionella bacteria fester. But he pointed out Legionnaires’ cases had been on the rise for years, as had rates of asthma and other susceptibility-increasing respiratory conditions in communities like the South Bronx.
“I think this is a real wake-up call to the Department of Health. Don’t just tell me what you’re doing after an outbreak. Tell me what you’re doing so we don’t have this,” Mr. Stringer said.
He charged that the city “didn’t scramble the planes fast enough.”
“We can’t hope for the best and assume things are isolated cases. And responding quickly to a fatal infectious disease outbreak should be government’s top priority. We can’t have this, you know, laid back attitude,” he said.
Mr. de Blasio did admit his office had learned it would need to do better community outreach and information dissemination in future situations. However, on July 30, Mr. de Blasio told reporters that the increasing numbers of Legionnaires’ victims were “no reason for alarm.”
Hospitals have released 88 of the 112 infected individuals with a clean bill of health as of today.
Mr. Stringer and Mr. de Blasio have butted heads intermittently since they both entered office last January. The comptroller infuriated the mayor by highlighting that not all contracts for his signature universal pre-kindergarten program had gone through the approval process when it was scheduled to launch last fall, and further alienated Mr. de Blasio by criticizing his decision to unilaterally institute a new minimum wage law by executive order.