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Toxic relationship between de Blasio & Cuomo created roadblocks during pandemic, says former NYC health commissioner

Dr. Dave Chokshi details de Blasio-Cuomo tensions during pandemic
Dr. Dave Chokshi details de Blasio-Cuomo tensions during pandemic 02:22

NEW YORK -- The former city health commissioner is giving new insight about what it was really like working through the dark days of the COVID-19 pandemic.

As CBS2's Aundrea Cline-Thomas explains, Dr. Dave Chokshi says the tensions between Mayor Bill de Blasio and Gov. Andrew Cuomo got in the way of public health.

Chokshi is known for his mild-mannered delivery, but during a conversation with the New York Health Foundation, he didn't mince words about the challenges as the city's top doctor, specifically the pandemic power struggle between Mayor Bill de Blasio and Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

"There were moments where, you know, my frustration at not being able to, um, to advance public health policy for New Yorkers could be directly tied to the toxicity of that relationship," Chokshi said.

Chokshi specifically highlighted a time in January 2021 when the city announced first responders would be among the first to receive the COVID vaccine.

"That's a great step forward, but we want to go further," de Blasio said at the time.

Only for Cuomo to override the decision a short time later, saying it was not within the mayor's authority.

"Police who are not health care workers are not yet eligible. We need to get the health care population done first because they are the front line," Cuomo said in January 2021.

Chokshi explained what happened next.

"Then I got a very irate phone call to let me know, in no uncertain terms, you know, that I would be held responsible for breaking state law if we were going to move forward to, you know, to vaccinate first responders," he said.

A tension Chokshi called "ludicrous." Still, he says he focused on balancing the science of public health, public will and politics in his decisions.

"So that we can prevent as much suffering and save as many lives as possible," Chokshi said.

But Chokshi warns COVID is far from over. From racial inequities to combatting misinformation, he hopes the city takes what it has learned to be better prepared for the next emergency.

Cuomo's spokesperson released the following statement in response:

"I'm not sure what he's talking about, but at the time we had extremely limited vaccine supply from the federal government and clear state guidelines that prioritized front line healthcare workers. City Hall kept failing to fulfill this basic responsibility and rather than focus on the task at hand they threw everything at the wall to change the subject and shift attention away from their ineptitude."     

CBS2 also reached out to de Blasio for comment. We have not heard back.

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