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Groundhog That Slipped Out Of Mayor De Blasio's Hands Died A Week Later

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) -- The groundhog that slipped out of Mayor Bill de Blasio's hands and fell during the Staten Island Zoo Groundhog Day ceremony in February died a week after the fall.

The death was just coming to light on Thursday, but New York State Assemblyman Matthew Titone (D- Staten Island) said the Staten Island Zoo assured him that the fall from the mayor's hands is not why the groundhog died.

"There is no 'Chuckgate,'" Titone told 1010 WINS' Mona Rivera. "The mayor is not responsible for this animal's death."

Groundhog That Slipped Out Of Mayor De Blasio's Hands Died A Week Later

As CBS 2's Sonia Rincon reported, Mayor de Blasio was not the first mayor to have a little trouble with one of the Staten Island Chuck groundhogs at the zoo. Staten Island Chuck bit Mayor Michael Bloomberg there back in 2009.

The groundhog that Mayor de Blasio handled was actually a female.
Zoo spokesman Brian Morris told the Associated Press the zoo has four groundhogs, all with the variations of the brand name "Chuck.''

On the morning of Feb. 2, zoo staff selects which of the groundhogs will participate in the ceremony and be dubbed Chuck for the day. (The animal's formal name is Charles G. Hogg.)

"It's usually whichever groundhog is the least grouchy that day,'' Morris said. "This is a time of year when genetics tell them to be hibernating. They can be in a bad mood.''

And it was revealed Thursday that Charlotte died a few days after being held by Mayor de Blasio. The cause was internal injuries.

But Morris also said the injuries had nothing to do with the Groundhog Day fall.

"Right after the ceremony itself, the veterinarian took her in to the hospital and did a full examination on her," Morris said.

The veterinarian found the Feb. 2 incident and found "no evidence of trauma or pain, with the animal displaying normal behavior," zoo spokesman Brian Morris said in a statement.

Added Titone: "Charlotte was X-rayed; there was no indication whatsoever that she received any type of injury from this fall."

The animal also participated in several events in the week after Groundhog Day and seemed normal, Morris said.

But on Feb. 9, the animal was found dead in its exhibit, and a necropsy revealed "sudden internal injuries," according to the zoo.

So what did cause Charlotte's fatal injuries?

The exact cause of the injuries could not be determined, but the zoo said "the incident appears to have been sudden" and the animal most likely suffered the injuries "sometime during the week after Groundhog Day, potentially overnight while in its exhibit."

Officials have Charlotte's her death a mystery.

Meanwhile, Morris confirmed that the zoo did not tell the mayor's office about the death.

"There was no reason to do it,'' he told The Associated Press. "It's not like we were trying to spare the mayor's feelings.''

Mayoral spokesman Phil Walzak said in a statement Thursday, "We were unaware that Staten Island Chuck had passed but are sorry to hear of the loss.

This year was de Blasio's first time doing the annual ceremony. He wore heavy work gloves on the cold winter day, in part as a safety precaution after Mayor Bloomberg was bitten, Morris said.

Morris said the groundhog's handler "may not have been forceful enough'' in placing the animal in de Blasio's hands, preventing the mayor from getting a firm grip, the AP reported. The groundhog quickly squirmed away from the inexperienced mayor and plummeted to the ground.

"It was a complete bungle,'' Morris said.

The zoo also said Charlotte apparently stepped in for Chuck because due to concerns that the groundhog would also bite de Blasio, the New York Post reported. However, the groundhog that bit Bloomberg has since died.

Groundhogs live about seven years, Morris said.

News of the death prompted City Council Minority Leader Vincent Ignizio (R-51st) to suggest that de Blasio, a Democrat, shouldn't try to hold the rodent next year.

"I think the handling of the groundhog may be best left to professionals,'' Ignizio said.

The zoo also said it considering maybe not having the mayor actually touch the groundhog in the future.

There was no activity at the zoo's groundhog hut on Thursday, but other Staten Islanders said it is probably better for everyone's safety if mayors don't touch.

"Since they don't seem very comfortable, and they're not sure what to do around them," said Stan Syvertson.

"I love animals, so that's probably the best bet," said Kim Cataudella.

Steve Urcinoli specifically does not want Mayor DeBlasio to pick up another groundhog.

"He's too tall. That's the problem," Urcinoli said. "Shorter mayors."

The story also electrified social media Thursday, prompting a flood of Twitter jokes about a #Groundhoghazi cover-up and de Blasio's possible impeachment.

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(TM and © Copyright 2014 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2014 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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