New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has had one hell of a week. He took to the streets and marched alongside Jane Goodall and Al Gore in the largest climate march in history. He made his debut appearance as mayor before the United Nations, speaking briefly on “the reckless way in which we live” and the very real threat to humanity posed by a warming planet. And he unveiled an impressively aggressive plan to curb his city’s greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent by the year 2050 largely through retrofits and efficiency upgrades carried out on something that New York has a whole lot of: buildings.

Also this week, it was revealed that de Blasio literally had a hand in the tragic death of the five boroughs’ most beloved large-ish rodent.

The NY Post reports in a bombshell-laden exclusive that Charles G. Hogg, or “Chuck” to his fellow lowland marmots and legions of fans, passed away one week after a fall sustained during the Staten Island Zoo’s annual Groundhog Day ceremony. During the Feb. 2 ceremony, Chuck — a critter that enjoyed the distinction of being the world’s second most well-known groundhog after Punxsutawney Phil, no disrespect to General Beauregard Lee or Balzac Billy — slipped/squirmed away from de Blasio’s unsteady grip, sailed though the air and bit it during the photo op.

And as far as groundhog falls go, Chuck appeared to bite it pretty hard. “It was an accident, a botch, a bumble, a fumble,” said Staten Island Zoo spokesman Brian Morris of the incident, which managed to elicit a decent amount of gasps and screams from the crowd.

Following the newly minted mayor clumsily dropping an animal in front of a large gathered crowd and said animal seeing his own shadow, Chuck was examined by the zoo's veterinary team. He appeared to be unharmed. This was a relief to his handlers considering that de Blasio is a giant sequoia of a man. There would have undoubtedly been less concern if Chuck had tumbled from Bloombergian heights.

But less than a week later, Chuck was found dead. A necropsy performed by the Staten Island Zoo found the cause of death as being “acute internal injuries.” The zoo claims that even though Chuck was very publicly dropped like a very furry hot potato by a 6-foot-6 mayor just days earlier, the injuries were unrelated. According to the Post, “sources say the injuries were consistent with a fall.”

But was it that fall?

And keep in mind that this all happened back in February. Why would the Staten Island Zoo keep hush-hush until now? Although a select few zoo insiders were aware that Chuck had gone to live in the great big burrow in the sky at some point after Groundhog Day, they were told that he had died of natural causes.

Perhaps the Staten Island Zoo kept Chuck’s death a secret for so long because they were hesitant to publicly reveal another uncomfortable truth: He was actually a she.

While a weather-forecasting groundhog named Chuck does indeed live at the Staten Island Zoo, it was his stand-in and ladyfriend, Charlotte, who tragically plunged from de Blasio’s grasp.

And it was Charlotte’s grandfather, also Chuck, who famously sunk his teeth into former Mayor Michael Bloomberg's hand during 2009's Groundhog Day event (the reason de Blasio was wearing those stylish yelllow protective gloves). Essentially, it’s a Lassie type of situation: Several mostly indistinguishable animals playing the same “role” over a period of time. Chuck the groundhog, as portrayed by a line of descendants all named Chuck or Charlotte, has been around since 1982.

Groundhogs typically have a lifespan of seven years.

Chuck/Charlotte’s death was also news to the mayor’s office: “We were unaware that Staten Island Chuck had passed but are sorry to hear of the loss,” said spokesman Phil Walzak when told by the Post that his boss was potentially a groundhog murderer.

The mini-scandal at the generally quiet Staten Island Zoo — a facility best known for its snakes — has garnered a flury of national and international coverage. (The Guardian wins hands-down in the photo/caption department). And like a moth to a flame, exceptionally even-keeled and non-histrionic animal rights group PETA has also released a statement removing de Blasio from culpability but shaming the event organizers for groundhog exploitation.

While the Staten Island Zoo is considering nixing the traditional “mayor holding a groundhog” photo op for a more safe set-up in the wake of #groundhoghazi, the Post notes that Charlotte and Chuck’s daughter, Charlotte, is already being primed to play the role of Chuck in 2015.

Via [NY Post], [Wall Street Journal]

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Matt Hickman ( @mattyhick ) writes about design, architecture and the intersection between the natural world and the built environment.

Bill de Blasio embroiled in fatal groundhog fumble, zoo coverup
After months of silence, the Staten Island Zoo comes clean about the mortality — and gender — of Chuck, New York's most famous hibernating rodent.