News & Politics

Harlem Deer Dies for Sins of NY’s Politicians

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The pissing contest between Mayor Bill de Blasio and Governor Andrew Cuomo, once characterized by nothing more peculiar than budget tussles, press-office snipings, and the two men’s elaborately choreographed avoidance of each other at parades and functions, spun in a dark and unfathomable direction today, claiming the life of a one-antlered white-tailed deer.

The deer in question was first sighted in Harlem two weeks ago, in Jackie Robinson Park, presumably having made his way onto Manhattan by swimming the East River or trotting across a bridge. At the time, city officials made the determination to leave the deer alone. Late Wednesday night, though, the deer left the park and went into a nearby public housing project, where it was captured and taken to a local animal shelter. After weighing their options, Parks officials determined that the deer would probably have to be euthanized. State guidelines prohibit the trapping and relocation of deer, since the process is quite difficult, frequently results in injury to the deer, and even in the best of circumstances “the long term survival of relocated deer is often low.”

“We’re sort of backed into a corner here,” mayoral spokeswoman Natalie Grybauskas told the Times yesterday afternoon. “It’s not so much a decision as it is, ‘This is the option.’ ”

Then, last night, shortly after the animal shelter had received instructions to euthanize the deer, Governor Cuomo inserted himself into the affair, directing the state Department of Environmental Conservation to help the city transport the animal to a new habitat “immediately.” Cuomo has a long history of trying to score cheap points by offering his help on city issues, but this was probably the silliest. Temperatures are in the low teens and an all-time record number of New Yorkers are homeless, but Cuomo wanted to ride to the rescue of a deer.

“Fine, you want to spend the gas taking this problem off our plate, you’re welcome to it,” would have been a pragmatic response from the city to the governor’s offer. “lol whatevs andrew here’s your stupid deer-boyfriend we named it andrew hope you guys are happy together” would have also worked fine. Instead, team de Blasio took it darker, digging in. The deer must die.

It got weirder. city and state officials gave differing accounts of their conversations after the capture of the deer, leaving the public to choose between two possibilities: Either Team Cuomo was gaslighting City Hall, telling them in private to kill the deer, then calling them bloody-minded killers in public when they prepared to follow through; or Team de Blasio was bent on on deer-murder and determined to pin the blame for the hit on the state, despite its entreaties to let the little guy live.

As the Deer Crisis entered its second day, de Blasio faced blowback from New Yorkers. Was it really necessary to kill the deer, a caller asked the mayor on the Brian Lehrer Show? De Blasio responded that transporting and releasing the deer under these circumstances would be “inhumane in its own right.” Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., weighed in on Twitter on the side of fuzzy things and Christmas.

By early afternoon, the Daily News was reporting that the veterinarians at the shelter where the deer was being kept were refusing to kill it as directed. But in the crowning piece of surreality, City Hall was hiding an ace up its sleeve, according to the Daily News: “If the vets refuse to buckle, an undercover Emergency Service Unit cop was supposed to handle the execution.”

What? I mean, what? An undercover special-ops cop was in position to kill the deer if everything else went south? Was he disguised as one of the veterinarians? How long had he been embedded, waiting for just this situation?

Perhaps sensing that reality was spinning dangerously off axis in this storyline, the city took a step back: The deer would live, and would be turned over to the state, who would relocate it upstate, tweeted the mayor’s press secretary in the cattiest concession-tweet ever composed. Cuomo Communications Director Rich Azzopardi, never one to miss a chance to stick a thumb in someone’s eye, responded with a triumphant chest-thumping.

Then, as experts had predicted, the deer died, lending credence to de Blasio’s position that euthanizing it would have been the most humane course of action. Cuomo, in his efforts to grandstand, had ensured that the deer died terrified and stressed. The governor’s press office has not yet responded to requests for comment, but the state Department of Environmental Conservation wasted no time pushing out a statement blaming the death on city government: “We offered yesterday to take possession of the deer and transport it to a suitable habitat,” the statement reads. “The City did not accept our offer until just before noon, and while we were arriving on scene the deer died in the City’s possession.” In a just world, the death of this deer would have prompted Cuomo and de Blasio to consider what brought us here and to quash their beef forever, just in time for the holidays. This is not a just world, and of course that has not happened.

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