- Associated Press - Monday, February 2, 2015

NEW YORK (AP) - New Yorkers can look forward to an early spring, as Staten Island Chuck did not see his shadow - and avoided the potentially dangerous embrace of Mayor Bill de Blasio.

New York City’s counterpart to Punxsutawney Phil emerged from his home at the Staten Island Zoo early Monday as part of a new ceremony meant to avoid a repeat of a tragedy.

In 2014, in de Blasio’s first time at the annual Groundhog Day ceremony, the rodent slipped from his grasp and plunged to the ground. It died weeks later.

A medical exam revealed it died of internal injuries, but zoo officials said it was unclear if they were caused by the fall from de Blasio’s arms. Zoo officials - who did not did make the death public for months - also revealed that the role of Chuck a year ago was played by a female stand-in, Charlotte.

The bizarre accident - dubbed #groundhoghazi by some on social media - became a source of teasing for the mayor, and de Blasio himself suggested Monday that “teams of animal behavior experts and scientists have consulted from all over the country” to keep the groundhog safe.

“The zoo has come up with a new progressive, exciting approach to groundhog diplomacy,” de Blasio joked. “This new approach will be safer for both species involved.”

The rodent then emerged via elevator from his underground home and slowly walked around a Plexiglas cage. Unlike previous years, when the mayor would pick up the animal as it made its prognostication, no one touched Chuck as he walked around.

Zoo officials boasted that Chuck has an 80 percent success rate in correctly predicting the end of winter. Those tired of dreary weather - which included cold rain during the ceremony - should hope that Chuck is more accurate than his more famous rival, Punxsutawney Phil, who forecast in Pennsylvania that the region has six more weeks of winter ahead.

The ceremony is a yearly highlight in New York’s smallest borough, and comes complete with excited schoolchildren, groundhog themed-songs and festive costumes (including a groundhog mascot who at one point appeared to loom menacingly behind de Blasio, perhaps looking to avenge what happened to his fallen relative).

De Blasio’s drop a year ago was not the first time a mayor has had a mishap with Staten Island Chuck. In 2009, Michael Bloomberg was bitten by a groundhog and two years later, was caught on an open microphone calling the rodent a name.

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