City, state and now federal officials are working to contain an outbreak of Legionnaires' disease in the south Bronx. but it appears to have caused a bit of a turf battle between the governor and the mayor. Zack Fink filed the following report.
On Friday, state Health Commissioner Howard Zucker led a briefing for reporters on how state officials are responding to a Legionnaires' disease outbreak in the south Bronx.
But perhaps the most telling moment during that press conference occurred when the city's Health Commissioner, Dr. Mary Bassett, who had apparently been invited but not allotted a speaking role, demanded to be heard.
"Dr. Zucker, I think I should have the opportunity to say a few words if I may," Bassett said. "Thanks very much. Pleased to join you here."
Zucker was appointed by Governor Andrew Cuomo and Bassett by Mayor Bill de Blasio. This summer, simmering tensions between the mayor and the governor broke out into the open when de Blasio went on NY1 to say he has been disappointed at every turn by Cuomo, whom he blames for stymying his agenda in Albany.
On Friday, it was Cuomo who called NY1 to say that he and the mayor are working together on the Legionnaires' outbreak.
"Yes. We are fully coordinated on every level," Cuomo said. "Our health commissioners are working together. He has something called the first deputy mayor. I have something called the secretary. They're talking."
But according to the Cuomo administration, the state became involved not by the mayor's invitation, but by the Bronx borough president's.
"Earlier this week, Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. reached out to the governor to ask the state for help in tackling what clearly has been a public health issue in the Bronx, Legionnaires' disease," Zucker said.
It was Cuomo who brought in the federal government, including the CDC.
"If you are asking if there has been documented cases of this in the United States, I would say no, not really. We haven't really seen this," said Dr. Claressa Lucas of the Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases. "But, neither have we seen a lot of outbreaks in such a densely populated area where the towers would be so physically close to each other."
Beginning on Saturday, teams from the state Health Department will begin expediting the process of testing for the bacteria that causes Legionnaires' disease. Officials declined to say how many people will actually be on the ground.