Reaction to resignation by DOH Commissioner Zucker

Reaction to resignation by DOH Commissioner Zucker

ALBANY — The resignation of Department of Health Commissioner Howard A. Zucker, an ally of former Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, rung in a victory lap moment for Republicans lawmakers who have been calling for his departure for months. A handful of progressive Democrats also chimed in, but largely stayed out of the conversation.

Zucker, in a letter he submitted to Gov. Kathy Hochul on Thursday announcing his resignation, he said it was time to move on from his top position leading the state's health department after nearly 7 ½ years in which he served with with a "fierce dedication to the public's health."

"Perhaps in this era of social media and distrust in government, the countless unfounded criticisms have been met by conscientiousness and competence, tenacity and audacity," Zucker said in his letter to Hochul. 

Zucker was heavily critiqued by politicians for scandals concerning the safety of nursing home residents during the coronavirus pandemic, including an order for nursing homes to accept people with COVID-19, and the eventual count of how many people died from COVID-19 in the nursing homes, all the while Cuomo worked on a $5 million book deal about his successes of handling the pandemic.

Zucker often appeared on stage with Cuomo during coronavirus news conferences, pushing forward messages of how New York was doing with the pandemic, some of which has been undercut by follow-up investigations, including by Attorney General Letitia James. 

"Dr. Zucker’s resignation marks the end of a difficult chapter for our state," James said in a statement. "While I thank him for his service, we need more transparency and accountability at the Department of Health as we continue to battle COVID-19. I look forward to working with the next health commissioner, who must safeguard the health and wellbeing of all New Yorkers, especially the most vulnerable, and must do so with openness and great care."

The state Republican Party took the moment to point attention to its longstanding calls for Zucker to resign. 

"To be clear, his resignation should’ve happened in January, when I first called for it," Senate Minority Leader Rob Ortt said in a statement that immediately followed the news. "Howard Zucker chose to protect Andrew Cuomo’s political career above protecting the health of New Yorkers. We hope that he and Andrew Cuomo have occasion to continue discussing and refining their warped version of science during their retirement from public service."

Assembly Minority Leader Will Barclay said the resignation was "an obvious and overdue step."

New York GOP "presumptive" nominee for governor, U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin called Zucker's resignation a "joke."

“Howard Zucker should have been fired!" Zeldin said in a statement. "Instead of kicking Zucker to the curb, Kathy Hochul is letting him hang around for a couple extra months, and depart on his terms, giving him a pat on the back on the way out for a supposed job well done."

Sen. Jim Tedisco, R-Glenville, hit on a similar sentiment in a statement. 

"Sadly, in New York corrupt governors and their sycophant henchmen who don’t take responsibility for their bad actions don’t get impeached or fired …they just skulk away," Tedisco said.

Sen. Daphne Jordan, R-Halfmoon, called for continued investigations. 

"The resignation of Howard Zucker as State Health Commissioner is a positive, necessary, long-overdue step for New York,"Jordan said in a statement. "While we can finally begin the fresh start that our state needs, Zucker’s resignation does not equal a clean slate. There still must be answers, accountability, and justice regarding the tragic nursing home deaths that took place because of Zucker and Cuomo’s disastrous, deadly mandate."

Queensbury Republican Rep. Dan Stec pointed his frustrations in part to the state's vaccination distribution plan. 

“Many of us were also dismayed when Cuomo and Zucker bypassed our well-trained and well-prepared county health departments for vaccine distribution," Stec said in a statement. "Instead, a confusing and frustrating state distribution system had some seniors driving three hours across the Adirondacks in the middle of winter for a vaccine rather than getting one close to home."

Bronx Democrat Sen. Gustavo Rivera said Zucker's ability to serve was "hindered beyond repair" because he allowed the agency to "become a political tool for Cuomo and his allies."

"His resignation is warranted and another step toward ensuring we hold those who neglected their duties under the Cuomo administration accountable," Rivera said in a statement.