The story of a Cambridge-raised Sandinista supporter who married a former lesbian and rose through the political ranks to become mayor of America’s largest city
- Bill De Blasio is a political insider who worked on campaigns of Bill and Hillary Clinton
- Grew up in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and is a lifelong Red Sox fan
- Traveled to Nicaragua as a student in the 1980s and became supporter of the socialist government
- Married Chirlane McCray in 1994 after meeting at City Hall
- McCray wrote a seminal 1979 magazine article declaring that she was a black lesbian
PUBLISHED: 14:44 EST, 6 November 2013 | UPDATED: 19:05 EST, 6 November 2013
Bill De Blasio, the first Democrat elected mayor of New York City in a generation, is a Massachusetts-raised former supporter of the communist Sandinistas who married a lesbian poet.
And he’s a lifelong Boston Red Sox fan.
De Blasio’s path to becoming the leader of America’s largest city was unorthodox – especially compared with his Democratic predecessors.
He rose up the ranks of Democratic politics. He worked as a junior aide to the last Democratic mayor, David Dinkins. He served in the Clinton Administration and ran Hillary Clinton’s 2000 bid for the U.S. Senate. He served three years as a Democrat on the City Council.
But he is not necessarily a product of the party political machine like previous Democratic mayors – in part because that machinery no longer exists in the way it once did.
Partners: Bill De Blasio’s marriage to Cirlane McCray, a former lesbian, was a major development in De Blasio’s ride to power. The couple are seen today after their landslide victory
Childhood in Cambridge, Massachusetts
De Blasio was born Warren Wilhelm, Jr. in Manhattan in to an Italian-American mother and a German American father. For reasons unknown, he has always gone by Bill.
Both were highly-educated – Warren Wilhelm Sr. had degrees from both Harvard and Yale and Maria De Blasio went to Smith College.
Before De Blasio was born, both his parents had worked for the federal government, but had to flee Washington after being accused of being communists.
When De Blasio was a few years old, the family moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts, home of Harvard University.
He lived outside Boston until attending college at New York University. One result of his Massachusetts upbringing: He’s as fan of the Boston Red Sox – the arch-rivals of New York’s hometown baseball team, the Yankees.
But life in the Wilhelm house was not happy. His father was a war hero who lost a leg to a Japanese grenade while serving in the Pacific during the Second World War.
When De Blasio was seven, his father suddenly left the family. Warren Sr. was battling alcoholism, which De Blasio believes was a result of the horrors he saw in war.
In 1979, when De Blasio was still a teenager, Warren Sr. committed suicide.
After his father’s death, he changed his last name from Wilhelm to his mother’s maiden name: De Blasio.
He told New York magazine: ‘She was often very, very sad about thing that had happened to her, but she had a fierce resilience – a very sharp and purposeful resilience. She was very practical.’
‘IF YOU WANT TO UNDERSTAND ME, UNDERSTAND CHIRLANE’: NEW FIRST LADY IS POET, FORMER LESBIAN AND A SAVVY POLITICAL OPERATIVE
New York City has been without a First Lady for nearly all of the 21st Century, so New Yorkers have welcomed the presence of Bill De Blasio’s wife Chirlane McCray on the campaign trail.
But, De Blasio himself has promised that McCray will be unlike any First Lady the city has ever seen.
‘All I can say is buckle your seat belt. Get ready for Chirlane McCray,’ he told a crowd last month, according to the New York Daily News.
McCray will, indeed, be different the the other spouses who have lived in Gracie Mansion.
For starters, she’s a black former lesbian.
When her family moved to Longmeadow, Massacushuetts, where she grew up, they were the second black family in the area and neighbors started a petition to get them to move out.
She attended in Wellesley College and moved to New York to work in publishing.
In 1979, she write a story in Essence magazine titled ‘I am a Lesbian.’ The piece is still celebrated by gay and lesbian leaders for working to dispel the myth that there were not homosexuals in the black community.
She was an aide to Mayor David Dinkins in 1991, when she met De Blasio, who was a deputy mayor’s aide.
‘The way Bill describes it, I walked in with my African dress and my nose ring, and he heard choirs singing,’ McCray told New Yorker.
‘I did not have that experience.’
Eventually she showed him the Essen article she wrote. De Blasio wasn’t deterred. He persisted in courting her and McCray said she fell in love. They married two years later in 1994.
Daughter Chiara was born six months later.
De Blasio has promised that his wife would take an active role.
She was an ever-present face on the campaign trail – along with the couple two children, 18-year-old Chiara and 16-year-old Dante.
The Daily News reports that she also helped vet staffers. She is expected the play a large role in his administration.
‘If you want to understand me, understand Chirlane,’ he told the newspaper.
Greetings from Italy
Maria De Blasio was from Southern Italy and De Blasio still speaks Italian – he even uttered a few words of Italian during his victory speech Tuesday night in Brooklyn.
Meanwhile, in Sant’Agata de’ Goti, Italy, his maternal grandfather’s hometown, villagers gathered to celebrate De Blasio’s victory. The mayor of the town of 11,000 said he hopes that one day the Mayor of New York will visit the small hamlet outside Naples.
Supporting a brutal socialist regime
When De Blasio was in the college in the 1980s, he made a trip to Nicaragua. The Central American nation was in the midst of a bloody civil war between the Soviet-backed socialist Sandinista government and the U.S.-backed rightist Contras.
De Blasio initially said he visited the capital of Managua on a relief mission to hand out supplies to war refugees.
However, once there, he grew to admire the socialist regime, which President Ronald Reagan was attempting to help overthrow.
On his return, he joined the Nicaragua Solidarity Movement of Greater New York, which had a goal to ‘end capitalism, replace with democratic socialism.’
His support for the Sandinistas, who were accused of slaughtering hundreds of innocent civilians and ‘disappearing’ political opponents, became an issue on the campaign trail.
Republican Joe Lohda told WCBS-TV: ‘Mr De Blasio’s involvement with the Sandinistas didn’t happen in 1917; it happened 70 years later when the cruelty and intrinsic failure of communism had become crystal clear to anyone with a modicum of reason.
Mr De Blasio’s class warfare strategy in New York City is directly out of the Marxist playbook. Now we know why.’
But De Blasio didn’t shy away from his past political views, saying he was ‘very proud’ of his activism on Nicaragua.
‘I think at that time, United States policy towards Central America was wrong,’ he said in September.
‘I think most Americans came to believe it was wrong. I was proud to be an activist working against it.’
It was also revealed that in 1994, he and his wife Chirlane McCray honeymooned in communist Cuba – at a time when it was illegal for Americans to travel there. It was a fact that De Blasio and McCray didn’t even tell their two teenage children.
A political fixer goes public
De Blasio has been interested in politics his whole life. In high school, he was nicked named ‘Senator Provolone,’ a nod to both his Italian heritage and his love of student government.
He attended New York University, where he led student protests to keep the library open longer and oppose tuition hikes. He went on to earn a Masters of International Affairs from Columbia University.
In 1989, he joined the campaign for Mayor David Dinkins as a volunteer. His hard work was rewarded with a posting as an aide to a deputy mayor in the Dinkins administration.
It was there that he met his wife, who is six years older and was a speechwriter for Dinkins at the time.
After working on the re-election campaign for President Bill Clinton, he was appointed as a regional director for federal Department of Housing and Urban Development. In that director, he was the highest-ranking HUD official in the New York and New Jersey area.
In 2000, the Clintons tapped him to run Hillary’s U.S. Senate campaign.
The next year, De Blasio stepped out of the shadows for the first time and ran for public office himself. He won a crowded primary for the 39th district in Brooklyn with 32percent of the vote.
After serving three terms – including one in which he was the leader of the Brooklyn coalition, he won city-wide office as Public Advocate.
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