For the first time in 20 years, New York City put a democrat in Gracie Mansion, and not just any democrat, but a democrat with a Black son and a Black daughter. Bill De Blasio, elected last fall, is married to Chirlane McCray, a Black woman who, as was often referenced during the campaign, “used to be a lesbian.” This was the most people heard about her. As with any American political race, the personal life of De Blasio, which includes his interracial marriage and Black son and daughter, was front and center. De Blasio was even criticized by his predecessor Mike “moneybags” Bloomberg who claimed that he was using his family as a tool for the campaign. However, so what? So what if someone sensitive to issues of gender, class, and race is elected to a position of power? De Blasio’s appointment is not monumental because of his relationship. It is important because of his relation to the people who are so often mis-, under- or not represented in the realm of NYC politics.
All politicians are, in some way or another, products of their socioeconomic statuses and their environment. The puritanical nature of any debate about abortion, for example, just about proves this. The vast majority of politicians in America are affluent White males married to affluent White women, the cookie cutter images of the United States citizen. Why has this past year of De Blasio been so significant? Because he does not entirely fit the mold. True, his background is shrouded in affluence (his father went to Yale and his mother graduated from Amherst), but his present and future includes an angle that is absent from what a typical politician might include in their platform.
In his first year in office, De Blasio has focused on and made significant strides in areas that reflect his experiences as a person in close proximity to the daily Black struggle. His fight to vastly reform the Stop and Frisk laws that have put countless Black youth (and some White but Black) in prison has resulted in serious reform, challenging the way police officers approach young Black people in the city. “Stop and Frisk” was championed by Mayor Bloomberg and many others in the city, likely because it made White, affluent people feel “safe.” What it actually did was introduce thousands of Black and Latin@ youth into the revolving door of the NYC criminal justice system for crimes that young affluent kids either get away with, or receive a slap on the wrist for (marijuana possession and public disorderly conduct for example).
The Mayor has also taken on two significant NYC issues—housing and education. In New York City, one used to be able to afford to live on the salary of a gas station worker, while putting themselves through school. Nowadays, if you aren’t in the one percent tax bracket, living in the city is a struggle, or at best, a property-value-raising delusion for people from the Midwest who know that they aren’t saving a dime for retirement, but want to say that they lived in New York. Development projects that catered to the wealthy sent soaring waves of gentrification into the city under Bloomberg, displacing low-income families and sending the message that poverty is undesirable for the new New York. De Blasio, again by virtue of his close proximity to a Black woman who has spent years as an activist and had a humble upbringing, has taken steps to force developers to include affordable housing, while building their sterile new apartment buildings. Additionally, De Blasio’s access to universal pre-K program is, according to his wife, a civil rights issue that provides even footing for kids who are trapped in cycles of poverty that reinforce inequality from a very young age.
De Blasio’s run in office so far is significant because he is a politician that has spent the last 20 years of his life listening to, watching, feeling, and empathizing with elements of his unrepresented constituents. His appointment of his wife as his chief advisor brings a touch of social justice and diversity to Gracie Mansion. I hope that his commitment to persons of color and those affected the most by poverty continues.
By Nedra Sandiford
MA International Affairs Candidate, Media Concentration, at The New School in New York City
*This post only addresses Mayor De Blasio’s first 100 days in office. This does not reflect current dialogue surrounding the Mayor’s attempted approaches against police brutality.