Is This NYC's Next Mayor? Interview With Bill de Blasio

The following Q/A was taken from a series of brief interviews I conducted with de Blasio, 52, over the past two weeks.
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In all likelihood, Bill de Blasio will be NYC's next mayor, and the first Democrat to win that office in nearly a quarter-century. The latest poll shows de Blasio surging, with 43% of the vote, just above the 40% needed to avoid a Democratic runoff. His next closest rivals, former Comptroller Bill Thompson and Council Speaker Christine Quinn, got just 20% and 18%, respectively. Even among women, de Blasio still trounced Quinn, the race's only female, 44%-to-18%.

De Blasio's political bona fides are impressive. He first worked for Mayor David Dinkins, becoming an assistant for community affairs, then worked under Andrew Cuomo as regional director at the Department of Housing and Urban Development, was elected a School Board member in 1999, became Hillary Clinton's Senate campaign manager in 2000, won a City Council seat in Brooklyn two years later and, in 2010, was inaugurated as Public Advocate, the city's second highest office.

The following Q/A was taken from a series of brief interviews I conducted with de Blasio, 52, over the past two weeks. As a point of full disclosure, I worked with Bill in the 1989 Dinkins campaign and came to like and admire him greatly, as a person and a political creature. I wish him well.

Briefly tell us who you are, and describe the events that shaped your life.

My professional life has been about public service. My personal life I define very intently through my family. I come personally from a broken family, divorced very early in my childhood, a family with its own share of troubles, so I think that was very influential in both me believing that someday I would consistently devote myself to my own family that I created, but I think it also really affects my view of the world. I think it gave me a sense of how vulnerable people are, and how there has to be some other positive factor in people's lives. And I believe that government is supposed to do that. So I think my political roots and ideological roots stem from what my own family went through.

What drew you into politics?

Going back to high school and college, I believed I would be involved in public service. I literally could not conceptualize anything else. The formative experience I had was the first Dinkins campaign and the first Dinkins year in City Hall, and of course working for the Clinton Administration, working for Hillary, Andrew Cuomo, and then deciding to run myself, for School Board and then for City Council and Public Advocate. I didn't set out with the notion of running for elective office, it sort of grew over time. And I honestly at times questioned if progressive change can be affected through elected office. And I came to the conclusion that there was a real way to have an impact, and that the absence of progressives in office was sort of stymying so many of the things that we needed. So here I am.

Your family has played a visible role in the campaign. Tell us about them.

My wife and family, to say the least, are the center of my life, they are my grounding. I don't want to sound schmaltzy, but they are my inspiration and you name it. A lot of people ask about how the family is involved in the campaign, and I always say, it's so organic. Chirlane and I met in City Hall, as part of the Dinkins Administration. As for our kids, they have their own views and ways of addressing the world around them, but in terms of the environment they've grown up in, they've only known Chirlane and I being around public life, and me running for office, often with (son) Dante involved. The earliest recorded instance was (daughter) Chiara leafleting with me outside her Pre-K when she was four and I was running for School Board.

Is being a multiracial family an advantage in NYC politics, or does it not matter?

First of all, it's our human reality. It's who we are. I think its unknowable, in a sense, how people judge at this point. We've always known there's some people who have negative feelings about people who come from different backgrounds who get together. The response we get when we're out campaigning is usually very warm and positive, a lot of people really feel something positive about our kids. Over the years a lot of people have said their children look like our children. And people who have Black and Latino kids often feel a real connection, something that is very important in terms of being connected, and not being about the abstraction of political life, but about being very human. It's hard to judge overall what people think but, compared to when Chirlane and I got together in 1991, the response to us as a couple and a family is now much more bracing. It was an issue, but it was never horrible. We got dirty looks, a few comments, but mostly people could not conceptualize it. We'd go into a store and the person working there treated us as two different customers who couldn't possibly be together. At the time, Chirlane was living in Flatbush, I was living in Astoria, and we quickly came to the conclusion that we were going to be together a while. But we literally couldn't live in each other's neighborhoods! Astoria was overwhelmingly white and Flatbush was overwhelmingly African-American. It would not be embracing. That's why we chose Park Slope.

What's it like to be the father of a African-American son in NYC?

It's impossible not to feel it personally. I've told him many times that he should be prepared to be stopped by the police and he should be very cautious and careful and no false moves, and do exactly what they say and keep your hands visible and, you know, I think for parents all over the city this is a very challenging conversation, not because the kids can't understand it, but because, why should we have to have this conversation with good, law-abiding kids?

Explain your "Stop-and-Frisk" position. Comptroller John Liu said you want to tinker with it, not eliminate it. Your reply?

You can look it up all over: I'm the only Democrat who believes in the three core pieces of the reform package necessary to change the situation: a new police commissioner; a ban on racial profiling, and an independent, and I emphasize the word independent, Inspector General. Quinn, Thomson and Weiner all opposed the racial profiling ban. Thomson and Liu opposed the Inspector General, Quinn wants to keep Kelly as Commissioner. John likes to talk about abolishing the practice, even including the constitutional use of Stop-and-Frisk, and I think using it constitutionally, something we haven't seen in a while, you know, an officer pursuing a specific suspect description in a legal and constitutional manner, which is obviously a normal part of good police work, that needs to continue. I think john has suggested abolishing that too. That's a mistake.

In the first big debate, everyone piled on Quinn. Why?

It was the first chance for a wider audience to see the different visions between the candidates, and there were naturally going to be real challenges to Christine Quinn because of Bloomberg, and the Bloomberg agenda, the third term in particular being so unproductive on some of the things that matter most. We're are all running on our whole record, and I think it's important for the Speaker to acknowledge the totality of her record, including giving Bloomberg a third term, and what's come of it: The Stop-and-Frisk crisis just grew, and Bloomberg doubled-down on its overuse, he had policies that were very unfair to small businesses and no serious response to income disparity and the economic crisis. So it's natural that there were challenges to her on her agenda and how similar it is to Bloomberg's, and the results of her judgment in giving him a third term. That's a natural tension running through the campaign.

Your position on term limits?

I led the opposition to the term-limits proposal by the Mayor. I was basically the (City Council) floor leader. I organized votes against the change in term limits and I was in many ways chief spokesperson for stopping the Mayor and Speaker. I thought it was a non-democratic approach, and the further we went into that fight, the more undemocratic it got. A lot of money was utilized and a lot of power was put on raw display. The last public poll taken before the term-limits vote 87% (opposed), yet the Speaker and the Council went ahead and voted for it anyway.

How else do you differ from Quinn?

Speaker Quinn has promised to build on the work of Mayor Bloomberg, a Mayor who's allowed New York to grow into a Tale of Two Cities, where 46% of residents live at or near the poverty line. I have a bold plan to break from the Bloomberg years, and end the Tale of Two Cities by providing real opportunity to all New Yorkers, no matter where they live. Speaker Quinn has campaigned on a record of defending the status quo and a platform of small ideas, like a living wage bill that covers just 500 workers and paid sick leave legislation that leaves out 300,000 New Yorkers.

What were your chief accomplishments as Councilmember?

I helped pass the Source of Income Discrimination Law that prohibits landlords from discriminating against tenants with government subsidies, and helped pass the HIV/AIDS Housing Services law that improves housing services for low income New Yorkers living with AIDS. I also sponsored the Gender Based Discrimination Protection law, and co-sponsored the Domestic Partnership Recognition law, a precursor to full marriage equality. As Chair of the City Council's General Welfare Committee, I helped pass legislation that brought translation services to hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers. And after the death of Nixmary Brown in 2006, I passed the Child Welfare Protective Services law to ensure ACS accountability by requiring the agency to produce regular reports regarding child protective services.

As Public Advocate?

I initiated a report that revealed racial disparities in the biased application of stop-and-frisk, which provided substantial proof that racial profiling has been going on. I created the Worst Landlords Watchlist to expose the city's worst slumlords, and, to date, more than 320 buildings have been repaired. After the tragic death of Marchella Pierce, I created a joint task force to investigate mishandled ACS cases, resulting in an additional $11.7 million in the city's budget for ACS and increased monitoring for service providers. Recently, I've fought to keep Long Island College Hospital and Interfaith Medical Center open.

You would add a special tax on the wealthy to finance better schools. Critics say you cannot get that passed. Your response?

Each of the past three mayors have secured tax increases in New York with Albany's approval. Senators James Sanders Jr., Liz Krueger, and Bill Perkins, and Assemblyman Luis Sepulveda have written a letter expressing their confidence in Albany's ability to pass my plan to increase taxes to pay for universal pre-K and expanded after-school programs. We can't shy away from bold ideas just because some naysayers would rather dismiss them. We're facing an education crisis, and only bold progressive ideas can remedy this. This city critically needs universal pre-K and expanded after-school programs if we want to close the pervasive racial achievement gap. I also plan to open 100 community schools over the next four years to ensure children also have direct, easy access to health and social services.

What would you keep, and eject, from Bloomberg?

I've supported many of the Bloomberg Administration's public-health initiatives, as well as his strong leadership in addressing gun violence. However, Bloomberg has continued to offer a false choice between public safety and our constitutional rights. We can have both without disproportionately applying stop-and-frisk to young men of color. This administration also could've done more to address our struggling, failing public school system. The Mayor has shown time and again that he would rather close a school's doors than engage the neighboring communities in constructive, problem-solving. I won't leave parents and teachers out of those decisions. Most importantly, the mayor has also done nothing to stem the growing income gap. Over the past twelve years in New York, where the wealthy are doing fine, but too many working and middle-class families are struggling just to get by. As Mayor, I will lead this city in a bold new direction, and work to ensure every New Yorker can earn a decent wage, send their children to strong neighborhood schools, and find affordable housing, no matter where they live.

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