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Bill de Blasio

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His Honor
Bill de Blasio
Bill de Blasio 11-2-2013.jpg
109th Mayor of New York City
Incumbent
Assumed office
January 1, 2014
Preceded by Michael Bloomberg
3rd Public Advocate of New York City
In office
January 1, 2010 – December 31, 2013
Preceded by Betsy Gotbaum
Succeeded by Letitia James
Member of the New York City Council
from the 39th district
In office
January 1, 2002 – December 31, 2009
Preceded by Stephen DiBrienza
Succeeded by Brad Lander
Personal details
Born Warren Wilhelm, Jr.
(1961-05-08) May 8, 1961 (age 54)
New York City, New York, U.S.
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) Chirlane McCray (1994–present)
Children Chiara
Dante
Alma mater New York University (B.A.)
Columbia University (M.A.)
Religion Nonpracticing[1]
Signature
Website Government website
Personal website

Bill de Blasio (born Warren Wilhelm, Jr.,[2] May 8, 1961) is an American politician currently serving as the 109th mayor of New York City. From 2010 to 2013, he held the citywide office of New York City Public Advocate, serving as an ombudsman between the electorate and the city government. He formerly served as a New York City Council member, representing the 39th District in Brooklyn, which contains Borough Park, Carroll Gardens, Cobble Hill, Gowanus, Kensington, Park Slope, and Windsor Terrace. De Blasio, the Democratic Party nominee for mayor of New York City in the 2013 election, defeated Republican Joe Lhota with more than 73 percent of the vote. De Blasio is the first Democratic mayor of the city since David Dinkins was in office from 1990 to 1993.[3]

He ran for mayor promising to end stop and frisk and heal bitter relations between the New York Police Department and New Yorkers of color. His tenure has seen a spike in anti-police protests and disaffection with law enforcement, and he has been charged by the NYPD union with putting the interests of protesters above those of the police. He initiated new de-escalation training for officers,[4] reduced marijuana prosecutions,[5] and oversaw the beginning of body cameras worn by police.[6][7] De Blasio approved a $41 million settlement for the five men whose convictions in the 1989 Central Park jogger case were overturned[8] and ended a post-9/11 surveillance program to spy on Muslim New Yorkers.[9]

Early life and education[edit]

De Blasio was born Warren Wilhelm, Jr. in Manhattan, the son of Warren Wilhelm and Maria (née de Blasio).[2] His father was of German ancestry, and his maternal grandparents were Italian immigrants:[10][11] his grandfather, Giovanni, was from the city of Sant'Agata de' Goti, Benevento, and his grandmother, Anna (née Briganti), was from Grassano, Matera.[12] (The family's surname was originally capitalized as "De Blasio.")

De Blasio was raised in Cambridge, Massachusetts.[13] His mother graduated from Smith College in 1938, and his father graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Yale University. His mother was 44 years old when he was born, and he has two older brothers, Steven and Donald.[1] His paternal grandfather, author Donald Wilhelm, graduated from Harvard University.[1] Although he was baptized Catholic, de Blasio is non-practicing. He speaks Italian.[1]

De Blasio stated that when he was 7 years old, his father left home; his parents divorced shortly after that.[14] In a 2012 interview, de Blasio described his upbringing: "[My dad] was an officer in the Pacific in the army, [and fought] in an extraordinary number of very, very difficult, horrible battles, including Okinawa.... And I think honestly, as we now know about veterans who return, [he] was going through physically and mentally a lot.... He was an alcoholic, and my mother and father broke up very early on in the time I came along, and I was brought up by my mother's family—that's the bottom line—the de Blasio family."[15] In September 2013, de Blasio revealed that his father had committed suicide in 1979 while suffering from incurable lung cancer.[16]

He eventually adopted his mother's family name of de Blasio because his father was "largely absent," and he wanted to embrace his Italian heritage.[17] In 1983, he changed his legal name to Warren de Blasio-Wilhelm, which he described in April 2012: "I started by putting the name into my diploma, and then I hyphenated it legally when I finished NYU, and then, more and more, I realized that was the right identity." By the time he appeared on the public stage in 1990, he was using the name Bill de Blasio, as he is called "Bill" or "Billy" in his personal life.[15] He petitioned to officially change his name to Bill de Blasio in December 2001, after the discrepancy was noted during an election.[17]

De Blasio received a B.A. from New York University, majoring in metropolitan studies, a program in urban studies, and received a Master of International Affairs from Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs.[18] He is a 1981 Harry S. Truman Scholar.[19]

Early career[edit]

De Blasio's first post-college job was part of the Urban Fellows Program for the New York City Department of Juvenile Justice in 1984.[20][21] In 1987, shortly after completing graduate school at Columbia, he was hired to work as a political organizer by the Quixote Center in Maryland. In 1988, de Blasio traveled with the Quixote Center to Nicaragua for 10 days to help distribute food and medicine during the Nicaraguan Revolution. De Blasio was an ardent supporter of the ruling Sandinista government, which was at that time opposed by the Reagan administration.[21]

After returning from Nicaragua, de Blasio moved to New York City, where he worked for a nonprofit organization focused on improving health care in Central America.[21] He continued to support the Sandinistas in his spare time, joining a group called the Nicaragua Solidarity Network of Greater New York, which held meetings and fundraisers for the Sandinista political party.[21] De Blasio's introduction to city politics came in 1989, when he worked as a volunteer coordinator for David Dinkins' mayoral campaign.[22] Following the campaign, de Blasio served as an aide in City Hall.[23]

U.S. Representative Charlie Rangel tapped de Blasio to be his campaign manager for his successful 1994 re-election bid.[24] In 1997, he was appointed to serve as the regional director for the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) for New York and New Jersey under the administration of President Bill Clinton. As the tri-state region's highest-ranking HUD official, de Blasio led a small executive staff and took part in outreach to residents of substandard housing.[25][26] In 1999, he was elected a member of Community School Board 15.[27] The following year, he served as campaign manager for Hillary Rodham Clinton's successful United States Senate bid.[27]

New York City Council (2001–2009)[edit]

Elections[edit]

In 2001, de Blasio decided to run for the New York City Council's 39th district, which includes the Brooklyn neighborhoods of Borough Park, Carroll Gardens, Cobble Hill, Gowanus, Kensington, Park Slope, and Windsor Terrace. He won the crowded primary election with 32 percent of the vote.[28] In the general election, he defeated Republican Robert A. Bell, 71 percent–17 percent.[29] In 2003, he won re-election with 72 percent of the vote[30] and in 2005 was re-elected for a third term with 83 percent of the vote.[31]

Tenure[edit]

On the city council, de Blasio passed legislation to prevent landlord discrimination against tenants who hold federal housing subsidy vouchers, and helped pass the HIV/AIDS Housing Services Law, improving housing services for low-income New Yorkers living with HIV/AIDS.[32][33] As head of the city council's General Welfare Committee, de Blasio helped pass the Gender-Based Discrimination Protection Law to protect transgender New Yorkers and passed the Domestic Partnership Recognition Law to ensure that same-sex couples in a legal partnership could enjoy the same legal benefits as heterosexual couples in New York City.[34] During his tenure, the General Welfare Committee also passed the Benefits Translation for Immigrants Law, which helped non-English speakers receive free language-assistance services when accessing government programs.[35]

Committee assignments[edit]

  • Education[36]
  • Environmental Protection[37]
  • Finance[38]
  • General Welfare (Chairman)[39]
  • Technology in Government[40]

New York City Public Advocate (2010–2013)[edit]

Election[edit]

De Blasio speaking at his January 2010 inauguration as New York City Public Advocate

In November 2008, he announced his candidacy for New York City Public Advocate, entering a crowded field of candidates vying for the Democratic nomination, which included former Public Advocate Mark J. Green. The New York Times endorsed de Blasio in an editorial published during the primary, praising his efforts to improve public schools and "[help] many less-fortunate New Yorkers with food stamps, housing, and children's health" as a councilmember. The editorial went on to declare de Blasio the best candidate for the job "because he has shown that he can work well with Mayor Bloomberg when it makes sense to do so while vehemently and eloquently opposing him when justified."[41] His candidacy was endorsed by then Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum, former Mayor Ed Koch, former Governor Mario Cuomo, and Reverend Al Sharpton.[42]

On September 15, 2009, de Blasio came in first in the Democratic primary, garnering 33 percent of the vote.[43] He won the run-off primary election on September 29, defeating Green, 62 percent to 38 percent.[44] In the general election on November 3, de Blasio defeated Republican Alex Zablocki in a landslide victory, 78 percent to 18 percent.[45][46]

De Blasio was inaugurated as New York City's third Public Advocate on January 1, 2010. In his inauguration speech, he challenged the administration of Mayor Bloomberg, specifically criticizing his homelessness and education policies.[47]

Education[edit]

As public advocate, de Blasio repeatedly criticized Mayor Bloomberg's education policies. He called for Cathie Black, Bloomberg's nominee for New York City Schools Chancellor, to take part in public forums and criticized her for sending her own children to private schools.[48][49] In March 2010, he spoke against an MTA proposal to eliminate free MetroCards for students, arguing the measure would take a significant toll on school attendance.[50] Three months later, he voiced opposition to the mayor's proposed budget containing more than $34 million in cuts to childcare services.[51]

In June 2011, de Blasio outlined a plan to improve the process of school co-location, by which multiple schools are housed in one building. His study found community input was often ignored by the city's Department of Education, resulting in top-down decisions made without sufficient regard for negative impact. He outlined eight solutions to improve the process and incorporate community opinion into the decision-making process.[52] The same month, he also criticized a proposal by the Bloomberg administration to lay off more than 4,600 teachers to balance the city's budget; de Blasio organized parents and communities against the proposed cuts and staged a last-minute call-a-thon. Bloomberg restored the funding, agreeing to find savings elsewhere in the budget.[53]

During his mayoral campaign, de Blasio outlined a plan to raise taxes on residents earning more than $500,000 a year to pay for universal pre-kindergarten programs and to expand after-school programs at middle schools.[54][55] He also pledged to invest $150 million annually into the City University of New York to lower tuition and improve degree programs.[55]

In September 2013, de Blasio voiced his opposition to charter schools, maintaining that their funding saps resources from classes like art, physical education and afterschool programs. He outlined a plan to discontinue the policy of offering rent-free space to the city's 183 charter schools and to place a moratorium on the co-location of charters schools in public school buildings. He said, "I won't favor charters. Our central focus is traditional public schools."[56] In October 2013, nearly 20,000 demonstrators marched across the Brooklyn Bridge to protest de Blasio's proposal to charge rent to charter schools.[57]

Housing[edit]

In June 2010, de Blasio opposed a New York City Housing Authority decision to cut the number of Section 8 vouchers issued to low-income New Yorkers. The cut was announced after the NYCHA discovered it could not pay for approximately 2,600 vouchers that had already been issued. The Housing Authority reversed its decision a month later.[58] Two months later, he launched an online "NYC's Worst Landlords Watchlist" to track landlords who failed to repair dangerous living conditions. The list drew widespread media coverage and highlighted hundreds of landlords across the city. "We want these landlords to feel like they're being watched," de Blasio told the Daily News. "We need to shine a light on these folks to shame them into action."[59]

Affordable housing[edit]

Atlantic Avenue, in Brooklyn East New York, which has been scarred by decades of poverty and crime, is the first test and focus of de Blasio’s strategy on affordable housing, one of his chief policy initiatives central to his platform of reducing inequality. Skeptical long-term residents resist change such as high-rises on streets currently lined with rowhouses and small apartment buildings in poor neighborhoods which would strain the subways, pack schools and push longtime residents out. Since 2012 city planners have been working to bring residents to forums to consult on the process. The plan is to "invite developers to build up local streets in exchange for more units of affordable housing." They will invest in new trees, parks, sidewalks, schools, shops, restaurants that will lead to better services.[60]

Campaign finance[edit]

De Blasio has been a vocal opponent of Citizens United, the January 2010 U.S. Supreme Court decision which overturned portions of the 2002 McCain-Feingold Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act. He argued that "corporations should not be allowed to buy elections," and launched a national campaign by elected officials to reverse the effects of the court decision.[61]

Mayor of New York City (2014–present)[edit]

2013 election[edit]

On January 27, 2013, de Blasio announced his candidacy for Mayor of New York City in the fall election.[62][63]

The Democratic primary race included nine candidates, among them Council Speaker Christine Quinn, former U.S. Representative Anthony Weiner, and former New York City Comptroller and 2009 mayoral nominee Bill Thompson.[64][65] After Weiner joined the race in April, early polls showed de Blasio in fourth or fifth among the candidates.[66]

Bill de Blasio with his wife, Chirlane, (left) and children Chiara and Dante at a rally in New York City in 2013

Despite his poor starting rank in the primary race, de Blasio was able to gain the endorsements of major Democratic clubs such as the Barack Obama Democratic Club of Upper Manhattan as well as New York City's largest trade union, SEIU Local 1199. Celebrities such as Alec Baldwin and Sarah Jessica Parker endorsed him, as did prominent politicians such as former Vermont Governor Howard Dean and U.S. Congresswoman Yvette Clarke.[67][68][69] By August, singer Harry Belafonte and actress Susan Sarandon had endorsed de Blasio.[70]

De Blasio gained media attention during the campaign when he and a dozen others, including city councillor Stephen Levin, were arrested while protesting the closing of Long Island College Hospital.[71] De Blasio and Levin were released a few hours later with disorderly conduct summonses. Fellow Democratic mayoral hopefuls Anthony Weiner and City Comptroller John Liu were also at the protest but were not arrested.[72]

De Blasio moved up in the polls and by mid-August he emerged as the new leader among the Democrats.[73] He reached 43 percent in a Quinnipiac poll released a week before the primary.[74]

Preliminary results of the September 11 primary election showed de Blasio taking 40.1 percent of the votes, slightly more than the 40 percent needed to avoid a runoff.[75]

On September 16, second-place finisher Bill Thompson conceded, citing the unlikelihood of winning a runoff, even if uncounted absentee and military ballots pushed de Blasio below the 40 percent threshold. Thompson's withdrawal cleared the way for de Blasio to become the Democratic nominee against Republican Joe Lhota in the general election.[76] Exit polls showed that the issue that most aided de Blasio's primary victory was his unequivocal opposition to "stop and frisk."[77]

After the primary, de Blasio was announced as the nominee on the Working Families Party line.[78]

In the general election, de Blasio defeated Lhota in a landslide, winning 72.2 percent to 24 percent.[79] Voter turnout for the 2013 election set a new record low of only 24 percent of registered voters, which the The New York Times attributed to the expectation of a landslide in the heavily Democratic city.[80]

Tenure[edit]

De Blasio was sworn into office on January 1, 2014, by former President Clinton. In de Blasio's inaugural address, he reiterated his campaign pledge to address "economic and social inequalities" within the city.[81] The New York Times noted that "The elevation of an assertive, tax-the-rich liberal to the nation's most prominent municipal office has fanned hopes that hot-button causes like universal prekindergarten and low-wage worker benefits... could be aided by the imprimatur of being proved workable in New York."[82]

In the first weeks of de Blasio's mayorship, New York City was struck by a series of snowstorms.[83] De Blasio was criticized by Upper East Side residents who said efforts to clear the snow seemed to be lagging in their wealthy neighborhood.[84] The mayor apologized the next day, admitting that "more could have been done to serve the Upper East Side."[84] On February 13, heavy snowstorms again hit the East Coast. Under instructions from the mayor and the School Chancellor Carmen Fariña, the city's public schools were kept open. The decision was criticized by teacher unions, parents and the media as up to 9.5 inches of snow fell that day.[85] By the middle of February, the city had been forced to add $35 million to the Sanitation Department's budget for snow removal costs.[83]

In July 2014, de Blasio signed a bill that created municipal identification cards for all residents regardless of their immigration status, helping them secure access to city services.[86] Homeless New Yorkers are also eligible to obtain the "IDNYC" cards, so long as they register a "care of" address. The IDNYC card program was launched January 1, 2015.[87]

NYPD relations[edit]

De Blasio ran for mayor making opposition to the NYPD's "stop and frisk" policy a centerpiece of his campaign.[88] The practice had been challenged by civil rights groups in federal court, where it was ruled unconstitutional in 2013. The federal appeal to this decision filed by the Bloomberg administration was promptly dropped by de Blasio upon taking office. De Blasio vowed to settle cases with claimants who had ongoing litigation against the police for stop and frisk arrests. The NYPD union appealed the decision without de Blasio's support, and was rejected.[89]

De Blasio selected Bill Bratton to be New York City Police Commissioner, a position he previously held under former Mayor Rudy Giuliani. Bratton, who introduced stop-and-frisk under Giuliani, promised it would be used "legally, respectfully" and less frequently.[90][91] Some de Blasio supporters were disappointed with Bratton's appointment.[92]

In February 2014, Mayor de Blasio came under criticism for making a call to the police shortly after one of his supporters was detained by the police. Pastor Bishop Orlando Findlayter—the founder of the New Hope Christian Fellowship Church, and a friend of de Blasio—was pulled over by the police for failing to signal on a left turn. Bishop was then detained by police on outstanding warrants and for driving with a suspended license.[93] De Blasio is alleged to have called the police on Findlayter's behalf. Findlayter was released shortly thereafter. In a press conference, de Blasio told reporters that—while he had called the police to make an inquiry regarding Bishop's arrest—he did not request the police to release Findlayter.[94] A spokesperson for the mayor stated that de Blasio's call occurred after the police already had decided to release Bishop.[93] While both the police and City Hall denied that the mayor asked for preferential treatment, City Comptroller Scott M. Stringer stated that the mayor's behavior was problematic, because "the mayor shouldn't be involved in any way about somebody's arrest."[95]

New Yorkers demonstrating against police brutality at Pace University in November 2014

On December 3, 2014, de Blasio stated in a speech following a grand jury decision not to indict NYPD officer Daniel Pantaleo in the death of Eric Garner that he and his African American wife, Chirlane McCray, had had many conversations[96] with their son regarding taking "special care in any encounters he has with the police officers who are there to protect him."[97] The mayor explained that what he and his wife did was "What parents have done for decades who have children of color, especially young men of color, [which] is train them to be very careful whenever they have an encounter with a police officer," adding "I have talked to many families of color. They have had to have the same conversation with their sons."[98]

In response, the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association of the City of New York, the city's largest labor union for police officers, issued a flier encouraging members to request that de Blasio, as well as Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Vivereto, not attend their funerals should they die in the line of duty.[99] De Blasio and Mark-Vivereto criticized the move, issuing a joint statement which read in part: "Incendiary rhetoric like this serves only to divide the city, and New Yorkers reject these tactics."[99]

Following the December 20, 2014 deaths of two NYPD officers in "execution" style, numerous police unions issued statements blaming de Blasio for their deaths and police officers turned their backs to the mayor when he visited the hospital where the two officers' bodies were taken.[100] The same week, Politico printed a statement from an unnamed "former aide" of the mayor, who claimed that de Blasio had believed the police were spying on him during the election. According to his report, de Blasio would not speak on his cellphone until he was out of earshot of his security detail, whom he believed were listening in on his conversations.[101]

On December 26, a plane pulling a banner stating "De Blasio, Our Backs Have Turned To You" was spotted. John Cardillo, a former NYPD officer as well as a blogger, tweeted out a picture of the plane with the banner saying that a coalition of both retired and current NYPD officers had paid to have the banner flown, and the same group had asked him to release a statement which states they no longer have "confidence" or believe in the "ability to lead New York City" of the mayor.[102] The following day, de Blasio attended the funeral of officer Rafael Ramos. While the mayor made his remarks, hundreds of officers were seen to have turned their backs to the giant screen projecting the mayor giving his speech,[103] further highlighting the continuing tension.[102] Some officers also repeated the action at the funeral of Wenjian Liu.[104]

Horse-drawn carriages[edit]

One of the many carriage horses present throughout Central Park

At a December 2013 news conference, de Blasio reiterated that he would outlaw Central Park's horse-drawn carriages when he took office, supporting animal rights groups that believe the horses are treated inhumanely. He said, "We are going to get rid of horse carriages, period." Anti-horse carriage activists gave financial support to him during his mayoral campaign, and summarily dismissed his opponent, Christine Quinn, for her support of the industry.[105] He confirmed to the media that he hired legal counsel who will deal with the legislative approach. De Blasio has proposed replacing the horse carriages with electric antique cars as a tourist attraction.[106]

Such a position incurred the opposition of carriage supporters such as actor Liam Neeson, who in March 2014 challenged the mayor to visit the Clinton Park Stables with him. The mayor declined the invitation, saying he would visit on his own.[107]

Political positions[edit]

Transit service and traffic safety[edit]

In 2014, de Blasio released a report dedicated to "better transit for New York City." Some of the ideas brought up in the report were to rebuild Penn Station/Madison Square Garden, create more bus rapid transit routes,[108] and a "Vision Zero" initiative to reduce traffic-related deaths in the city.[109]

Charter schools[edit]

Bill de Blasio's decision to deny the use of public space to several New York City charter schools provoked controversy. This decision overturned an arrangement made by the Bloomberg administration which allowed for "co-locations" where charter schools were housed in public school buildings.[110] The mayor also revoked $200 million of capital funding that had been earmarked for charter schools.[111]

The New York Times emphasized that de Blasio approved fourteen charter school co-locations and denied approval for just three, suggesting that the mayor is being unfairly cast as being opposed to charter schools.[112]

Approximately two months after the initial decision, the mayor's office announced that it had found space for the three schools. The city will lease three buildings from the Archdiocese of New York which were previously used as Catholic schools, and will renovate and maintain the properties. The three charter schools are run by Success Academy Charter Schools.[113]

Universal Pre-K[edit]

Bill de Blasio is an advocate of "Universal Pre-K," the availability of publicly funded pre-kindergarten for all New York City residents.[114] De Blasio sought to fund the program by increasing taxes on New York City residents earning $500,000 or more.[115]

Personal life[edit]

De Blasio and his wife, activist and poet Chirlane McCray, met while both were working for Mayor Dinkins' administration and married in 1994.[116] They lived in Park Slope, Brooklyn before moving into Gracie Mansion,[117] the traditional residence of New York City mayors. They have two children: Dante, a high school junior at Brooklyn Technical High School, and Chiara, a student at Santa Clara University in California.[62][116][118] His daughter Chiara addressed her own challenges with substance abuse and depression in late December 2013, through a four-minute video that the mayor's transition team released.[119]

Standing at a height of 6 ft 5 in (1.96 m), de Blasio is the tallest mayor in New York City's history.[120][121]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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  3. ^ Michael Barbaro; David W. Chen (November 6, 2013). "De Blasio Is Elected New York City Mayor in Landslide". The New York Times. Retrieved November 6, 2013. 
  4. ^ Marc Santora (December 4, 2014). "Mayor de Blasio Announces Retraining of New York Police". The New York Times. 
  5. ^ Matt Schiavenza (November 10, 2014). "New York City's Incomplete Marijuana Reform". The Atlantic. 
  6. ^ Ross Barkan (March 14, 2003). "Bill de Blasio Says New York Will Seek Federal Funding for Body Cameras". New York Observer. 
  7. ^ Henry Goldman (December 3, 2014). "NYC to Test Body-Worn Cameras for Police, De Blasio Says". Bloomberg. 
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  9. ^ Matt Apuzzo; Joseph Goldstein (April 16, 2014). "New York Drops Unit That Spied on Muslims". The New York Times. Retrieved January 11, 2015. 
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  48. ^ Celeste Katz (December 8, 2010). "Bill de Blasio Unimpressed With Cathie Black's Hedging On A Public School Do-Over For Her Kids". NY Daily News. Retrieved January 11, 2015. 
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  51. ^ "Public Advocate de Blasio & NYC Parents Fight to Protect City's Daycare Centers". Office of the Public Advocate. 
  52. ^ "Consensus for Reform: A Plan for Collaborative School Co-Locations" (Press release). Office of the Public Advocate. July 20, 2011. 
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External links[edit]

Civic offices
Preceded by
Stephen DiBrienza
Member of the New York City Council
from the 39th district

2002–2009
Succeeded by
Brad Lander
Political offices
Preceded by
Betsy Gotbaum
Public Advocate of New York City
2010–2013
Succeeded by
Letitia James
Preceded by
Michael Bloomberg
Mayor of New York City
2014–present
Incumbent
Party political offices
Preceded by
Bill Thompson
Democratic nominee for Mayor of New York City
2013
Most recent