Bill de Blasio
Bill de Blasio
|109th Mayor of New York City|
|Assumed office |
January 1, 2014
|Preceded by||Michael Bloomberg|
|3rd Public Advocate of New York City|
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
January 1, 2002 – December 31, 2009
|Preceded by||Stephen DiBrienza|
|Succeeded by||Brad Lander|
Warren Wilhelm Jr.
May 8, 1961
Manhattan, New York City, U.S.
Chirlane McCray (m. 1994)
|Residence||Gracie Mansion (Official)|
|Education||New York University (BA)|
Columbia University (MIA)
Bill de Blasio (//; born Warren Wilhelm Jr.; May 8, 1961) is an American politician who is serving as the 109th Mayor of New York City. Prior to his first election to the position of Mayor, he served as New York City's public advocate from 2010 to 2013.
Born in Manhattan, he graduated from New York University and Columbia University before a brief stint as a campaign manager for Charles Rangel and Hillary Clinton. He started his career as an elected official by serving on the New York City Council representing the 39th district in Brooklyn from 2002 to 2009. His tenure as public advocate saw a reformation of various educational, housing, and campaign finance policies. He was elected Mayor of New York City in the landslide 2013 election and retained his office in 2017, another landslide election.
He initiated new de-escalation training for officers, reduced prosecutions for cannabis possession, implemented the usage of police body cameras, and ended the post-9/11 surveillance program of Muslim residents. He passed free universal Pre-K in the city, although his effort to start a millionaire tax was rejected by New York governor Andrew Cuomo. De Blasio attempted to install an unprecedented rent-freeze citywide for rent-stabilized apartments in 2015.
A self-identified populist, de Blasio has called attention to what he refers to as a stark level of economic inequality in New York City, what he described as a "tale of two cities" during his first campaign. He has publicly supported a socially liberal and progressive discourse on the city's economy, urban planning, public education, police relations, and privatization. De Blasio has maintained mixed approval rates throughout his tenure.[nb 1]
- 1 Early life and career
- 2 New York City Council (2002–2009)
- 3 New York City Public Advocate (2010–2013)
- 4 Mayor of New York City (2014–present)
- 5 Political positions
- 6 Personal life
- 7 See also
- 8 Notes
- 9 Citations
- 10 Further reading
- 11 External links
Early life and career
Bill de Blasio was born on May 8, 1961 in Manhattan's Doctors Hospital in New York City. He was born to Maria Angela (née de Blasio; 1917–2007) and Warren Wilhelm (1917–1979) as their third son. De Blasio has two brothers, Steven and Donald, thirteen and eight years his senior, respectively. His father was of German ancestry, and his mother was of Italian heritage. His maternal grandfather, Giovanni, was from the city of Sant'Agata de' Goti, Benevento, and his grandmother, Anna (née Briganti), was from Grassano, Matera. His paternal uncle, Donald George Wilhelm Jr., worked for the Central Intelligence Agency in Iran and secretly wrote Mohammad Reza Pahlavi's memoir.
Maria de Blasio attended Smith College (1938), served in the Office of War Information during World War II and authored The Other Italy: The Italian Resistance in World War II (1988). His father, a Yale University graduate, worked as a contributing editor at Time Magazine and also served in World War II. He enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1942 and was sent to the Pacific War. During the 82-day Battle of Okinawa, a grenade detonated below his left foot leaving him with an avulsion fracture. After receiving a Purple Heart, he married Maria in 1945, and became a budget analyst for the federal government. During the 1950s–-at the height of the Red Scare–-both Maria and Warren were accused of having a "sympathetic interest in Communism".
In 1966, the family moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts, where he began kindergarten. Although he was originally given the name Warren Wilhelm Jr at birth by his parents, he was called "Bill" or "Billy" growing up and in his personal life. His father became a heavy drinker which caused emotional distress in the family during this time. His parents divorced when he was seven; he and his brother Donald were raised by Maria and her extended family. Recalling his early childhood, de Blasio said "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." His father committed suicide while suffering from incurable lung cancer when he was 18. De Blasio graduated from Cambridge Rindge and Latin School in 1979 where he served in student government and was affectionately known to peers as "Senator Provolone".[a] When he was 22, he adopted his mother's surname because his father was "largely absent," and he wanted to embrace his Italian heritage. He hyphenated it to Warren de Blasio-Wilhelm in 1983, and formally adopted the name Bill de Blasio in December 2001. He received a Bachelor of Arts 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. He is a 1981 Harry S. Truman Scholar.
His first job was part of the Urban Fellows Program for the New York City Department of Juvenile Justice in 1984. In 1987, shortly after completing graduate school at Columbia, de Blasio was hired to work as a political organizer by the Quixote Center in Maryland. In 1988, he 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 socialist government, the Sandinista National Liberation Front, which was at that time opposed by the Reagan administration. 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. 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. De Blasio's introduction to city politics came in 1989, when he worked as a volunteer coordinator for David Dinkins' mayoral campaign. Following the campaign, de Blasio was an aide in City Hall. In 1990, he described himself as an advocate for democratic socialism when asked about his goals for society.
U.S. Representative Charles Rangel tapped de Blasio to be his campaign manager for his successful 1994 re-election bid. 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. In 1999, he was elected to be a school board member for Brooklyn School District 15. The following year, he served as campaign manager for Hillary Clinton's successful United States Senate bid.
New York City Council (2002–2009)
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. In the general election, he defeated Republican Robert A. Bell, 71 percent to 17 percent. In 2003, he won re-election with 72 percent of the vote and in 2005 was re-elected for a third term with 83 percent of the vote.
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. 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. 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. He served on the education, environmental protection, finance, and technology committees and chaired the general welfare committee.
New York City Public Advocate (2010–2013)
In November 2008, de Blasio announced his candidacy for New York City Public Advocate, entering a crowded field of candidates vying for the Democratic nomination, a field 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." His candidacy was endorsed by then Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum, former Mayor Ed Koch, former Governor Mario Cuomo, and Reverend Al Sharpton.
On September 15, 2009, de Blasio finished first in the Democratic primary, garnering 33 percent of the vote. He won the run-off primary election on September 29, defeating Green, 62 percent to 38 percent. In the general election on November 3, de Blasio defeated Republican Alex Zablocki in a landslide victory, 78 percent to 18 percent. 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.
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. 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. Three months later, he voiced opposition to the mayor's proposed budget containing more than $34 million in cuts to childcare services. 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 impacts. He outlined eight solutions to improve the process and incorporate community opinion into the decision-making process.
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. 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. He also pledged to invest $150 million annually into the City University of New York to lower tuition and improve degree programs. 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."
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. 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 New York Daily News. "We need to shine a light on these folks to shame them into action."
Atlantic Avenue, in the East New York neighborhood of Brooklyn, 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. 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, and restaurants that will lead to better services.
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.
Mayor of New York City (2014–present)
On January 27, 2013, de Blasio announced his candidacy for Mayor of New York City in the fall election. 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. After Weiner joined the race in April, early polls showed de Blasio in fourth or fifth among the candidates. 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. By August, singer Harry Belafonte and actress Susan Sarandon had endorsed de Blasio.
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. 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.
In the first week of August, the de Blasio campaign released a television advertisement featuring de Blasio's then-15-year-old son, Dante, talking about his father's plans to "'really break from the Bloomberg years.'" TIME referred to the ad as "The Ad That Won the New York Mayor's Race," noting that after the ad ran, "de Blasio built a steady lead that he never relinquished." Christine Quinn was attacked by a number of groups including NYCLASS with their "Anybody But Quinn" campaign, allowing de Blasio to move up in the polls. By mid-August he emerged as the new leader among the Democrats. He reached 43 percent in a Quinnipiac poll released a week before the primary. 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.
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. Exit polls showed that the issue that most aided de Blasio's primary victory was his unequivocal opposition to "stop and frisk." After the primary, de Blasio was announced as the nominee on the Working Families Party line. In the general election, de Blasio defeated Lhota in a landslide, winning 72.2 percent to 24 percent. Voter turnout for the 2013 election set a new record low of only 24 percent of registered voters, which The New York Times attributed to the expectation of a landslide in the heavily Democratic city. The campaign finance activities of the de Blasio 2013 committee to elect became the reported subject of a federal corruption investigation reportedly being led by U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara. Other Government authorities are also involved in investigations, some of which reportedly overlap, including whether campaign donors received preferential treatment from City Hall. The investigation was closed in March 2017 with no charges.
In 2017, de Blasio won reelection to a second term with 66.5% of the vote, defeating Republican Nicole Malliotakis.
De Blasio was sworn into office on January 1, 2014, by former President Bill Clinton. In de Blasio's inaugural address, he reiterated his campaign pledge to address "economic and social inequalities" within the city. 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."
In the first weeks of de Blasio's mayorship, New York City was struck by a series of snowstorms. De Blasio was criticized by Upper East Side residents who said efforts to clear the snow seemed to be lagging in their neighborhood. The Mayor apologized the next day, admitting that "more could have been done to serve the Upper East Side." 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. By the middle of February, the city had added $35 million to the Sanitation Department's budget for snow removal costs. 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. 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.
Federal Investigations and Rechnitz Bribery Cases
In March, 2016, Federal and state prosecutors concluded that the mayor acted on behalf of donors seeking favors from the city and the other said that some of their practices appeared to violate “the intent and spirit” of the law. No formal charges were filed, however.
The federal inquiry found a pattern in which Mr. de Blasio or his associates solicited contributions from donors seeking favors from the city and then contacted city agencies on their behalf, according to a statement from the United States attorney for the Southern District of New York. 
Mr. Rechnitz, 36, a real estate investor who sought influence through political donations, has admitted bribing police officials, and said he also bribed the mayor, who received more than $150,000 in contributions for his political campaigns and causes from Mr. Rechnitz before and after becoming mayor.
The mayor has denied the bribery allegations, and has not been accused of wrongdoing. Nevertheless, the donations garnered access for Mr. Rechnitz, including to the personal email inbox of Mr. de Blasio.
This section needs expansion. You can help by adding to it. (July 2018)
De Blasio ran for office making opposition to the NYPD's "stop and frisk" policy a centerpiece of his campaign. 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.
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. Some de Blasio supporters were disappointed with Bratton's appointment.
In February 2014, 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 for failing to signal on a left turn. Bishop was then detained by police on outstanding warrants and for driving with a suspended license. 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. A spokesperson for the Mayor stated that de Blasio's call occurred after the police already had decided to release Bishop. 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."
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 with their biracial son regarding taking "special care in any encounters he has with the police officers who are there to protect him." De Blasio also "offered qualified support for protesters after the grand jury decision not to charge the officer involved in the chokehold death of Eric Garner in New York".
After New York City police officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos were killed in an ambush in December 2014, "cops and union leaders publicly rebuked [de Blasio], arguing [that] his earlier remarks had stoked anti-police sentiment." When de Blasio eulogized the two fallen officers, hundreds of their fellow police officers turned their backs on him.
Transit service and traffic safety
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, and a "Vision Zero" initiative to reduce traffic-related deaths in the city.
A key point of de Blasio's tenure has been building more affordable housing with a goal of building 200,000 units of affordable housing. However, though his plan passed the City Council, it has been very controversial. Groups like New York Communities for Change have come out against aspects of the plan, arguing that it promotes gentrification. Related to this goal, in April 2017 the state government renewed the 421-a tax abatement program after a deal was made between unions and developers on wages in qualifying construction projects. The program seeks to encourage the development of affordable housing in otherwise market-rate buildings by offering developers tax breaks to include such units in their new buildings. The old program had expired in January 2016, and de Blasio claimed that the new program is better than the old one.
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. The mayor also revoked $200 million of capital funding that had been earmarked for charter schools. 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. 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.
De Blasio is an advocate of Universal Pre-K, the availability of publicly funded pre-kindergarten for all New York City residents. De Blasio sought to fund the program by increasing taxes on New York City residents earning $500,000 or more. De Blasio's initiative has seen an increase in Universal Pre-K enrollment in New York City through 2015, with over 70% of pre-K expansions happening within the ZIP codes of the city's poorest quartiles. In 2017, de Blasio proposed an expansion of the program to "3-K", to include three-year-olds. Preschool for three-year-olds would start in poorer neighborhoods, with the goal of covering the entire city, if the state or federal governments provided funding.
Mohel disclosure rule
In 2015, de Blasio repealed a rule asking mohels to inform parents of the risks of metzitzah b'peh, an oral circumcision ritual that was linked to 17 cases of infant herpes, brain damage, and two deaths since 2000. The rule, which had been passed by the city's Board of Health in 2012 (under Bloomberg), required parents to sign a consent form, and had been called an infringement on religious freedom by ultra-Orthodox Jewish leaders who sued the city in federal court and pressed their followers not to comply. After de Blasio installed allies and donors on New York City's Board of Health, a new policy stated that the mohel could be banned for life if he tests positive to herpes and the DNA strain matches the infant's, but only after a child has been infected, and not in a situation where a mohel tests positive but his DNA strain does not match the infant's. It was revealed that the city did not disclose new infections. Since the change was made, several children were infected with the disease after undergoing the religious ritual.
De Blasio supports the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act that would allow relatives of victims of the September 11 attacks to sue Saudi Arabia for its government's alleged role in the attacks.
In December 2018, De Blasio announced his support for marijuana legalization in New York City, calling it a "once-in-a-generation opportunity to get a historic issue right for future New Yorkers." He worked with a marijuana task force to produce a report on licensing and regulation, which was released along with a letter of endorsement.
De Blasio and his wife, activist and poet Chirlane McCray, met while both were working for Mayor Dinkins' administration and married in 1994. They lived in Park Slope, Brooklyn before moving into Gracie Mansion, the traditional residence of New York City mayors. They have two children: Dante, a graduate of Brooklyn Technical High School currently attending Yale University as a member of the class of 2019, and Chiara, a student at Santa Clara University in California. Chiara addressed her own drug use and depression in late December 2013, through a four-minute video that the mayor's transition team released.
At a height of 6 ft 5 in (1.96 m), de Blasio is the tallest mayor in New York City's history.
- Bill de Blasio's approval rates have systemically averaged from 45% to 60%. Decreases to ranges of 30% to 51% exist when based on single issues (e.g. handling of political corruption). His first electoral approval rate was 54% while his second was 57%, indicating a slight increase. A December 2018 Quinnipiac Poll indicated a 43% approval rating, the lowest in two years.
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JUAN GONZÁLEZ: I'm just wondering if, in the documents—we've got about 30 seconds—you can across the name of Donald Wilhelm at all, who was a CIA guy who went to Iran after, after the overthrow of Mosaddegh, and who was actually the mayor's—Mayor Bill de Blasio's uncle? ERVAND ABRAHAMIAN: Yeah, he actually co-ghostwrote the shah's memoirs.
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| Member of the New York City Council
from the 39th district
| Public Advocate of New York City
| Mayor of New York City
|Party political offices|
| Democratic nominee for Mayor of New York City