Bill de Blasio

de Blasio

Bill de Blasio (b. 1961) is the current Public Advocate for the City of New York, a citywide elected position, which is first in line to succeed the Mayor. The office serves as a direct link between the electorate and city government, effectively acting as an ombudsman, or ‘watchdog,’ for New Yorkers. He formerly served as a New York City Council member representing the 39th District in Brooklyn.

De Blasio and his wife, activist and poet Chirlane McCray, met while both were working for the Dinkins administration. They live in Park Slope, Brooklyn, with their two children, Dante and Chiara. Both children attended or still attend public schools.

De Blasio was born Warren Wilhelm, Jr. in Manhattan, the son of Maria (née de Blasio) and Warren Wilhelm. His father had German ancestry, and his maternal grandparents were Italian immigrants. He was raised in Cambridge, Massachusetts. De Blasio has stated that he was 7 years old when his father first left home and 8 years old when his parents divorced. In a 2012 interview, he described his upbringing: ‘[My dad] was an officer in the Pacific in the army, [and] 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.’ In 2013, de Blasio revealed that his father committed suicide in 1979 while suffering from incurable lung cancer.

In 1983 he legally changed his name to Warren de Blasio-Wilhelm, which he described in 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 explained he had been called ‘Bill’ or ‘Billy’ in his personal life. He did not legally change over to this new name until 2002, when the discrepancy was noted during an election. De Blasio received a B.A. from New York University, and a Master of International Affairs from Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs. He is a 1981 Harry S. Truman Scholar (federal scholarship granted to U.S. college juniors for demonstrated leadership potential and a commitment to public service).

De Blasio’s 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 University, de Blasio was hired to work as a political organizer by the Quixote Center in Maryland a social justice group. In 1988 de Blasio traveled with the Quixote Center to Nicaragua for 10 days to help distribute food and medicine during the Nicaraguan Revolution. He was an ardent supporter of the ruling Sandinista government, 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 (it remains one of Nicaragua’s two leading parties and promotes mass literacy, health care, and gender equality). De Blasio’s introduction to City politics came during David Dinkins’ 1989 mayoral campaign, for which he was a volunteer coordinator. Following the campaign, de Blasio served as an aide in City Hall.

In 1997, he was appointed to serve as the Regional Director for the U.S. 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 increased federal funding for affordable and senior-citizen housing. In 1999, he was elected a member of Community School Board 15. He was tapped to serve as campaign manager for Hillary Rodham Clinton’s successful United States Senate bid in 2000.

In 2001, de Blasio ran 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 and easily defeated the Republican nominee in the general election. He was re-elected in 2003 and 2005.

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, he 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 access free language assistance services when accessing government programs.

In 2008, he announced his candidacy for 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.’ His candidacy was endorsed by then Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum, former Mayor Ed Koch, former Governor Mario Cuomo, and Reverend Al Sharpton.

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 Michael Bloomberg, specifically criticizing homelessness and education policies. As Public Advocate, he often addressed those issues. He called for Cathie Black, Mayor Bloomberg’s nominee for New York City Schools Chancellor, to take part in public forums, and criticized her for not sending her own children to public schools. In 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 2010, de Blasio voiced his opposition to 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. 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.’

In 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 Mayor’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 process. The same month, he also criticized a proposal by the Bloomberg administration to fire more than 4,600 teachers to balance the city’s budget, organizing parents and communities against the proposed cuts, and staging a last minute call-a-thon. Bloomberg restored the funding, agreeing to find savings elsewhere in the budget.

In 2013, de Blasio announced his candidacy for Mayor of New York City. At the outset of his campaign, he outlined a plan to raise taxes on residents earning over $500,000 a year in order to pay for universal pre-kindergarten programs and to expand after-school programs at middle schools. He also plans to invest $150 million annually into the City University of New York in order to lower tuition and to improve degree programs. He voiced his opposition to charter schools, maintaining that their funding saps resources from after-school programs and classes like art and physical education. 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. ‘I won’t favor charters,’ says de Blasio. ‘Our central focus is traditional public schools.’ In October 2013, nearly 20,000 demonstrators, marched across the Brooklyn Bridge to protest de Blasio’s proposal to charge rent to charter schools.

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