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Bill de Blasio: Everything you need to know about New York's next mayor
He was a leftist firebrand in his youth. Has he changed?
Meet the new boss.
Meet the new boss. (John Moore/Getty Images)
H

ow did de Blasio win the election?
He entered the race with little name recognition, having served without much fanfare as a city councilman and public advocate. But de Blasio emerged from a crowded Democratic primary field on a broadly progressive platform, saying that under incumbent Michael Bloomberg, New York had become a "tale of two cities" — one inhabited by a wealthy elite in skyscrapers, and another by millions of poor and working-class people struggling to get by. De Blasio proposed raising taxes on the rich to pay for pre-kindergarten programs and increase access to affordable housing, and put his biracial family at the core of his campaign. That populist message won de Blasio a landslide victory with 73 percent of the vote. But New York's first Democratic mayor in 20 years comes into office with some constituents worried about whether he'll put the city — now one of the nation's safest and most prosperous — back on a course that led to the crime, squalor, and fiscal chaos of the 1970s. "I have no trouble praising de Blasio's political skills," said Fred Siegel, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, a conservative think tank. "It's his governing that worries me."

Where does he come from?
De Blasio was born in Manhattan as Warren Wilhelm Jr. His parents were former magazine editor Maria de Blasio and Warren Wilhelm, a U.S. Army veteran who won a Purple Heart after losing a leg fighting the Japanese in the Pacific. Wilhelm went on to work in the Commerce Department in the 1950s, but was fired after he and his wife were targeted by Sen. Joseph McCarthy's anti-Communist witch hunts. He later drifted into alcoholism, and his wife divorced him, taking her two youngest sons to live with her. By the time Wilhelm Jr. graduated from high school, he had taken the first name "Bill" — a nickname derived from Wilhelm — and his Italian-American mother's maiden name. When de Blasio was 18, his father committed suicide by shooting himself in the heart. De Blasio later said his father's decline from war hero to intemperate drunk affected him deeply. "I learned what not to do," he said.

Where did he get his views?
De Blasio was a student organizer in high school, and his zeal for politics — and love of Italian sandwiches — led classmates to nickname him "Senator Provolone." He was a student activist at New York University, protesting tuition hikes and nuclear power, and in 1988 went to Nicaragua to aid the leftist Sandinista revolution. There he joined other liberal Americans in handing out food and medical supplies in defiance of the Reagan administration, which put an embargo on the country's Marxist government. De Blasio worked at a health clinic, where he saw how state-funded doctors gave personal care to every family in town. "There was something I took away from that," he said. "How hands-on government has to be, how proactive, how connected to the people it must be." After that experience, de Blasio described himself as a "democratic socialist.''

What was his first job in politics?
De Blasio became an aide to Democratic Mayor David Dinkins in 1989, after volunteering for his campaign. He went on to become a well-respected political operative, ascending to the role of campaign manager for Hillary Clinton's 2000 Senate race. But the candidate's inner circle became frustrated by de Blasio's perceived inability to make decisions without eliciting every available opinion, and he was unofficially sidelined in favor of Clinton's veteran aide Patti Solis Doyle. After Clinton won, staffers printed up T-shirts poking fun at their campaign manager's ruminative style, featuring an oft-cited de Blasio qualifying statement: "In a perfect world...."

What did he do next?
De Blasio ran for office himself, and was elected to the City Council in 2001. As a councilman, de Blasio pushed for reforms to child welfare and a crackdown on bad landlords, but he also championed job-creating businesses and real estate developments in his Brooklyn district. State Sen. Tony Avella, who served on the council with de Blasio, said he was more of a pragmatist than an idealist, and moved to the left only when running for mayor. "I don't think he's always been this progressive," Avella said.

How will Mayor de Blasio govern?
Those who know him well predict he will make helping poor and working-class citizens a priority, but will also be willing to cut deals and seek compromise. The first big tone-setter will be de Blasio's decision on "stop and frisk," the New York Police Department's controversial policy of searching anyone on the street whom officers deem suspicious. De Blasio must decide if he'll seek reforms or scrap the entire policy, which supporters say has dramatically cut the crime rate, but which the mayor-elect and other critics say often produces a demeaning form of racial profiling. It will be the first test of how de Blasio balances his progressive promises with the reality of governing. The mayor-elect himself, however, says there shouldn't be any confusion. "My grounding in progressive movements is pretty solid, and it continues to be a way I think about the world," he said.

It's a family affair
Chirlane McCray didn't seem like a good match for de Blasio when they met in 1991, while both worked in the Dinkins administration. McCray was an African-American lesbian six years older than the young aide. But de Blasio set his sights on winning her over, calling her repeatedly and flirting even after she made it clear she was gay. Eventually, McCray relented, and the couple married in 1994. They've since had two children, and de Blasio put his family at the heart of his election campaign. His Afro'd son, Dante, took a starring role in TV ads, and McCray often spoke on the campaign trail. De Blasio's interracial family helped him win 96 percent of the African-American vote in November's election. "When people saw his family, they felt, 'Here is someone who understands and relates to me on a level on which I can be comfortable,'" said Leon Ellis, a Harlem restaurateur.

Dan Stewart is a senior editor at The Week magazine. Originally from the U.K., he has been living in the United States since 2009.

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