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Telegenic family helps lift New York's mayor-elect

By Ray Sanchez, CNN
updated 11:24 AM EST, Thu November 7, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Not everyone is a fan, though Mayor Bloomberg vows to help with the transition
  • Biracial family of New York Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio influences his campaign
  • Increasing visibility of de Blasio clan resonates with New Yorkers

(CNN) -- Throughout Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio's campaign for New York's top political act, his backup band seemed to overshadow the headliner.

His son Dante, a sophomore at a public high school in Brooklyn, appeared prominently in campaign ads, his soaring Afro a topic of conversation in political circles. Daughter Chiara, a college freshman, out-danced the rest of the telegenic family at the West Indian Day Parade with a move they called "The Smackdown."

Watch the de Blasios dance "The Smackdown"

A virtual unknown nationally despite 25 years in New York politics, de Blasio defied critics who questioned whether his experience as a city councilman from Brooklyn and, most recently, as public advocate -- a sort of civic watchdog -- sufficiently prepared him to run the Big Apple. He also ran Hillary Clinton's first U.S. Senate campaign.

But his biracial family's increasing visibility resonated with residents of a city coping with a 21% poverty rate and increasing racial divisiveness brought on by the controversial "stop-and-frisk" policy allowing police to search people in high-crime areas.

New York Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio celebrates his victory on Tuesday, November 5, with supporters and his children Dante, left, and Chiara, second left, and his wife, Chirlane McCray, right. New York Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio celebrates his victory on Tuesday, November 5, with supporters and his children Dante, left, and Chiara, second left, and his wife, Chirlane McCray, right.
New York City's first family
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"His family, just because of the racial mix, represents a big and increasingly large part of the city and speaks to certain sensibilities," said Harold Ickes, a veteran Democratic Party operative who advised the campaign and has known de Blasio for two decades. "The family is very important to Bill... From the outside, this family represents a part of the city not represented in city government."

The de Blasio clan was featured prominently in commercials and campaign events. Dante, then 15, appeared in his own ad over the summer that highlighted his father's stance against "stop-and-frisk." Dante and his hair immediately became a social media sensation -- and de Blasio began to surge in the polls.

In addition, Chirlane McCray, a political activist who once identified herself as lesbian before marrying de Blasio, emerged as a top campaign strategist.

5 things to know about New York's new mayor

DeBlasio, 52, portrayed himself as the "unapologetically progressive alternative to the Bloomberg era," saying that the current mayor's polices favor the rich. He repeatedly used the Dickensian phrase "a tale of two cities" to describe New York City under billionaire Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

The wealth inequality message appeared to have struck home with minority and low-income voters on Tuesday, giving de Blasio an advantage over Republican candidate Joe Lhota among black and Latino voters compared to white voters.

"The city is much more racially mixed than when Bloomberg took office," Ickes said. "A lot of people having a hard time economically are black, Hispanic and Asian and Bill spoke elegantly to that."

De Blasio's critics accused him of dividing the city along economic and racial lines, and credited "stop-and-frisk" with a sharp crime reduction during Bloomberg's tenure.

Appearing on CNN's The Lead with Jake Tapper on Wednesday, Bloomberg said he had a meeting with de Blasio and vowed to help with the transition.

"Keep in mind, I have a big vested interest in making Bill de Blasio an even better mayor than I was," Bloomberg said. "We built a lot. We've given them a lot to work with... But the bottom line is, I'm going to live in New York City and I want Bill de Blasio's administration to be successful and our administration to do everything to transfer everything we've been doing over."

De Blasio, who has a bachelor's degree from New York University and a master's in international and public affairs from Columbia University, met McCray while working in the administration of David Dinkins, the city's first black mayor.

When de Blasio delivered his acceptance speech late on Election Day, he was surrounded, like most of the campaign, by his family.

The strapping politician, the first Democratic mayor in the largely-Democratic city in two decades, hugged son and daughter and planted a firm kiss on the lips of his wife before going on to thank the many people behind his triumph.

"The people I'm most grateful to and most grateful for are standing next to me," he said amid cheers and applause. "My partner in life, my best friend in the world: she is brilliant and every bit as compassionate as she is tough, the love of my life Chirlane McCray."

He added, "Of everything I have to feel fortunate about, I am most lucky, most blessed to be the father of two extraordinary children: Chiara and Dante. They make me proud every single day. And, my fellow New Yorkers, they are very stylish."

De Blasio greeted his supporters in both Spanish and Italian. McCray introduced him: "From our family to your family, I give you the next mayor of New York City."

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