Skip to main content

Meet the de Blasios, the new face of America

By Peggy Drexler, Special to CNN
updated 7:39 AM EST, Thu November 7, 2013
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.
HIDE CAPTION
New York City's first family
New York City's first family
New York City's first family
New York City's first family
New York City's first family
New York City's first family
New York City's first family
New York City's first family
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Peggy Drexler: Future NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio's family is all-American in a striking new way
  • Drexler: His wife is black and two children are biracial, and they are charming and fun
  • Drexler: Number of interethnic married couples growing; number of biracial folks climbing
  • She says voters respond to families, interracial or not, with the values of de Blasios

Editor's note: Peggy Drexler is the author of "Our Fathers, Ourselves: Daughters, Fathers, and the Changing American Family" and "Raising Boys Without Men." She is an assistant professor of psychology at Weill Medical College of Cornell University and a former gender scholar at Stanford University. Join her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter @drpeggydrexler.

(CNN) -- New York City Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio may look like the privileged white male so many Americans have come to associate with the face of, and in many cases the problem with, American politics. But as his 19-year-old daughter, Chiara, told a crowd at an August fundraiser, de Blasio is not just "some boring white guy." And the truth behind that statement -- not to mention the young woman who made it -- probably won de Blasio the race to become the city's first Democratic mayor in 20 years.

Throughout his campaign, de Blasio campaigned on a progressive platform: more jobs, better schools, affordable housing and inclusive city politics. But what kept his platform from being rhetoric per usual was the undeniable strikingly visual proof that de Blasio was different in a very modern and appealing way.

Peggy Drexler
Peggy Drexler

De Blasio's wife, Chirlane McCray, is black; their two children, Chiara and Dante, are biracial. Throughout the race, the de Blasio family unit was at the forefront, making frequent campaign appearances, starring in TV ads, choreographing a bizarre but charming dance and otherwise creating many adorable moments, from their family embrace and quirky wardrobe choices on the cover of New York magazine right up to Chiara's surprise Election Day visit home from her California college to vote.

Direct mail pieces introduced "Bill & Chirlane," the "Brooklyn family who's fighting to change New York," with a picture of the foursome drinking juice and playing Trivial Pursuit. It was a picture so very ordinary and yet not: Where some other boring white guy's white wife might sit is Chirlane, her hair in locs; next to her is Chiara with an eyebrow piercing and gauged earlobes. Sixteen-year-old Dante's 6-inch Afro became a favorite topic among the media.

Telegenic family helps lift New York's mayor-elect

On "The Daily Show," Jon Stewart donned a bushy wig and asked the de Blasio family to consider adopting him; President Obama told Dante he had the same hairstyle in 1978. The hair eventually earned its own hashtag on Twitter, embodying the power it came to symbolize: #fromentum.

Opponent Joe Lhota, meanwhile, kept his family largely out of the spotlight, saying they prefer privacy and suggesting on "Good Day New York" that de Blasio was "using his family because he has no policies." Even if that assertion had been true, what Lhota discounted was the enduring importance of family in politics and the power of the promise of change and diversity. Although de Blasio's family might have made him unique in such a major political race, it is far less so when you look at America as whole.

Dancing with the de Blasios

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, interracial and interethnic married couples grew by 28% over the past decade, from 7% in 2000 to 10% in 2010. Among unmarried couples, the numbers rise still: Eighteen percent of opposite-sex unmarried couples, and 21% of unmarried couples, are interracial. Among American children, the multiracial population has increased almost 50%, to 4.2 million, since 2000, while the number of people of all ages who identified themselves as both white and black climbed a whopping 134% since 2000 to 1.8 million people, growing faster as a group than those who identified as a single race.

De Blasio's election doesn't necessarily symbolize a universal or even New York City-wide acceptance of interracial marriage. But mixed-ethnicity pairings have served other candidates well. Consider Jeb Bush's marriage to Mexican-born Columba Gallo and, of course, President Obama's own racially mixed background.

At the same time, it was only a few months ago that a commercial for Cheerios featuring an interracial couple and their daughter caused such intense backlash on YouTube that the comments section had to be closed. Still, studies have showed that showing affection for family of any color or makeup helps humanize, and differentiate, a political candidate. A 2007 Gallup poll found that three in four Americans view "family values" -- which they identify in the context of a political campaign as the family unit, family structure or strong families -- as extremely important in determining their vote.

This, of course, is the reason the overwhelming majority of elected officials are married with children. De Blasio was smart to call on his family, interracial or not. Was it a political move? Perhaps. And the fact that it worked ultimately says far more about the voters than it does the candidate.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Peggy Drexler.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 1:33 AM EST, Thu December 25, 2014
Danny Cevallos says the legislature didn't have to get involved in regulating how people greet each other
updated 6:12 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
Marc Harrold suggests a way to move forward after the deaths of NYPD officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos.
updated 8:36 AM EST, Wed December 24, 2014
Simon Moya-Smith says Mah-hi-vist Goodblanket, who was killed by law enforcement officers, deserves justice.
updated 2:14 PM EST, Wed December 24, 2014
Val Lauder says that for 1,700 years, people have been debating when, and how, to celebrate Christmas
updated 3:27 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
Raphael Sperry says architects should change their ethics code to ban involvement in designing torture chambers
updated 10:35 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
Paul Callan says Sony is right to call for blocking the tweeting of private emails stolen by hackers
updated 7:57 AM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
As Christmas arrives, eyes turn naturally toward Bethlehem. But have we got our history of Christmas right? Jay Parini explores.
updated 11:29 PM EST, Mon December 22, 2014
The late Joe Cocker somehow found himself among the rock 'n' roll aristocracy who showed up in Woodstock to help administer a collective blessing upon a generation.
updated 4:15 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
History may not judge Obama kindly on Syria or even Iraq. But for a lame duck president, he seems to have quacking left to do, says Aaron Miller.
updated 1:11 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
Terrorism and WMD -- it's easy to understand why these consistently make the headlines. But small arms can be devastating too, says Rachel Stohl.
updated 1:08 PM EST, Mon December 22, 2014
Ever since "Bridge-gate" threatened to derail Chris Christie's chances for 2016, Jeb Bush has been hinting he might run. Julian Zelizer looks at why he could win.
updated 1:53 PM EST, Sat December 20, 2014
New York's decision to ban hydraulic fracturing was more about politics than good environmental policy, argues Jeremy Carl.
updated 3:19 PM EST, Sat December 20, 2014
On perhaps this year's most compelling drama, the credits have yet to roll. But we still need to learn some cyber lessons to protect America, suggest John McCain.
updated 5:39 PM EST, Mon December 22, 2014
Conservatives know easing the trade embargo with Cuba is good for America. They should just admit it, says Fareed Zakaria.
updated 8:12 PM EST, Fri December 19, 2014
We're a world away from Pakistan in geography, but not in sentiment, writes Donna Brazile.
updated 12:09 PM EST, Fri December 19, 2014
How about a world where we have murderers but no murders? The police still chase down criminals who commit murder, we have trials and justice is handed out...but no one dies.
updated 6:45 PM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
The U.S. must respond to North Korea's alleged hacking of Sony, says Christian Whiton. Failing to do so will only embolden it.
updated 4:34 PM EST, Fri December 19, 2014
President Obama has been flexing his executive muscles lately despite Democrat's losses, writes Gloria Borger
updated 2:51 PM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
Jeff Yang says the film industry's surrender will have lasting implications.
updated 4:13 PM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
Newt Gingrich: No one should underestimate the historic importance of the collapse of American defenses in the Sony Pictures attack.
updated 7:55 AM EST, Wed December 10, 2014
Dean Obeidallah asks how the genuine Stephen Colbert will do, compared to "Stephen Colbert"
updated 12:34 PM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
Some GOP politicians want drug tests for welfare recipients; Eric Liu says bailed-out execs should get equal treatment
updated 8:42 AM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
Louis Perez: Obama introduced a long-absent element of lucidity into U.S. policy on Cuba.
updated 12:40 PM EST, Tue December 16, 2014
The slaughter of more than 130 children by the Pakistani Taliban may prove as pivotal to Pakistan's security policy as the 9/11 attacks were for the U.S., says Peter Bergen.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT