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 1:50 PM EDT, Sun September 21, 2014
John Sutter boarded a leaky oyster boat in Connecticut with a captain who can't swim as he set off to get world leaders to act on climate change
updated 7:22 PM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Is ballet dying? CNN spoke with Isabella Boylston, a principal dancer at the American Ballet Theatre, about the future of the art form.
updated 5:47 PM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Sally Kohn says it's time we take climate change as seriously as we do warfare in the Middle East
updated 9:02 AM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Dean Obeidallah says an Oklahoma state representative's hateful remarks were rightfully condemned by religious leaders..
updated 3:22 PM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
No matter how much planning has gone into U.S. military plans to counter the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, the Arab public isn't convinced that anything will change, says Geneive Abdo
updated 11:44 AM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
President Obama's strategy for destroying ISIS seems to depend on a volley of air strikes. That won't be enough, says Haider Mullick.
updated 9:03 AM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Paul Begala says Hillary Clinton has plenty of good reasons not to jump into the 2016 race now
updated 11:01 AM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Scotland decided to trust its 16-year-olds to vote in the biggest question in its history. Americans, in contrast, don't even trust theirs to help pick the county sheriff. Who's right?
updated 9:57 PM EDT, Thu September 18, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says spanking is an acceptable form of disciplining a child, as long as you follow the rules.
updated 11:47 AM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Frida Ghitis says the foiled Australian plot shows ISIS is working diligently to taunt the U.S. and its allies.
updated 3:58 PM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Young U.S. voters by and large just do not see the midterm elections offering legitimate choices because, in their eyes, Congress has proven to be largely ineffectual, and worse uncaring, argues John Della Volpe
updated 9:58 PM EDT, Thu September 18, 2014
Steven Holmes says spanking, a practice that is ingrained in our culture, accomplishes nothing positive and causes harm.
updated 2:31 PM EDT, Thu September 18, 2014
Sally Kohn says America tried "Cowboy Adventurism" as a foreign policy strategy; it failed. So why try it again?
updated 10:27 AM EDT, Thu September 18, 2014
Van Jones says the video of John Crawford III, who was shot by a police officer in Walmart, should be released.
updated 10:48 AM EDT, Thu September 18, 2014
NASA will need to embrace new entrants and promote a lot more competition in future, argues Newt Gingrich.
updated 7:15 PM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
If U.S. wants to see real change in Iraq and Syria, it will have to empower moderate forces, says Fouad Siniora.
updated 8:34 PM EDT, Wed September 17, 2014
Mark O'Mara says there are basic rules to follow when interacting with law enforcement: respect their authority.
updated 9:05 AM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
LZ Granderson says Congress has rebuked the NFL on domestic violence issue, but why not a federal judge?
updated 7:49 AM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
Mel Robbins says the only person you can legally hit in the United States is a child. That's wrong.
updated 1:23 PM EDT, Mon September 15, 2014
Eric Liu says seeing many friends fight so hard for same-sex marriage rights made him appreciate marriage.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT