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 7:34 PM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
The world's response to Ebola is its own sort of tragedy, writes John Sutter
updated 4:33 PM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
Hidden away in Russian orphanages are thousands of children with disabilities who aren't orphans, whose harmful treatment has long been hidden from public view, writes Andrea Mazzarino
updated 1:22 PM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
When you hear "trick or treat" this year, think "nudge," writes John Bare
updated 12:42 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
The more than 200 kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls have become pawns in a larger drama, writes Richard Joseph.
updated 9:45 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
Peggy Drexler said Amal Alamuddin was accused of buying into the patriarchy when she changed her name to Clooney. But that was her choice.
updated 4:43 PM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
Ford Vox says the CDC's Thomas Frieden is a good man with a stellar resume who has shown he lacks the unique talents and vision needed to confront the Ebola crisis
updated 4:58 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
How can such a numerically small force as ISIS take control of vast swathes of Syria and Iraq?
updated 9:42 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
How big a threat do foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq pose to the West? It's a question that has been much on the mind of policymakers and commentators.
updated 8:21 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
More than a quarter-million American women served honorably in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Now they are home, we have an obligation to help them transition back to civilian life.
updated 4:27 PM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
Paul Begala says Rick Scott's deeply weird refusal to begin a debate because rival Charlie Crist had a fan under his podium spells disaster for the Florida governor--delighting Crist
updated 12:07 AM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
The longer we wait to engage on Ebola, the more limited our options will become, says Marco Rubio.
updated 7:53 AM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Democratic candidates who run from President Obama in red states where he is unpopular are making a big mistake, says Donna Brazile
updated 12:29 AM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
At some 7 billion people, the world can sometimes seem like a crowded place. But if the latest estimates are to be believed, then in less than a century it is going to feel even more so -- about 50% more crowded, says Evan Fraser
updated 3:38 PM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
Paul Callan says the Ebola situation is pointing up the need for better leadership
updated 6:45 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Nurses are the unsung heroes of the Ebola outbreak. Yet, there are troubling signs we're failing them, says John Sutter
updated 1:00 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Dean Obeidallah says it's a mistake to give up a business name you've invested energy in, just because of a new terrorist group
updated 7:01 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Fear of Ebola is contagious, writes Mel Robbins; but it's time to put the disease in perspective
updated 1:44 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Oliver Kershaw says that if Big Tobacco is given monopoly of e-cigarette products, public health will suffer.
updated 9:35 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
Stop thinking your job will make you happy.
updated 10:08 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says it's time to deal with another scandal involving the Secret Service — one that leads directly into the White House.
updated 7:25 AM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Americans who choose to fight for militant groups or support them are young and likely to be active in jihadist social media, says Peter Bergen
updated 9:03 AM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Stephanie Coontz says 11 years ago only one state allowed same sex marriage. Soon, some 60% of Americans will live where gays can marry. How did attitudes change so quickly?
updated 4:04 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Legalizing assisted suicide seems acceptable when focusing on individuals. But such laws would put many at risk of immense harm, writes Marilyn Golden.
updated 9:07 AM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Julian Zelizer says the issues are huge, but both parties are wrestling with problems that alienate voters
updated 6:50 PM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Mel Robbins says the town's school chief was right to cancel the season, but that's just the beginning of what needs to be done
updated 11:43 AM EDT, Sat October 11, 2014
He didn't discover that the world was round, David Perry writes. So what did he do?
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT