Chirlane McCray (pictured left) never expected to be where she is now. Starting out as a Black Massachusetts girl mocked by White classmates, she wrote poems daily to cope with her isolation and anger. Her family, one of the only Black ones in their neighborhood, found their new house victimized by racist graffiti.
“I had never had a deep sense of belonging anywhere,” McCray said. “I always felt I was an outsider.”
Now a recent New York Times profile is examining how the wife of N.Y.C. mayoral front runner Bill de Blasio (pictured) has emerged as a driving force in his campaign.
McCray frequently attends political meetings, job interviews for top advisers, and even edits campaign speeches. And as it turns out, she strongly influenced de Blasio’s focus on city hospitals.
Thirty years ago, doctors at St. Vincent’s Hospital saved McCray’s life after she suffered a severe asthma attack, despite her having no health insurance at the time. So when the hospital was shuttered in 2010, she urged her husband to fight for other hospitals in danger of closure.
De Blasio has been heavily involved in fighting to keep Brooklyn’s Long Island College Hospital open.
He also considers his wife as a close campaign partner. In the campaign headquarters, a hierarchy lies attached to a wall, featuring “Bill/Chirlane” above a team of aides.
When asked if she would ever play a less assertive role in her husband’s campaign, McCray said, “It’s not who I am. It’s not who Bill and I have been as a couple, either. We’ve always been partners in the campaigns and any major thing we have taken on.”
And McCray let it be known she is no friend to the Bloomberg administration, blaming the current mayor for rising poverty and gentrification in N.Y.C.
“I mean, our leader was a billionaire; I think that contributed to it,” she said. McCray also described a time when she ate dinner at Bloomberg’s Upper West Side home a few years ago and it was “very structured.”
“It was all very, to me, very stiff,” she recalled. “I think everyone was, like, on their best behavior.”
Speaking about other cities like San Francisco, McCray believes New York City needs to return to its progressive status.
“They are all doing exciting new things,” she said about the metropolitan centers. “And what are we doing?”
McCray’s strong political leanings can be traced to her high school years, when she penned a column for the school’s newspaper attacking classmates who racially harassed her.
“She was subjected to what clearly today would be called ‘bullying,’” said Michael McCarthy, her Spanish teacher. “I was probably the only friend she had in school.”
However, much of McCray’s anger was aimed at the grown-ups who saw students attack her with racial slurs but were passive.
“The shocking thing is that the teachers wouldn’t do anything,” she said. “It was horrible. To know that they could get away with it, that it was condoned behavior.”
In college, McCray’s sexuality came full force. A classmate caught her and another woman in an intimate embrace in her dorm room. “Some of the women in my dorm were totally freaked out by it,” she said.
The experience led her to join the Combahee River Collective, a group of Black feminist intellectuals who rejected the White feminism of the time.
“We knew it was revolutionary,” she commented. “Just by sitting down and talking to each other; it was breaking through the madness.”
She would meet de Blasio while working at N.Y.C.’s City Hall in the early ’90s. Then also working for City Hall, de Blasio continuously flirted with McCray, despite her sexuality.
I actually told him, Slow this down,” she said. But after meeting her family, she began falling in love with the 6″5′ Massachusetts native.
Their marriage in 1994 shocked and disappointed her lesbian friends, with one refusing to attend the wedding.
In the present day, McCray remains as powerful a force as she was back in her teenage days, although she is still surprised by the reaction to son Dante’s Afro at public events; the 15-year-old’s popularity surged after he was featured in an ad for his dad’s campaign.
“What blows my mind is how much there is, it’s amazing,” she said. “I don’t think anyone — not one of us — anticipated it would be such a thing.”