Brigid Bergin is the City Hall reporter for WNYC. She covers city politics including the 2013 mayoral race and transition.
Before Dante de Blasio and his signature afro were made famous in his Dad's first television ad, Chirlane McCray was hitting the trail for her husband. On a recent Thursday, she was making the rounds without him visiting the Glenwood Senior Center in Canarsie.
"I am the grand-daughter of immigrants from the Caribbean," McCray told a room of 40 or so seniors there for the discount lunch program. “And I am also known as Mrs. de Blasio.”
In a tight mayoral field, each candidate tries to gain that edge to propel them into the September 10th primary. That often means deploying surrogates like Bill de Blasio's Caribbean American wife, Christine Quinn's Irish American father or Anthony Weiner's Jewish mother. They know the candidates policies, but, more importantly, can vouch for the candidates personally.
McCray extends Team de Blasio's message with some softness. A petite woman, McCray met her husband, now Public Advocate and mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio, while working at City Hall. They’ve been married for 19 years and have two children.
“Bill is the only candidate who is willing to tax the wealthy and when I say wealthy,” McCray tells the diners, one of whom interupts, “It’s about time!”
“Yes, it’s about time,” McCray replied finishing her pitch for de Blasio’s plan to tax those making more than $500,000 to pay for universal pre-K.
She’s certainly not the only family on the campaign trail. Bill Thompson's campaign sends out schedules for his wife, Elsie McCabe Thompson, who is also featured in one of his recent campaign ads along with his father and daughter.
The assists don’t come just from spouses. Earlier this year, Lawrence Quinn introduced his second daughter, Council Speaker Christine Quinn, for her final State of the City address, which focused on the need to strengthen the middle class. It was the perfect opportunity to tell his father’s story about leaving Ireland 100-years ago for New York.
He's been largely absent from City Hall and the campaign trail this summer after undergoing knee surgery in June. But the campaign has improvised. Quinn's wife Kim Catullo is often seen and Quinn's father-in-law, Anthony Catullo, has been making the rounds stumping at a senior center in Jamaica Queens just last week.
Anthony Weiner, whose poll numbers have been in a downward spiral since that second round of sexting revelations last month and whose wife Huma Abedin hasn't been spotted on the trail since, brought out his one unfailing supporter this week: his mom, Frances Weiner.
She wore a red, floppy-brimmed sun hat for her first press event in front of her son's high school alma mater Brooklyn Tech where the pair talked about education. The retired school teacher said the city needs her son's administration, “Anthony’s the one to do it. Anthony’s the problem solver,” she said backing away from the podium.
“Let’s do that part in front of the mics,” said the candidate.
“Ok, Anthony’s the one to do it, he’s the problem solver and I’m totally behind him and all my friends who are teachers are behind him also,” cheered Weiner’s mom.
Of course, at any Weiner event, the questions veered to other topics. When asked how she felt during the latest round of scandal, she deflected.
“That isn’t what we’re here to talk about. We’re talking about education,” scolded Weiner’s mom.
Consider that a lesson in crisis communications. Keep it on topic and when all else fails, leave it to Mom.