Mayor Bill de Blasio spared no expense to burnish the image of his wife, Chirlane McCray — but like many of his big bucks plans it all came to nothing.
Hizzoner’s effort to use millions in tax payer money to make McCray a political star came crashing down this week when the city’s First Lady changed course and declared she would not run for Brooklyn Borough President.
Throughout his time in office de Blasio set McCray up to follow in the family’s politics biz, including giving her a staff that in recent years grew to a size larger than any First Lady’s in recent memory.
The McCray team had a $2 million payroll, and as recently as August included a chief-of-staff, senior adviser, speechwriter and a videographer. At one point civil rights activist and political heavy hitter Rachel Nordlinger was McCray’s top lieutenant.
Hoping to give her a huge feather in her cap, de Blasio also made his wife the face of City Hall’s much-ballyhooed ThriveNYC mental health initiative in November 2015.
But the program has burned through an estimated $1 billion, while being blasted for showing little success in helping the needy.
“It was a five-year exercise in futility and that hinged on not only the First Lady’s popularity but also the Mayor’s,” said Councilman Joe Borelli (R-Staten Island). “Things would have been different if Thrive was successful in its mission. But that’s just not the record that she could run on.”
The Borough President contest was shaping up to be a difficult one thanks to a crowded field and her husband’s heavily criticized handling of the coronavirus.
“That’s Bill de Blasio’s idea of what she should be doing, not what she would inherently do,” one person who knows the first family said. “I’m glad that she did what was truer to her heart than what her husband wants.”
Another former insider said: “I would guess that if COVID hadn’t happened along with everything else that’s made the last year miserable, she’d be running. I don’t think she’s ever liked being in the spotlight, but it’s something that he thought would be good for her.
“She has fallen victim to how people feel about him,” the person added.
De Blasio’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and the new state lockdown orders for heavily Orthodox neighborhoods in southern Brooklyn would have likely been the latest obstacle in any bid.
“Maybe you don’t need Orthodox Jews as a bloc to win Brooklyn boro-wide, but you sure can’t win if they are unified and edging to vote against you,” one veteran political strategist noted.
Eight other people have filed paperwork with the Campaign Finance Board to run for the high profile but largely ceremonial post, including two prominent Democratic councilmen — Robert Cornegy and Antonio Reynoso, both of whom complimented McCray following her announcement.
The back-slapping nature of campaigns was always set to be an awkward fit for the oft-shy and reserved McCray. The crowded field, coronavirus and inseparable ties to her heavily criticized husband threatened to turn a campaign she never desired into a slog.
“It was very clear that she this was never thing that she would ever naturally do,” added a former staffer. “She is an introvert, true to the word. She’s not someone who enjoys working the room and doing the sort of glad-handing necessary for any kind of necessary race.”
But the First Lady did not permanently slam the door on a potential future run for office when she told New York 1 that she would not run for office in 2021.
“The First Lady surprised the Mayor and public when she first expressed interest in running for public office more than a year ago,” said McCray spokeswoman Chanel Caraway. “But the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted life as usual, exposing deep social and economic inequity, which the First Lady is focused on to help our City come back stronger.”
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