‘The man with the black wife’

Biracial means black in NYC
Biracial means black in NYC

A black janitor in Brooklyn almost shouted out the name when asked about his vote in the mayoral race. Bill de Blasio, he said, “knows my struggle.”

In the Bronx, some African-American voters defaulted to a shorthand: “the man with the black wife.” Nobody thought it necessary to explain whom they meant.

And in a Brooklyn housing project, a lifelong resident said he was tired of mayors who, in his mind, had pitted blacks against whites. Mr. de Blasio, he declared, “is black and white.”

Of all the records shattered by Mr. de Blasio’s landslide victory, perhaps the most remarkable is that virtually every vote cast by black New Yorkers — 96 percent — went his way. He captured a bigger portion of the black vote than David N. Dinkins in 1989 when he was elected New York City’s first black mayor with 91 percent of the black vote, according to exit polls.

After the divisive tenor of the Giuliani years, and the deep grievances engendered by the stop-and-frisk police tactics of the Bloomberg era, black New Yorkers are now claiming Mr. de Blasio’s victory as their own. In postelection interviews, dozens of black New Yorkers said that Mr. de Blasio’s personal touch, his biracial family and his pledge to help the working-class and poor had affected them deeply. His victory, they said, was a chance to gain a voice in City Hall after two decades of leadership they viewed as inattentive, distant and, at times, even callous.

“There was a sense of not being included, not being cared about,” said Charlene Curry, as she walked along Marcy Avenue in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, last week. She said she had never met Mr. de Blasio, but felt as if he were a neighbor. The mayor-elect, she said, has “a more humane approach, a more inclusive approach.” She added, “That reaches home.”

The excitement about Mr. de Blasio — tinged, in some quarters, by a dose of wait-and-see skepticism — was diligently cultivated by the candidate. Mr. de Blasio, who is of Italian and German heritage, kept up a brisk schedule of visits to predominantly black churches, frequently spoke of the effect of stop-and-frisk tactics on young black men, and put his wife and children at the forefront of his campaign, making a celebrity of his son, Dante, who sports a large Afro.

But it was also a result of Mr. de Blasio’s comfort and fluency with black culture, borne of an interracial marriage and personal experience, that offered a credibility voters said could not be bought by consultants or simulated in sound bites.

A protégé of Bill Lynch, an African-American political operative, and a veteran of the Dinkins administration and the congressional campaign of Charles B. Rangel, Mr. de Blasio is steeped in the history of New York’s black politics.

“A woman would say, ‘Do you understand, young man?’ And Bill said, “Yes, ma’am,’ ” a black woman recalled. “Do you know what that little, tiny cultural thing meant?”

That adroitness was frequently apparent on this year’s campaign trail, where Mr. de Blasio received electric receptions when visiting traditionally black neighborhoods, like Harlem and Crown Heights.

With his self-assured mien and casual tendency to call people “brother,” Mr. de Blasio often seemed to play the political preacher, even at run-of-the-mill news conferences. At a rally in late October in Brooklyn, he opened his remarks by intoning, “Brothers and sisters, we are gathered again,” earning appreciative nods and murmurs from supporters. On the Sunday before the election, Mr. de Blasio delivered a 16-minute sermon at First Corinthian Baptist Church in Harlem, a mainstay of his campaign schedule. At one point, he launched into a seemingly earnest soliloquy about the responsibilities of public servants, before pivoting to a jest.

“It’s my obligation to stand up and act when there’s a problem, when there’s a danger,” Mr. de Blasio said. “And I realized in the earlier part of the service — I realized that the choir was on fire! And I needed to rush out and call the Fire Department!” He was drowned out for nearly 15 seconds as the congregation laughed and cheered.

In Brooklyn on Thursday, Bonita Anderson-Watson, 50, smiled as she recounted a recent visit from Mr. de Blasio and his family to her church. “When I spoke with him and shook his hand, it was something different,” she said, adding that in conversations with friends afterward, comparisons to Bill Clinton, who was enthusiastically embraced by African-Americans in his presidential campaigns, quickly came up.

With all that good will, of course, comes high expectations. “Ninety-six percent of the African-American vote went to him,” said the Rev. Johnnie M. Green Jr., senior pastor at Mount Neboh Baptist Church in Harlem. “He should feel some sense of being beholden to the black community.”

Some of those interviewed said they would have voted for him even without his biracial family, citing his staunch Democratic politics and pledge to address economic inequality. Many said they never considered the Republican nominee, Joseph J. Lhota, and some said they did not know his name.

“His biracial family represents so many things and possibilities, too many to even get into,” said Leon Ellis, a Harlem restaurateur. “When people saw his family, they felt, ‘Here is someone who understands and relates to me on a level on which I can be comfortable.’ ”

“You have a black woman sitting there who can say, ‘My side of the family is hurting over here, now.’ He’s going to hear that direct,” said Walter Edwards, a real estate developer in Harlem. “He’s not going to get it from somebody off the street he has no relationship with.”

Veronica Sibblies, 66, a Jamaican immigrant who came to New York more than 50 years ago, said she believed Mr. de Blasio’s interracial family could serve as a model for better relations between blacks and whites in the city.

“You know what I like? I like when he said, ‘I don’t know if I’m going to move into Gracie Mansion,’ ” Ms. Sibblies said. “It doesn’t impress him. Material things don’t mean that much to him. He knows what the average person’s going through, because he’s been experiencing what they’re going through.”

“Some black people probably are breathing a sigh of relief, that finally we have someone that is going to at least represent our concerns, and try and make life better for us,” Mr. Worrell said. “But we all have to sit back and wait to see what happens.”  – NYT