He was only 15 then, an unlikely star of his father’s equally unlikely victory in the 2013 mayor’s race in New York City.
Why 'raising a black son' is a De Blasio campaign theme
The first frame in the now-famous 33-second ad is taken up almost entirely by Dante de Blasio’s giant Afro.
Through Dante, his father, Bill de Blasio, was able to highlight his biracial family, offer a personal perspective on his policies on affordable housing and early childhood education and signal his intention to end the police practice, known as stop and frisk, that Dante said in the ad “unfairly targets” minorities.
Now, deep into his second and final term as mayor and in the midst of another long-shot candidacy, this time for president, de Blasio is once again leaning on his son for a boost.
Over the last week, de Blasio suggested on Twitter that his son, a champion debater, helped him prepare — jokingly, it appeared — to compete in the first Democratic debate.
During the debate in Miami, de Blasio again inserted his son into the conversation, taking time from a question about Supreme Court nominees to talk about the concerns he had about how Dante would handle potential interactions with the police.
“Something sets me apart from my colleagues, and that is for the last 21 years, I have been raising a black son in America,” the mayor said at the debate.
On Monday, Dante de Blasio, now a 21-year-old graduate of Yale University, published an op-ed in USA Today referencing his father’s remarks.
“They kept stressing these possible consequences, worried that a 13-year-old wouldn’t understand,” he wrote. “I remember them awkwardly looking at each other, searching for the best way to convey the gravity of the situation, until I spoke up and said, ‘You don’t need to keep telling me. I know what can happen.’ ”
The piece was actually written a few years earlier, de Blasio said during a visit to Chicago on Monday, accompanied by his wife, Chirlane McCray, who is African American.
“Chirlane and I, as we talked about the discussion around the debate, we asked him if it was something he wanted to address as well,” de Blasio said. “And he wanted to publish that piece because it’s something he felt needed to be heard.”
Dante de Blasio is still deciding what to do next, said a de Blasio campaign spokeswoman, but it’s unclear how much he will be involved in the campaign going forward. No matter his role, it would be hard to imagine that he could reprise his 2013 part as a difference-maker in 2020.
“I remember seeing the ad in the press room of the campaign for the first time, and I knew the minute I saw it that it was going to be a big deal,” said Mike Morey, then the communications director for Christine Quinn’s mayoral campaign. “The Dante ad was unequivocally a major turning point in the mayor’s race.”
De Blasio will need all the help he can get. Although most political experts agreed that he did well during the debate, the mayor may have squandered the momentum after he was forced to apologize for quoting Che Guevara, the Cuban revolutionary, in Miami, offending the local anti-Fidel Castro Cuban community.
George Arzt, the press secretary for Mayor Ed Koch, said that de Blasio’s son could help in “places like South Carolina and in places where there are large African American populations.”
But Arzt doesn’t expect Dante de Blasio’s involvement to be as much of a factor as it was during the first mayor’s race because of the presence of Sens. Kamala Harris of California and Cory Booker of New Jersey, who are black.
“Kamala and Cory Booker take all the steam out of this strategy,” Arzt said. “Against Chris Quinn it worked well. Against this field, it won’t work well.”
De Blasio has always included his family in his electoral campaigns. When he was running for mayor, de Blasio, his wife and their daughter, Chiara de Blasio, had a dance they performed together called the “smackdown.” And Chiara has publicly discussed how her struggles with depression led to marijuana and alcohol addiction.
McCray has been involved in de Blasio’s 2020 efforts since its launch. She has traveled with him to Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina to campaign. On Monday, de Blasio and his wife were in Chicago to speak at the women’s luncheon for the Rev. Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow/PUSH coalition’s international convention.
“Bill de Blasio has always campaigned as the de Blasio family because that’s who he is,” said Rebecca Katz, a former special adviser to de Blasio who is not involved in his presidential campaign. “He would not let a story be told about him without it being about his family.”
In his op-ed, Dante de Blasio describes how he walked through the Tenderloin neighborhood in San Francisco as an 18-year-old, on the way to a more affluent area where he was staying.
He recalled how he couldn’t get into the apartment, either misremembering or mistyping the passcode.
As a police cruiser stopped in front of him, Dante de Blasio said he frantically and finally typed the code in correctly, this time hitting the pound key, fearful that the police officers would confront him.
“That fear I felt is not unique. That lecture I got from my father and cousins has been given to countless young black people,” Dante wrote. “We’re taught to fear the people meant to protect us, because the absolute worst-case scenario has happened too many times. This reality cannot continue. We shouldn’t need to feel that fear.”
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.
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