By Gregory Krieg, CNN
(CNN) — Former New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and wife Chirlane McCray, who for a time became one of the most influential biracial political power couples in America, announced on Wednesday that they are separating.
In an interview with The New York Times, de Blasio and McCray said they did not plan to divorce and would continue living together, for now, in their Brooklyn townhouse. They will, however, begin to date other people.
“Even at this moment of change, this is a love story,” de Blasio said in a tweet linking to the Times interview. He told CNN that the couple has “said all we’re going to say today.”
The couple first met while working for the late former New York Mayor David Dinkins, the first Black man elected to lead the city, before marrying in 1994. McCray had previously identified as a lesbian before their relationship took shape.
De Blasio, 62, shocked New York politicos by winning a chaotic Democratic primary in 2013. His family played a central role in that first campaign, both on the trail and in television ads – briefly transforming de Blasio, the gangly, progressive former city public advocate, into a leading contender with unlikely cultural resonance.
McCray and de Blasio’s son, Dante, narrated the campaign’s now famous viral ad, which began with the then-15-year-old – his signature Afro reaching the top of the screen – introducing his father over clips of the family at home, touting de Blasio’s opposition to stop-and-frisk policing, support for raising taxes on the rich and a broader, inclusive message promising a break from the 12-year reign of billionaire then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
The couple also spoke bluntly about the challenges of raising children of color in New York City, in particularly as it related to their interactions with law enforcement. That relatively mild criticism was met with fierce backlash from the city’s police unions, creating a divide that persisted throughout de Blasio’s time in office.
Despite the early controversies, de Blasio won a second term by a landslide in 2017, and his successful push for citywide universal pre-K significantly altered the city’s economic terrain.
McCray also emerged as a powerful voice in his administration, often to the frustration of de Blasio’s political rivals (and, occasionally, some of his allies). Their break, the former mayor told the Times, had been a long time coming but was all but cemented during a conversation a couple months ago. The stress caused by de Blasio’s brief presidential campaign, in 2019, added to the friction, they said, along with the devastating arrival of Covid-19 in the city early the next year.
“I thought it was a distraction,” McCray told the Times of her husband’s presidential campaign. That he launched the bid in spite of her doubts, she said, underscored a more fundamental problem.
“This is not the kind of thing where you can break ranks,” McCray said. “That’s part of the difficulty of being part of a package.”
In their joint interview, de Blasio accepted much of the blame for the couple’s troubles. The prospect of leaving City Hall, as his term-limited stay neared an end, left him searching, he said, and “made me emotionally very needy.”
“I can look back now and say, ‘Here were these inflection points where we should have been saying something to each other,’” de Blasio said.
But by the end of de Blasio’s second term, McCray had also become an occasionally divisive figure. Some critics believed she wielded too much power, most notably over the 2015 overhaul of the city’s mental health system. The new project, called ThriveNYC, has been criticized as wasteful and lacking in demonstrable returns.
McCray fiercely defended the program and her role, talking up its accomplishments and often noting that, although she was an advocate and top adviser, it was run by professional public servants.
McCray’s own political prospects were also a frequent point of discussion – and gossip – in the New York tabloids. She ultimately chose not to run, turning down a bid for Brooklyn borough president in 2020, as a broad backlash against the city’s handling of Covid-19 poisoned the political well.
“I thought about running for Brooklyn borough president,” McCray told NY1 that fall. “I thought about it long and hard and decided in this urgent moment there’s so much work to be done, right now, right here where I am.”
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