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The Amazing Ms. McCray

March 19, 2018

With the emergence of first lady Chirlane McCray as a potential political candidate, people are beginning to speculate about the influence she may exert — and has already exerted — at City Hall.

Mayor de Blasio has called his wife “my number one advisor, the most trusted person in my administration, the person I make all major decisions with.” Last week, the 63-year-old McCray announced she was considering running for public office.

She got off to a bumpy start as first lady. Her first chief of staff, Rachel Noerdlinger, had been the Rev. Al Sharpton’s longtime spokeswoman. She was forced to resign after it was disclosed that her boyfriend, Hassaun McFarlan, had a criminal record, had posted violent messages online and owed $420 in traffic tickets. “She’s the chief of staff for the first lady, Chirlane McCray, so I’m basically her driver,” he said at the time.

Click here to read what the police brass say about NYPD ConfidentialNow, nearly four years later, McCray leads the city’s $850 million mental health initiative and chairs the Mayor’s Fund to Advance New York City, a non-profit that raises money for de Blasio’s favorite projects.

In recent weeks, McCray has been the subject of mainstream media scrutiny after NYPD Confidential noted that a City Hall news release read: “MAYOR DE BLASIO AND FIRST LADY CHIRLANE MCCRAY APPOINT J.PHILLIP THOMPSON AS DEPUTY MAYOR FOR STRATEGIC POLICY INTIATIVES.”

The release was subsequently corrected to read that McCray and the mayor had “announced” Thompson’s appointment.

Still, her name appears in City Hall news releases, alongside the mayor’s. Some recent examples:

bullet“On Tuesday [March 6], First Lady McCray will provide remarks at the NYC Unity Project Faith Summit and the official launch of the Unity Project Faith Network, which will gather more than 100 LGBTQ-affirming faith and community leaders from across the City in an effort to foster positive, inclusive, and safe spaces for LGBTQ youth across NYC.”

bullet“On Wednesday [March 7], First Lady Chirlane McCray will be in Washington, D.C. to participate in a discussion at the Center for American Progress, entitled “How Cities and States are Leading the Way on Mental Health… The discussion will focus on how cities and states are championing policies to combat stigma around mental illness, improve access to mental health treatment, and move from punishment to public health.”

bullet“On Wednesday [March 14], First Lady McCray and Deputy Mayor Palacio will be in Puerto Rico. In the morning, the First Lady and Deputy Mayor will visit HealthMedPro,a community health facility in Barrio Obrero. … After, the First Lady and Deputy Mayor will attend a psychological first aid training for school staff in Hato Rey, Puerto Rico ...”

Click here to read the New York Times profile of Leonard LevittCiting her outsized influence, a prominent black law enforcement figure said he was surprised that the mayor has not appointed a single black man to head any of the city’s three major agencies: police, fire and corrections. [In fact, the only black male the mayor has appointed to head a key city agency is Corporation Counsel Zachary Carter.]

For reasons that remain unclear, and that he did not explain, the law enforcement figure said: "I wonder if she [McCray] is uncomfortable with powerful black men."

That may or may not be true. But, since 2014, the fire department has been headed by Daniel Nigro, who is white.

At corrections, de Blasio appointed Joseph Ponte as commissioner, a white man from Vermont. After Ponte ran into difficulty and resigned, the mayor appointed a white woman, Cynthia Brann.

Click here to read the Washington Post article on NYPD ConfidentialAt NYPD, de Blasio appointed Bill Bratton, selecting him over two minority candidates, then First Deputy Rafael Pinero, who is Hispanic, and then-Chief of Department, Phillip Banks, who is black. Rumors at Police Plaza about McCray favoring Banks to the contrary, Bratton’s appointment was apparently sealed at a three-hour dinner at Convivium Osteria, an upscale restaurant in Park Slope with Bratton, his wife, Rikki Klieman, the mayor and McCray.

When Bratton departed two years later, de Blasio selected then-Chief of Department Jim O’Neill, who is white, to succeed him over First Deputy Ben Tucker, who is black.

At O’Neill’s swearing at Police Plaza, McCray introduced him, the first time in recent memory that a mayor’s wife did the honors.

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Copyright © 2018 Leonard Levitt