Skip to comments.NYC mayoral favorite Bill de Blasio has Mass. roots
Posted on 11/05/2013 6:33:26 PM PST by Tailgunner Joe
CAMBRIDGE It was not a typical teen cause in the late 1970s.
But when students at Cambridge Rindge and Latin School were concerned that they were not learning grammar, they knew whom to turn to: Bill de Blasio.
The gangly 6-foot-5 senior huddled with administrators and teachers. Before long, students were taking a grammar class called Better Than Basics.
You went to Bill to get it done, said Nora Burns, a fellow member of the class of 1979.
These days, de Blasio is the leading candidate for mayor of New York, an outspoken liberal poised to become the citys second consecutive mayor with Massachusetts roots, succeeding Michael R. Bloomberg, a Medford native.
Initially dismissed as a long shot, de Blasio won a crowded Democratic primary on Sept. 10, and polls show him with a wide lead over the Republican nominee, Joseph Lhota, in the race to the Nov. 5 general election.
A sharp critic of Bloomberg, de Blasio argues that the city has become two New Yorks divided by race and income, and he vows to raise taxes on the rich and to end the citys controversial stop-and-frisk policing strategy.
But decades before his surprising political success, he was making his mark on a smaller stage, as a student activist in this proudly left-leaning city that helped shape his values. At an age when many of his peers were sneaking into rock concerts, de Blasio was revamping school disciplinary codes, fielding student grievances, and decrying the unequal treatment of minorities a younger, floppy-haired version of the candidate he is today.
When I hear some of the positions hes taking around equity, I say, Yup. Thats the Bill de Blasio I know, because he was always thinking about issues of social justice, said Rob Riordan, who was de Blasios teacher in a high school English class called Reading and Writing on Human Values.
In an interview earlier this month, de Blasio, 52, said growing up in Cambridge gave him a very progressive grounding that continues to guide him in New York. There was an atmosphere of social consciousness, he said.
But in high school, de Blasios obsession with student government could elicit eye-rolling from other students.
One teacher recalled that students hummed Hail to the Chief when de Blasio walked into class. He was nicknamed Senator Provolone, in a nod to the generous Italian sandwiches he would bring to lunch and to his overweening investment in political life, said Gerry Speca, who was de Blasios drama teacher. In the high school yearbook, he was labeled future president of the U.S.A. the Untied Sneakers Association.
His overloaded résumé of student government activities landed him a profile in the Globe when he was 17. The paper interviewed him while he was leaning on his desk at the state Department of Education, where he was the coordinator of the Student Services Center. The story described the teenage de Blasio as a students rights advocate whose interest in politics began in the sixth grade when he started talking back to the television as he watched President Nixon speak about his economic and Vietnam policies and all the inequalities happening to people.
I suddenly thought, Why am I complaining instead of doing something about unfair things? he said then.
De Blasio said in that piece that he channeled his frustrations into his school, where he helped rewrite the sixth and seventh grade disciplinary codes to ensure that students were granted hearings before the student government if they had problems.
I feel that many students arent getting a people-oriented education, he said then. Ive felt that school systems discriminate against students, and the way to do something about it is to work through people to change the system.
Born in New York, de Blasio moved to Cambridge in 1966, when he was 5. His mother, Maria, was a public relations manager at Polaroid, and a historian. De Blasios name then was Warren Wilhelm Jr., though he was still called Bill. Later, he changed his last name to de Blasio, his mothers maiden name because, he has said, she raised him while his father was estranged from the family.
Within Rindge and Latin, de Blasio attended the Pilot School, an alternative, 180-student program located on the Harvard campus and founded in 1969 by teachers who believed the main high school was too regimented.
It was a very collaborative-learning, call-your-teacher-by-their-first name, sit-on-the-desk-with-bare-feet kind of place, Burns said.
The teachers introduced de Blasio to one of his favorite books at the time, The Autobiography of Malcolm X, and he eagerly followed the schools participatory ethos.
He circulated questionnaires to determine whether students were being denied access to electives and after-school activities, and served on committees that interviewed prospective teachers and sought to diversify the student body.
Dot Reilly, 85, who was the school secretary, recalled how de Blasio came to her desk one day and said he wanted to start an Italian club, but could not find any Italian students. And not even you can join, he told her.
Now, wait a minute, Bill, she told him. My maiden name was Zunino. Is that Italian enough for you? And he said, Great! Great! We can start our club. So we started the Italian club Bill and I.
Still, the young de Blasio confessed that it could be frustrating work, trying to interest teenagers in the management of their high school. Sure, I get discouraged sometimes about trying to get students more closely involved with school, he told the Globe in 1979. I dont get into yelling at people, so I have a lot of pent-up feelings, but I go jogging or listen to music, soft rock, or opera.
In the New York mayors race, de Blasio rarely mentions his youth in Cambridge, other than to note that he went to high school with Patrick Ewing, the former star center for the New York Knicks. His roots in the city are a potential sore spot, since he has had to acknowledge that he is no fan of the New York Yankees.
I am very much a Red Sox fan, de Blasio said in the interview this month. I can name you more players than you could possibly imagine. Its just part of who I am.
He said he visits Cambridge only occasionally, but feels a very strong personal connection to the city, which reminds him of Park Slope, Brooklyn, where he lives now.
Many of his former classmates and teachers are closely tracking de Blasios fortunes, seeing him as the embodiment of the schools liberal values and as a welcome antidote to the infamy of two other alumni, Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the Boston Marathon bombing suspects.
Reilly, the retired secretary, said she wants to visit the teenager she once knew if and when he moves into Gracie Mansion next year. If he gets in, she said, I will make sure one of my kids takes me to see him.
Right. Like John Kerry, who said his favorite Red Sox player was "Manny Ortez."
New York has leapt aboard the train behind the Detroit choo choo.
I find it interesting that de Blasio-Wilhelm went to the same Cambridge school on Harvard campus as the Russian Tsarnaev Brothers. The Russian SVR spy “Donald Heathfield” also lived in Cambridge and made contact with former Clinton administration official Leon Fuerth. Like Bill Clinton, De Blasio-Wilhelm visited the Soviet Union.
Which ‘cambridge school’ is on the Harvard campus?
"Within Rindge and Latin, de Blasio attended the Pilot School, an alternative, 180-student program located on the Harvard campus...."
The main school where the Tsarnaevs went was just blocks from Harvard. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was a lifeguard at a Harvard swimming pool when he was in high school.
I knew that sounded familiar. Didn’t the youngest tsarnaev go there? Maybe both of them?
Liberal? Is that what they are calling hardcore communists nowadays? You know, the kind of communism that is responsible for 100 million deaths to date? About 3 times the amount the Nazis were responsible for?
DeBlasio is married to a Massachusetts woman. She grew up in Springfield, went to high school in Longmeadow and graduated from Wellesley. She’s black and a lesbian. Actually she was a lesbian but converted.
You’re right. I remembered the ‘funny’ name. It’s like ‘Ridge’ only with an ‘n’.
ON THE ROAD TO SERFDOM - 73% OF NEWYORKERS PUT THEIR DESTINY IN THE HANDS OF A COMMUNIST
Posterity! you will never know how much it cost the present generation to preserve your freedom! I hope you will make a good use of it. If you do not, I shall repent in Heaven that I ever took half the pains to preserve it. - John Adams, Letter to Abigail Adams, 1777
When you see that trading is done, not by consent, but by compulsion - when you see that in order to produce, you need to obtain permission from men who produce nothing - when you see that money is flowing to those who deal, not in goods, but in favors - when you see that men get richer by graft and by pull than by work, and your laws dont protect you against them, but protect them against you - when you see corruption being rewarded and honesty becoming a self-sacrifice - you may know that your society is doomed. AYN RAND
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