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The Cold War and the NYC Mayor’s Race | The Nation

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Leslie Savan

Politics, media and the politics of media.

The Cold War and the NYC Mayor’s Race


NYC mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio speaks with potential voters on July 30, 2013. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

Just when you think he’s out, they pull him back in. Charges that New York City mayoral candidate Democrat Bill de Blasio leans commie for supporting the Sandinistas in the 1980s had begun to fade, buried under his fifty-point lead over Republican Joe Lhota. And it probably didn’t hurt that de Blasio, after a bit of red-baiting by Lhota, the New York Post, and other right-wing media, responded by pointing out that Lhota is an acolyte of radical right, Joe McCarthy-friendly Barry Goldwater. This old Cold War hazing had been replaced more recently by rather non-sticky charges of de Blasio’s purported nepotism and debate-dodging. But suddenly the specter of communism and fervent anti-communism is hovering over the race, and in the strangest way.

Today, in a pair of fascinating, deep-dive articles, we learn that de Blasio’s father, Warren Wilhelm, and his mother, Maria de Blasio, were hauled before a McCarthy-era loyalty board in 1950, and though they were cleared, suspicions hounded them, ending Wilhelm’s career as an economist with the Department of Commerce. That much was in The New York Times.

Then we learn, from WNYC public radio, that Wilhelm himself worked for think tanks with CIA ties against the communist scourge.

Until now, all that most of us knew about de Blasio’s father was that he was a war hero who lost his leg in World War II, that his alcoholism caused him to leave the family when his youngest son, Bill, was 8, and, as became public only a few weeks ago, that he committed suicide in 1979. We knew that after she filed for divorce, Maria de Blasio raised her sons as a single mother (Bill took her last name as a young man), but now we’re also learning that she was active in the Newspaper Guild when she worked at Time magazine. From The New York Times:

On July 14, 1950, at 10:15 a.m., the couple was questioned by the Loyalty Board at a federal office building. Had he enlisted in the military with hopes of turning his gun on his superiors? Had she conspired with Communists at Time, as a prominent anti-Communist writer at the magazine, Whittaker Chambers, had alleged? Was it true that they kept recordings of Red Army songs in their home on Q Street?….

The panel even asked about Mrs. Wilhelm’s editing. A blunt-spoken liberal, she had been investigated before, by the F.B.I. in 1942, because of her participation in a union of federal workers that was rived by controversy over Communism; now, some of her subordinates at the Office of War Information had accused her of rewriting American propaganda to be favorable to the Communist cause.

And, writers and editors, take note: “Mrs. Wilhelm blamed the trouble on sexism, saying her male Italian-American colleagues were simply upset by her ‘stern’ editing.”

For WNYC, Anna Sale and Tom Robbins paint an even more complex picture:

Warren Wilhelm was an active partisan in the cold war, records show, working at one point as a researcher at a CIA-linked institute at Harvard looking for weak spots in the Soviet Union, and later as an oil executive seeking to boost the influence of multinational corporations in Latin America as a means to counter Castro-style communism….

In 1950, he was quoted extensively in a New York Times article concerning a research paper on industrial development in the Soviet Union that he wrote while associated with the Russian Research Center at Harvard….

The Russian Research Center, according to a “Compromised Campus: The Collaboration of Universities With the Intelligence Community, 1945-1955,” by Sigmund Diamond, was launched with the help of the CIA, which secretly funded some of its research. Recently unsealed CIA records show that among the projects the agency was backing at the time Wilhelm was associated with the center were the debriefing of Soviet-bloc defectors and a handbook on anti-Soviet propaganda.

De Blasio told WNYC that his father was a child of the New Deal with “an inherent appreciation for the Roosevelt era,” but that he was also a stalwart capitalist and a naïve one at that. “I do remember early on feeling that he had a naïve belief in the ability of the free enterprise system to address the poverty in Latin America,” de Blasio says. “He had a real naïve assumption about America’s role, a real naïve assumption about the power of business investment to change societies from outside.”

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And that’s not all: Wilhelm’s brother Donald, and Bill’s uncle, helped write the Shah of Iran’s memoir and worked with the CIA to install him into power!

Sale asked whether he turned leftward in reaction to his father's and uncle's politics. De Blasio said not really. “It was much more about Vietnam, it was much more about the major events happening in the world and the fact that so often the U.S. was on the wrong side of it," he said.

“There’s certainly something about family in this story, but the real core of this was the times I came up in and the fact that it was an urgent, urgent time and that it felt like history was visiting us on our doorsteps.”

As it is still.

Well the media started looking into de Blasio's parentage, they were already scrutinizing his wife, Leslie Savan reports

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