Leslie Savan | The Nation


Leslie Savan

Politics, media and the politics of media.

No Cartoon Characters in the NYC Mayoral Debate

Joe Lhota and Bill de Blasio (AP Photo/File)

One of the more striking things about Bill de Blasio is that he’s not a “character.” The probable next mayor of New York City isn’t easy to caricature—and I mean that not in a political sense (he’s been easy enough to cast as a Marxist who’ll bring back the grimy, crime-ridden ’70s and cede City Hall to a squeegee-man collective), but in terms of personality. Recent mayors of America’s most theatrical city can usually be held in the imagination with a personal quality or two: Bloomberg, the fussy plutocrat; Giuliani, the pit bull; Dinkins was a beleaguered gentleman; Koch, an irrepressible loudmouth.

Over time and under pressure of a media that will create characters where none exist, de Blasio’s image may change, but right now he doesn’t hit us over the head with a core, ever-so-slightly comical persona. It’s not that he’s bland; it’s more that his prominent qualities—highly intelligent, good listener, cares about those on society’s lower rungs—aren’t grafting onto the usual egghead and bleeding-heart stereotypes. Maybe that’s because his most prominent physical characteristic—his height—militates against casting him as some kind of weak sister. At the same time, though, his non-cartoonishess may be due to him pulling back on that height. “His towering height (he is six foot five) seems to have given way to a compensatingly soft delivery,” Michael Greenberg writes in The New York Review of Books, “as if he has conditioned himself not to intimidate or overwhelm.”

In fact, the real “character” in de Blasio’s candidacy is his family. As Greenberg puts it: “He represents an almost fairy-tale idea of how many New Yorkers wish to see their city: racially harmonious, enlightened, empathetic—a wish that finds assurance, perhaps, in de Blasio’s ever-so-vaguely patrician demeanor.”

De Blasio will go up against his GOP rival, Joe Lhota, in their first of three debates tonight. Lhota, though he comes off as more hard-edged and impatient than de Blasio, isn’t a sharply drawn Noo Yawk type, either. Neither man is nondescript exactly—and they're “descript” enough for the Times today to chart each man’s “Go-To-Gesture” (de Blasio: “Constant Clintonian figure jab”; Lhota: “Arms outstretched for a hug that never comes”) and to advise de Blasio to cut the “didactic delivery” and Lhota to “smile more, mumble less.”

But not being a character has its upsides. These are two smart, accomplished men, and without a cartoon version to get in the way, we might be able to more clearly see their crisp ideological differences. They have strong, almost diametrically opposed ideas on charter schools, stop-and-frisk police tactics, taxes, and visions of the city. Things to look for: Will de Blasio bland-out about real-estate developers, with whom he’s been accused of being too friendly? Will Lhota come off as overwrought and out of touch, trying to pin de Blasio as a socialist, when the city is thirsty to balance its growing economic inequality?

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Of course, the real question, in this or any other race, isn’t “Are they characters?” but “Do they have character?” Debates don’t always answer that question.

Leslie Savan discusses the character of Bill de Blasio’s parents.

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

The Twilight of Mayor Bloomberg's Billionaires?

Michael Bloomberg opening the Tribeca Film Festival, 2008 (Courtesty of David Shankbone)

Sometimes I wonder, who are these billionaires so terribly terrified by the prospect of paying more in taxes? Well, many of them are Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s people, and as they gathered earlier this week to honor his long-time girlfriend, Diane Taylor, they were more than a little worried about this de Blasio fellow coming down the pike to replace him.

The soiree was held at the home of Christine and Stephen Schwarzman, the CEO of the Blackstone Group, at 740 Park Avenue, the luxury condo housing some of New York’s wealthiest, such as David Koch. (You may recall that the Alex Gibney documentary Park Avenue: Money, Power, and the American Dream focused on 740 Park, and that Tea Party and public TV funder Koch was so upset about it that PBS dumped another film, Citizen Koch, that it had already committed to.) Others in attendance included Barry Diller, Barbara Walters, Police Commissioner Ray Kelly and a socialite named Muffie Potter Aston.

Women’s Wear Daily was there and picked up on the “considerable alarm about Bill de Blasio’s lead in the polls, along with his plan to raise taxes on New York’s upper echelon.”

“I fear for New York City if Mr. de Blasio gets elected,” said Muffie Potter Aston. “He just wants to tax everyone to smithereens. You have to be fair to everyone. You have programs that support all of the people of New York. But if you continue to tax what you see as the upper-income brackets, it’s still only going to be providing a small percentage of additional income.”…

“I’ve never understood why New Yorkers vote against their own interests,” said Jacqueline Weld Drake. “New York is a city of financial entrepreneurs, of genius stock traders and bankers. It would be a smart idea to keep it that way. It’s not a city that’s going to benefit from high taxes because people who have substantial incomes have a choice. They have a choice of venues. New Jersey beckons. Florida beckons. All kinds of other states who do better at job creation. We are really biting the hand that feeds us. No question about it.”

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If de Blasio’s small additional tax on the wealthy (to fund universal pre-K) is enough to scare them all to Jersey, you’d expect that the next documentary PBS would quash would center on some condo in Teaneck. And that’s not about to happen.

Leslie Savan points out the importance of the Working Families Party in de Blasio's political support system.

A Progressive, Pro-Labor Party Blooms With de Blasio

Democratic mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio, center, speaks at a rally in the Brooklyn borough of New York, Thursday, September 12, 2013. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

Nice piece in the New York Daily News on the little-known but influential role of the Working Families Party in the probable election of Bill de Blasio as the next mayor of New York City.

Although City Hall has been out of Democratic hands for twenty years, neither Mayor Rudy Giuliani nor Michael Bloomberg has left a trail of crumbs for pols of their persuasion, like de Blasio’s opponent Joe Lhota, to follow toward victory.

“But,” writes the News’s Harry Siegel, “while the mayors squandered their opportunities to realign the city’s politics, a small party far to their left has been doing just that.”

For the first time since the office was introduced in 1993, the next public advocate [de Blasio currently holds that job] won’t chomp at the mayor’s ankles. That’s because de Blasio and Letitia James are both Democrats, and also Working Families Party stalwarts—de Blasio one of its founders and James the first Council member elected on its line alone.

“On the issues they care about, from minimum wage to tenant issues to development, they are absolutely definitional—they can set the debate at the city and the state level,” de Blasio said of the WFP in 2010.

The party, founded in 1988 to take advantage of New York’s fusion voting system, which allows candidates to run on multiple ballot lines, effectively represents organized labor. Despite its small membership, it used its ballot line and operational resources to push Democratic officials farther left, and elect new ones who are already there. That plan has paid off.

And the WFP, headed by long-time activist Dan Cantor, is not an only-in-New York thing. It’s recently won landmark legislation to tackle the student debt crisis in Oregon, fought the corporate education reform agenda in Bridgeport, CT, and won paid sick days in Jersey City, NJ. WFP spokesman Joe Dinkin says they’re eager to work “wherever there are like-minded leaders interested in building independent progressive political organizations.”

UPDATE: The last paragraph has been changed to better reflect how the WFP is expanding beyond New York.

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Leslie Savan points out where Jon Stewart and Joe Lhota seem to find common ground in the ACA debate.

Like Jon Stewart, Joe Lhota Aids the Tea Party ‘Crazies’ on Obamacare

New York City mayoral candidate Joe Lhota is making big noises about what morons his fellow Republicans are for shutting down the government. But he’s all in with one of their central demands—to delay Obamacare for a year.

The socially liberal, fiscally conservative Lhota, who has referred to “Tea Party crap,” said on WNYC radio yesterday, “The shutdown is a disgrace…. I cannot tell you how upsetting it is for me to see 30 extremists in Washington control the entire government.” He says “both” sides (natch) “need to come to the table and they need to negotiate.”

But Lhota shares the extremists’ negotiating point of putting off the Affordable Care Act for a year, because, he says, “there’s so much confusion about the individual mandate right now.”

Bill de Blasio, Lhota’s Democratic rival, said through a spokesman that Lhota’s “endorsement of delaying Obamacare puts him in lockstep with Republican extremists like Ted Cruz—extremists who would rather shut down the government and furlough thousands of New York City workers than see hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers get access to health care.”

But last night, Lhota, Cruz, the Tea Party, John Boehner et al. got a boost from some unexpected quarters: as rightwing blogs brayed, Jon Stewart slammed into Human and Health Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius when she came on the show to push the ACA. After ragging (and rightly so) on the program’s technical glitches, an unusually obsessive and obtuse Stewart asked her five, six, maybe seven times why can’t the individual mandate to buy insurance be delayed for a year like the mandate for businesses has been?

Fair question. And it has an obvious answer (more on this in a minute, but in short, delay=death) that for some reason a nervous Sebelius could only dance around and Stewart acted like he’d never heard of.

When she gave tepid or partial answers—like, the employer mandate isn’t as big a deal as the individual mandate because most businesses already provide insurance—he seemed unable to follow, and asked, “Am I a stupid man?”

Of course not, Jon, but, as you’ve said of Fox’s Gretchen Carlson, you’re playing one on TV.

The answer to his question is simple, and Stewart is surely acquainted with it: without the individual mandate, the whole thing collapses. That mandate is the ACA’s cornerstone; the employer mandate is a bunch of bricks. Delaying the individual mandate by a year is tantamount to killing it. (Which is why, of course, the Tea Party considers delay the next best thing to repealing or defunding Obamacare.)

From Wonkblog’s Sarah Kliff: “The Congressional Budget Office estimates that, without an individual mandate, 11 million fewer people would gain coverage next year.” And those that do buy coverage would be the older and sicker people, which would cause premiums to spike and drive away the healthy even more.

“The individual mandate is a lynchpin policy, one that makes the rest of the Affordable Care Act work by bringing millions more people in the health-care system,” writes Kliff. “The employer mandate, by contrast, is more of an extra nudge, aimed at encouraging companies to keep doing something they already do right now.”

Sebelius had trouble saying this plainly, but just as some of her answers started to take shape, Stewart fell back on complaining that the ACA is a “market-based solution.” He wanted single-payer. Yeah, well, a lot of us do. But that train left the station years ago, and the train we’re riding now will wreck only if millions don’t sign up, especially millions of the young people that all too often laugh on cue at anything Stewart says.

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Like in his monologue at the end of the show: “I still don’t understand why individuals have to sign up and businesses don’t, because if the businesses—if she’s saying, ‘Well, they get a delay because that doesn’t matter anyway because they already give healthcare,’ then you think to yourself, ‘Fuck it, then why do they have to sign up at all?’ But then I think to myself, ‘Well, maybe she’s just lying to me.’ ”

Clearly, someone needs to more forcefully explain this all to Jon. Someone, other than Bill Clinton, who could get on The Daily Show, someone who’s out there campaigning anyway. Someone like… Bill de Blasio?

Leslie Savan writes on how the media is playing fast and loose with ideological labels on both sides of the NYC mayoral race.

Label Inflation in the NYC Mayoral Race

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

Bill Keller, the former executive editor of The New York Times, wrote an op-ed today saying he found it “surprising” that the Democrat candidate for NYC mayor, might not be a kumbaya liberal after all. After weeks of being called a communist, it’s almost refreshing that Bill de Blasio is now being hit with only dull and tiresome stereotypes.

“I was struck,” Keller writes of de Blasio, “that his critique is not just a liberal’s reflexive disdain for a plutocrat; it is a considered analysis of the art of governing.” After damning de Blasio with faint praise, Keller undamns a little:  

He’s says that people who imagine him waiting patiently for consensus to coalesce, kumbaya, will discover that he can bring down the gavel. “You delegate where you can, you build consensus where you can,” he said. “But there will be plenty of occasions where there will be no time for that option and you have to be the decision-maker and you have to be fast about it.”

“I think some people mistake the stylistic for the strategic,” de Blasio explained, as he has before when asked if he can lead a city bred on tough, bombastic and/or pushy mayors, like Koch, Giuliani, Bloomberg. “I don’t feel the need to have a brash personality.”

Certainly some of Keller’s concern is understandable: de Blasio’s Republican opponent Joe Lhota, as a former deputy mayor and head of the MTA, has more managerial chops than de Blasio, who’s focused more on political activism and community organizing both in and out of government.

But like many in the media, Keller is one of those people who repeatedly mistake the stylistic for the strategic; and his need for reassurance that a liberal can be decisive seems to stem from his own, self-admitted fear of being seen as a liberal wimp. (You might recall that Keller wrote a mini-culpa a couple years ago explaining why, when he headed up the Times, he rah-rahed the paper to support the invasion of Iraq. He and other “liberals hawks,” he wrote, “were a little drugged by testosterone. And maybe a little too pleased with ourselves for standing up to evil and defying the caricature of liberals as, to borrow a phrase from those days, brie-eating surrender monkeys.”)

De Balsio did, however, add to the label confusion himself on Friday, when he told an audience of 800 business people, “I want to pleasantly shock the room and say I am a fiscal conservative.”

After his Republican opponent, Joe Lhota, jumped on that, saying, “Bill de Blasio will say anything and pander,” de Blasio tried to correct himself.  

“Look, I’m going to use the more precise phrase: I think I’m a fiscally responsible progressive,” he later explained. “If you look at the whole quote, I tried to get it right and say I’m a progressive, I’m an activist, I’m also fiscally cautious.”

Then he stated what anyone thinking outside-the-cliché should be able to grasp: “There’s no contradiction between good fiscal management and an activist government—a government that seeks to address inequality and plays a major role in addressing the problems of our time.”

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It just goes to show you: The word “liberal” may have had its manhood stolen, but the word “conservative,” which once meant cautious, prudent and traditional, has been gutted and burned. Some pundit on TV this morning said the intra-GOP fight over the government shutdown is between mainstream Republicans and “conservatives.” That, of course, is what radical right-wing extremists like to call themselves. And most of the media has kindly obliged them.

But there’s some good news on political labels today. In a piece on de Blasio’s days as an NYU student (he organized for such non-rad causes as stopping tuition hikes and getting a student on the school’s board of trustees), a New York Daily News headline used the word “activist” in a perfectly neutral and descriptive way: “Bill de Blasio’s student activist at New York University work prepared him for the world of city politics.”

This week de Blasio’s calling himself “a fiscal conservative,” last week he was defending himself against charges that he is a communist.

Murdoch Newspapers Ignore Bill de Blasio’s Lead in Latest NYC Mayoral Race Poll

Screengrab from nypost.com

There’s a curious schism in how the New York City tabloids are covering today’s poll showing Democrat Bill de Blasio with a whopping lead over Republican Joe Lhota in the mayor’s race.

The New York Times/Siena College survey found de Blasio beating Lhota 68 percent to 19 percent among likely voters. But there’s not a peep about the poll on the website of Rupert Murdoch’s de Blasio–blasting New York Post. The site is, however, running other de Blasio stories, including an op-ed linking him, again, to the Sandinista’s alleged anti-Semitism, and a piece with the innuendo-light headline “Traitor! De Blasio’s a New England fan. ”

And while the Post did mention yesterday’s Quinnipiac University poll showing de Blasio beating Lhota 71-21, that story’s now buried, off even the metro page (where you can still find a Michael Goodwin column from September: “De Blasio’s warped world view should set off alarm bells”).

At first I thought, the Post simply doesn’t want to mention surveys sponsored by its New York Times archenemy. But it did so earlier, in covering other, less threatening races, like the Spitzer/Stringer primary race for comptroller. And unless I’ve missed something behind a pay wall, Murdoch’s Wall Street Journal site isn’t touching the Times/Siena poll either.

Maybe the Murdoch empire hasn’t reached the Mitt Romney/Karl Rove level of poll-denialism, but it’s like they just don’t want to endure more angina.  

On the other hand, the New York Daily News (newly badass for its “House of Turds” cover) happily features both polls on its site today. And they have Lhota reacting to the lousy news, saying, “This race will get closer and closer over the next two weeks,” and vowing to close the gap with commercials and the upcoming three debates.

I agree with Lhota, to an extent: the gap will narrow. The Times/Siena poll found issues he could build traction on: voters agree more with him than de Blasio on creating more charter schools and keeping the controversial Ray Kelly as police commissioner, and they’re evenly split over stop-and-frisk, opposition to which helped vault de Blasio over his Democratic primary rivals.

But much, much larger majorities of likely voters are with de Blasio on raising taxes on the wealthy to fund pre-kindergarten programs (71 percent), making affordable housing a priority (85 percent), and creating an independent inspector general to monitor police (70 percent). Even on keeping the city safe from crime, de Blasio tops Lhota, 52 to 29.

Lhota, former head of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, is poorly known: 43 percent of those surveyed hadn’t heard enough or had no opinon of Lhota, compared to 23 percent saying the same of Public Advocate de Blasio.

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Still, Lhota’s first ad couldn’t position him more clearly: he’s against de Blasio on spending and raising taxes, but he’s a libertarian on social issues, favoring abortion rights, gay marriage and the legalization of marijuana, all positions Lhota brags he shares with de Blasio, the better to make Dems feel semi-comfortable with him. (Actually, de Blasio has come out only for decriminalization for possession of small amounts of pot.)

Drawing from his primary victory speech, de Blasio’s first general election ad takes a more emotional, we’re-all-in-this-together approach. “There are those who have said our ambition for this city is too bold, that we’re asking of the wealthiest New Yorkers too much, that we’re setting our sights for the children of this city too high,” de Blasio says, “Well, let me say this: We are New Yorkers. Thinking big isn’t new to us.”

Watch the ads below:

Leslie Savan exposes how the media recently tried to make de Blasio out to be a communist.

Will the Right Paint NYC’s Next First Lady as an ‘Angry Black Woman’?

New York City mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio holds up the hand of his wife, Chirlane McCray, as he pronounced her as the future New York first lady during an event with supporters in Manhattan, August 18, 2013. (Reuters/Eduardo Munoz)

After establishing that NYC mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio is a “Marxist communist with a history of supporting terrorism,” (as Glenn Beck did this week), how much farther can the right-wing media go?

Well, knowing them, they’ll be sorely tempted to go after de Blasio’s wife, Chirlane McCray, and paint her as an “angry black woman,” who has (as Beck once said of Barack Obama), “a deep-seated hatred of white people.”

The precedent is there: Remember how the right hammered Michelle Obama during the 2008 campaign for saying, “For the first time in my adult lifetime, I’m really proud of my country,” (a remark she later put into context) and for supposedly spouting off about “whitey” in a video (which turned out to be a hoax).

In a front-page profile in yesterday’s New York Times, McCray comes across as a fascinating, dynamic woman. But to the right, the narrative of her life is ripe for distortion. Growing up, she was the victim of frequent, vicious racism; and for the Becks and Limbaughs of this world the real crime of racism is that it makes black people want retribution.


She was the seventh-grader too frightened to stand in front of the room because her white classmates would mock her, contorting their mouths to make their lips look big. She was the smoldering teenager who took to writing poems every day to wrestle with her isolation and anger. She was the eldest daughter of one of the only black families in Longmeadow, Massachusetts, who arrived home to see their new house scrawled with racist graffiti.


McCray goes on to become a poet and part of the “Combahee River Collective, an influential collection of black feminist intellectuals, many of them gay,” like her. She met de Blasio at City Hall, where they both worked for Mayor David Dinkins. Bill wooed Chirlane relentlessly. Reluctant to label her sexuality, she said late last year, “In the 1970′s, I identified as a lesbian and wrote about it. In 1991, I met the love of my life, married him, and together we’ve raised two amazing kids.”

Now in the mayoral race, McCray is a top dog, “a mastermind,” the Times writes, “behind the biggest political upset of the year.” Political meetings are planned around her schedule. She sits in on job interviews for top advisers. She edits all key speeches (aides are known to e-mail drafts straight to her).

McCray and de Blasio are as much a package deal as Bill and Hillary Rodham Clinton, a reality etched into the campaign hierarchy affixed to a wall of the de Blasio political headquarters. It lists “Bill/Chirlane” above a sprawling team of aides.

She may even one-up Hillary: She acknowledges feeling so passionately in 2002 about which way her husband would vote on the next City Council speaker she threatened to divorce him if he backed the wrong candidate.

He sided with his wife.

In other words, if the “angry black woman” charge doesn’t fly, the right could always reposition Chirlane as a ballbuster who controls Bill’s every move—which would neatly position the big guy as a major wimp.

Of course, such twisted depictions may not surface, or they may burp up only in the national media—Fox, hate radio, Drudge. The local wolves, like the New York Post, will have to tread more coyly. After all, this is New York, which will champion Chirlane and Bill’s equal relationship (though let’s hope not as “Billane”). Anyway, de Blasio won the Democratic primary in every borough and won big.

Oh, Glenn Beck has a theory to explain that, too. The Anthony Weiner sexting scandal, see, was “just a distraction,” used to divert media coverage so that “a guy that slipped in that nobody paid attention to, Bill de Blasio” could turn New York City into a communist terrorist utopia.

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“I think this theory,” Beck says, “might, um, hold water.”

Leslie Savan calls out the media’s uneven reporting on de Blasio and Lhota’s ideological histories.

Americans Hate Obamacare, Love Affordable Care Act

Everything you ever wanted to know about healthcare, the shutdown and the Republican messaging machine:

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Marie Myunk-Ok Lee discusses the current healthcare system’s harsh realities for entrepreneurs and creative types.

Bill de Blasio Hits Back at Joe Lhota’s ‘Commie’ Charge

Left, New York City Republican mayoral hopeful Joe Lhota, and right, Democratic mayoral hopeful Bill de Blasio. (AP Photo)

After more than a week of being painted as a commie and worse, Bill de Blasio hit back yesterday against his opponent in the NYC mayor’s race with: TOP 10 FACTS ABOUT JOE LHOTA’S ICON, EXTREME CONSERVATIVE BARRY GOLDWATER. Those include Goldwater’s infamous vote against the Civil Rights Act of 1964, wanting to use nukes in Vietnam, and his maxim: “Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice.” And the de Blasio camp didn’t even get to the John Birch Society championing Sen. Goldwater in his presidential run against LBJ in 1964.

The ugly tit-for-tat began last week, when The New York Times detailed de Blasio’s support of the Nicaraguan Sandinistas in the 1980s. That spawned an outbreak of innuendo—that he somehow supported the Sandinistas’ alleged anti-Semitism (a charge designed to cut into the Democrat’s Jewish vote), that he was a “bleary, dreary”-eyed druggie in college, that he was an unreconstructed commie symp. “Mr. de Blasio’s class warfare strategy in New York City,” Lhota himself said, “is directly out of the Marxist playbook. Now we know why.”

It took a while, but yesterday the Times ran a profile of the young Joe Lhota. In college, he spent “nights in the gallery of the United States Senate, where he sat rapt as Mr. Goldwater, his boyhood hero, orated on the floor.” Lhota, the Times noted, was also accepted into “a right-leaning summer boot camp for undergraduates” that was “the brainchild of a group of conservatives, including William F. Buckley Jr.”

(De Blasio could as well have run the Top 10 Facts about Buckley, including his support for Senator Joseph McCarthy, whom he called “a prophet,” his admiration for dictators, like Chile’s Augusto Pinochet, and his notion of the “cultural superiority of white over Negro.”)

Yes, this sort of guilt by association is absurd. Because even though Lhota says, “I still am a virulent anti-communist,” and de Blasio still finds elements of democratic socialism appealing, in truth Lhota is no more a Bircher or white supremacist than de Blasio is a fellow traveler or anti-Semite.

And at first de Blasio shunned the whole approach. “It’s 2013. I’d like to note, I’m not going to stoop to Joe Lhota’s level here,” he said. “I am a progressive who believes in an activist approach to government. You can call it whatever the heck you want.”

But de Blasio has been forced to hit back; the media was keeping him on the defense, chasing him, asking did he ever agree with Marxism, why’d he honeymoon in Cuba? Even allies in the press wanted to know, was his support for the Sandinistas merely a “youthful indiscretion,” as someone at a New Yorker lunch asked him. “No, it’s not a youthful indiscretion,” he said, refusing to take the cowardly way out. “The reason I got involved, was because of United States foreign policy.”

But for some reason, the press isn’t on Lhota’s tail to explain his adulation of Goldwater, much less are they grilling him on if we should we nuke Syria or whether he’d vote against the Civil Rights Act (not a far-fetched question given the Supreme Court’s gutting of section 4 of the Voting Rights Act). The Times certainly didn’t ask him such questions, nor would it occur to most reporters to do so.

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This is a case of the media not making false equivalencies but habitually failing to notice actual equivalencies. Politicians’ involvement in left-wing causes stimulates media hormones more than the right-wing ones do. Partly that’s because the center has moved rightward. But even if it hadn’t, America’s red-baiting, McCarthyite past still has the power to taint.

For whatever reason, ventures into lefty world are treated like a dirty bad act, and they produce a kind of slut-shaming. Maybe the body politic needs to believe that it contains something just too awful to fully accept.

De Blasio may become not just NYC’s most progressive mayor but the first big-name pol to break that bleary, dreary mindset.

Read John Nichols’s post on the ideological differences between de Blasio and current mayor Mike Bloomberg.

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