Bill de Blasio officially announced his candidacy for mayor of New York City on Sunday by recalling the person who influenced his life the most, an old Italian man with an accent that was nearly incomprehensible.
“He only had 70 years to get comfortable with English,” de Blasio jokingly defended his grandfather.
Commonly referred to as an Italian-American politician, he also boats German ancestry.
Bill de Blasio was originally born Warren Wilhelm, and legally changed his last name to his mother’s maiden name.
In an April 2012 interview, de Blasio explained: “[My dad] He was an alcoholic, and my mother and father broke up very early and I was brought up by my mother’s family — that’s the bottom line — the de Blasio family.”
Although his grandfather passed away in 1977, the memory of him plays a large role in his decisions today.
De Blasio’s family has come a long way since his Italian grandparents emigrated to the United States with little in their pockets and he believes that the further he takes his career, the closer he must stick to his roots.
De Blasio knows that his grandfather’s olive skin and thick curls would face scrutiny under Arizona laws if he were alive today. “That gives me perspective,” he said.
In 2010, de Blasio took his children to Italy so they could connect with their heritage. “That connection to that part of my heritage has been a very important part of my life”, de Blasio said.
The occupancy of so many Italian Americans in high political offices is indeed impressive.
If de Blasio wins, he will become New York City’s first Democratic, Italian-American mayor since Vincent Impellitteri’s term ended in 1953.
With the Italian background of Andrew Cuomo, current governor of New York, it would also mean the two most powerful state politicians will be Italian-American.
This is a truly remarkable development when one considers that Italian Americans were virtually absent from the political scene only a few generations ago.