As Bill de Blasio runs for NYC mayor, the public advocate’s black wife has gay past revealed

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New York City Public Advocate Bill de Blasio is on the short list of mayoral hopefuls, but the latest news about his wife’s past lesbian relationships may disrupt his campaign. The four Democratic hopefuls for mayor of New York City are de Blasio, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, City Comptroller John Liu, and former City Comptroller Bill Thompson.

De Blasio’s wife, Chirlane McCray, has had a prominent role in his campaign and is an unpaid advisor. McCray is African-American and some critics have argued her front and center status is simply pandering to black voters.

McCray, who met her husband while working for former New York mayor David Dinkins, had her lesbian past revealed in an article published by The New York Observer. According to the report, before her marriage to de Blasio in 1994, McCray identified as a lesbian.

As a freelance writer who had been in committed, longterm relationships with several women, McCray wrote an article for Essence magazine in 1979 called, I am a Lesbian, which was summarized by the Observer.

In the feature McCray detailed her experiences, relating: “I survived the tears, the isolation and the feeling that something was terribly wrong with me for loving another woman… Coming to terms with my life as a lesbian has been easier for me than it has been for many. Since I don’t look or dress like the typical bulldagger, I have a choice as to whether my sexual preference is known.

“I have also been fortunate because I discovered my preference for women early, before getting locked into a traditional marriage and having children,” McCray added.

McCray has issued a statement in response to the Observer story saying, “[i]n the 1970s, 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. I am reminded every day how lucky I am to have met my soul mate.”

The local media has naturally jumped on the story – complete with a distasteful cartoon in the New York Post and a shoutout on Saturday Night Live’s Weekend Update. New Yorkers are speculating about whether this will help or hurt de Blasio’s chances to reach City Hall as mayor.  The revelation is certainly an interesting development in terms of whether the race and sexual preferences of a candidate’s wife matters in attracting certain segments of voters.

For Democratic primary voters in New York City, McCray’s past might not be that controversial, but it remains to be seen whether this revelation will impact de Blasio’s success in the outer-boroughs of Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx and Staten Island, which have large segments of conservative voters.

With the campaign becoming less about de Blasio, and more about his African-American wife who at one time lived as a lesbian, the reaction of gay and black voters could also prove unpredictable.

These two segments of voters are key to reaching victory in any mayoral race. Prior to this news, de Blasio’s wife certainly helped him connect with African-American voters. Now that her gay past has been revealed, only time will tell if his traction with black voters will continue to grow or if this will stop his campaign in its tracks.

Marriage equality is now the law in New York; thus, the voting preferences of certain demographic groups, which are seen historically as socially conservative such as African-Americans, have likely evolved along with attitudes towards gays and lesbians, making this historic shift possible.

Of course, it’s still possible that this revelation may hurt de Blasio with some black voters. That said, ultimately it may also end up helping him with gay voters. The fight for the gay vote could become more competitive as one of the main mayoral contenders, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, is openly gay and married. It is possible that the “outing” of McCray’s lesbian past and her sensitive handling of the issue might engender sympathy with gay voters.

With de Blasio pegging himself as the most progressive, this new revelation could create a challenge to Quinn’s support in the gay community.  The only risk for de Blasio is that he may lose support with conservative voters, but it’s not likely they were supporting him in large numbers due to his self-described progressive status.

The revelation that de Blasio’s wife was a lesbian is perfect fodder for tabloid newspapers, but might not necessarily do any additional damage given that De Blasio himself is on the left flank and this news simply plants him more solidly there. This also means that while de Blasio’s progressive base appears to be in tact, any progress with middle-of-the-road and right-leaning voters will be much more of a challenge.

De Blasio has recently defended his wife during local television news interviews in response to the story, stating that McCray was “strong” and “brave” to write about being a lesbian during a more challenging time for gays socially.

McCray also elaborated on her current life with the mayoral hopeful during their joint appearance on Good Day New York. “The story is that I’m married and I have two children, and that sexuality, I think, is just a very fluid thing, and it’s personal.”

Follow Zerlina Maxwell at @ZerlinaMaxwell