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Opinion Being the Mayor's wife shouldn't be a paying job

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“I don’t understand it,” he said the other day, “because if someone is working full time and is a professional with a whole lot of background and applying themselves, I don’t understand why they can’t get paid.”

Mayor Bill de Blasio, talking to his wife, Chirlane McCray at a ceremony at city hall in November. play

Mayor Bill de Blasio, talking to his wife, Chirlane McCray at a ceremony at city hall in November.

(nyt.com)

NEW YORK — No doubt, Mayor Bill de Blasio convinced himself that he was raising consciousness. But mostly he raised eyebrows, sky high, with a lament that his wife, Chirlane McCray, isn’t allowed to collect a paycheck on the taxpayer’s dime.

“I don’t understand it,” he said the other day, “because if someone is working full time and is a professional with a whole lot of background and applying themselves, I don’t understand why they can’t get paid.”

Let’s explain it to him. It’s called nepotism, and it’s clearly outlawed under the City Charter, New York’s equivalent of a constitution. Right there in Chapter 68 it forbids public servants to use their position “to obtain any financial gain, contract, license, privilege or other private or personal advantage, direct or indirect, for the public servant or any person or firm associated with the public servant.” McCray, married to de Blasio since 1994, surely qualifies as a person associated with a public servant.

Not that the mayor has to be told this. He acknowledged there were “good historical reasons” for the proscription. He just thinks it’s unfair that it applies to his family, considering how involved McCray is in policymaking and vetting top officials in their, er, his administration.

Much as the White House has never had a presidential daughter and son-in-law with the power of the ones there now, New York has never had a first spouse like McCray. She tends to share center stage when her husband has something of consequence to announce, like the appointment last week of Richard Carranza as schools chancellor. De Blasio thanked her for her efforts in the selection before thanking his first deputy mayor, Dean Fuleihan.

Last month, a City Hall news release said, “Mayor de Blasio and First Lady Chirlane McCray Appoint J. Phillip Thompson as Deputy Mayor for Strategic Policy Initiatives." Cue the raised eyebrows. McCray has no power to appoint anyone. The mayor’s press office changed “appoint” to “announce."

There’s no point being naïve. Unless the relationship is dysfunctional, a spouse or close companion is inevitably going to have the chief executive’s ear. But no New York first lady (mayors have thus far all been men) was ever so pivotal as this one is, with a full staff and security detail and a decisive hand in all important matters. It’s a relationship one tends to associate more with authoritarian regimes.

When questions about the extent of her role are raised, de Blasio turns petulant. On NY1, he dismissed such queries as “the most idiotic thing I’ve ever heard in my life,” adding rather glibly that “it smacks of sexism.” The possibility that many in the city are turned off by his broad streak of sanctimony seems to elude him.

The absence of a municipal salary has plainly not discouraged McCray from standing front and center on big issues. As first lady she certainly enjoys a “privilege or other private or personal advantage” despite the City Charter prohibition. Surely the de Blasios can live with that.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

CLYDE HABERMAN © 2018 The New York Times

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