On Christmas Eve, New York City Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio and his transition team released a very candid video of his daughter, 19-year-old Chiara, discussing a previously undisclosed struggle with depression and substance abuse, and urging anyone with similar struggles to get help.
The announcement has been widely received as an effort to protect Chiara by controlling the story's release, and giving her agency over the difficult reveal. The de Blasio team avoided journalists' questions about Chiara's rumored abuses during the campaign, according to the New York Times, either for her sake or for the sake of the candidate's image. Bill de Blasio indeed put his family front and center during his campaign. His son Dante's charming ad established de Blasio's reputation as the anti-stop-and-frisk candidate, and the tight-knit group of relatives cemented his family-man image. It's not surprising, therefore, that some would raise eyebrows at the video confession, perhaps seeing it as the latest example of de Blasio's perhaps questionable use of family in furthering his campaign, despite the obvious risks of putting his children in the public eye — especially if one of them has a history of depression.
We anticipated that these reactions might be tactless or vulgar, but we were prepared to read them with an open mind. And we anticipated that someone like, for example, the New York Daily News' Mike Lupica, a notoriously aggressive local columnist, would lead the charge against Bill and Chiara. We were even prepared to hear him out. But what we didn't expect was that Lupica's takedown of the de Blasios would be so logically and grammatically tortured that we'd have trouble understanding what he's trying to say. Maybe you can help us unpack it.
Lupica opens with a fairly logical premise — that Chiara's video is a counterpoint to de Blasio's campaign ads, which featured his children's sunny dispositions but still operates as promotional material for the mayor-elect. De Blasio is a family flip-flopper, if you will. This appears to be the crux of Lupica's argument:
This was different, wasn’t as much about the bravery of de Blasio’s daughter, Chiara, as much as it was de Blasio and his rather cynical handlers getting out in front of the young woman’s story. And the way the whole thing was handled wasn’t as much about her as it was about her father and political expediency.
Fair enough. Lupica continues by explaining why the Christmas Eve release was especially manipulative:
It is why it all coming about Chiara de Blasio on Christmas Eve, for a Christmas Day news cycle in the newspapers, ends up looking like old-time politicking, from a politician who acts as if everything he does is brand-new.
Hmm, OK. Aside from using "it" confusingly in the first line, Lupica appears to be blaming de Blasio for using the news cycle in a traditional way. It's not really relevant whether de Blasio thinks what he's doing at the moment is "brand-new," but whatever, we get it.
Next, Lupica references the de Blasio family's quick appearance before their home after the video was released:
You watch de Blasio here, standing in front of his Brooklyn home before he moves his wife and son and daughter into Gracie Mansion, and want to remind him, once and for all, that he’s got the gig, he can stop campaigning now.
Oh wait. Lupica's onto something here. Bill de Blasio has won the race; he doesn't need to campaign anymore, why is he still campaigning? Maybe he's not actually campaigning at all, maybe he's really just doing something to protect his teenage daughter here. This seems like a pretty logical place for Lupica to stop, actually. But he doesn't.
But what happens now with de Blasio and his daughter shows you what happens when you use your family as much as he did to help himself first win the Democratic nomination and then win the election the way he did, which means going away. Maybe de Blasio has finally figured out that he doesn’t get to decide what is public and what is private with that family.
I don't know, did you get that? What does he mean when he says "which means going away"? Who is going away? What is going away? And what is the "what" in the phrase "what happens now"? Does the video happen now? The video didn't really just "happen," it was an intentional expression of besting personal challenges. "Maybe de Blasio has finally figured out that he doesn't get to decide what is public and what is private with his family." But isn't deciding what is public and what is private exactly what Bill and Chiara just did? Let's move on.
It comes out now, because de Blasio knew it would come out eventually.
... trying to stop a story like this is like trying to stop the ocean.
Lupica continues in this manner, arguing that it's unfair to say that Chiara wasn't fit to speak about her depression during the campaign but is strong enough to handle the public eye now. He also offers a small conspiracy theory, presumably to keep us hooked:
On the day when the video was released, the incoming mayor does not want to talk about when it was actually shot, or who was in charge of its production or content.
What Lupica is saying here, we think, is that we'll never know THE TRUTH if we don't know who, really, is behind this video. Next Lupica swoops in with just a little bit of nonsensical sass:
By the way? You want nothing but the best for that family, and for this young woman, who now stands up this way and tells the world that the de Blasio family is more than the smiley-face picture of it we got during the campaign."
We think "you" here is de Blasio, and that this whole sentence is sarcastic. But maybe the "you" here is actually you, the reader, and Lupica is inserting a genuine aside in support of Chiara and her family's willingness to acknowledge its challenges. But that seems to sort of go against what he was saying earlier, right? Again, we don't know. Let's continue. Here's just one more conspiracy theory:
Chiara de Blasio spoke of how she hoped everybody would watch the video, because it speaks for itself. Her father spoke of “incredible wisdom for someone who’s only 19 years old.” Certainly that is what both of them, and the people who handle Bill de Blasio, want us to believe.
Wait, is she in on it or not? Is she a child taken advantage of by an ambitious, cutthroat political father or a co-conspirator in the campaign to make the de Blasios seem like a "smiley-face" family? We don't know. What we do know is that Lupica thinks there is no way this is a genuine effort to encourage teenagers to get help during the holidays, when depression levels are especially high:
The idea that they released this during the holiday season because it would help others battling substance abuse during the holiday season is just another political fairy tale.
Well sure, maybe, but you can't leave that there without any explanation. That's just poor exposition.
We suspect that Lupica is trying to say that de Blasio's reliance on his family to win the election had adverse effects on his children. Which is a fair point, and perhaps one worth making. And in Lupica's defense, the columnist does say he wants "nothing but the best for [de Blasio's] children," and there's no reason not to believe him.
But with this video release, the de Blasio family upped the political conversation, and it seems unfair to comment on it without noting the gray areas of such an announcement. It's possible that this is nothing but an exploitative political tactic, or maybe a wholly genuine way for a young woman to help others by discussing her own struggles. But more likely it's a combination of the two, with shades of familial and personal nuances we can't, and shouldn't expect to, be made privy to. The least we can do is pause and think (and edit a bit) before jumping to conclusions.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.
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