A rally hosted by Al Sharpton’s National Action Network this morning that was ostensibly held to discuss the situation in the State Senate featured all of the likely Democratic mayoral candidates blasting the New York Post for a cartoon the tabloid published in response to Politicker’s story about Bill de Blasio’s wife, Chirlane McCray’s, past as a lesbian activist. Mr. de Blasio, with Ms. McCray by his side, was the last of the candidates to speak. Mr. de Blasio began by thanking Ms. Sharpton for supporting him and his wife in the days since the story came out, which he said had been “painful and challenging for us.” He went on to talk about meeting Ms. McCray.
“Twenty one years ago Chirlane and I were working in City Hall for Mayor Dinkins. I met this beautiful, strong woman. And I’ve said many times, for me it was love at first sight. It may have taken Chirlane a little longer,” said Mr. de Blasio. “I got to know her and I saw a human being that I fell deeper and deeper in love with, a human being. And I am so proud of the years of struggle and activism, of what she did for women, for the LGBT community, for people of color and the anti-apartheid movement. I am so proud of this woman and the good work she did.”
Our story detailed how Ms. McCray was involved in prominent lesbian activist groups and, in 1979, wrote an article for Essence entitled “I am a Lesbian” in which she described coming out to her family, several relationships with women and how she strongly preferred women to men “both emotionally and physically.” Though Ms. McCray, who is an unpaid advisor on Mr. de Blasio’s campaign, has played a prominent role in her husband’s political career and they have extensively discussed her other political work, her past as a lesbian activist was never mentioned by the campaign and one of the landmark lesbian groups she was a member of was simply referred to as a “feminist” organization on the campaign’s website.
The New York Post cartoon about the story featured Mr. de Blasio wearing lingerie aside Ms. McCray in bed. Ms. McCray is on the phone telling someone “I used to be a lesbian, but my husband, Bill de Blasio, won me over.” It was drawn by Sean Delonas, who has made several other controversial cartoons in the past including several mocking the gay community and one after President Barack Obama signed the stimulus bill that depicted a chimpanzee being shot by a police officer who said, “They’ll have to find someone else to write the next stimulus bill.” Mr. Sharpton has also been featured in several controversial Post cartoons.
After discussing meeting his wife, Mr. de Blasio directly addressed the tabloid.
“I say to the New York Post, first, my first response is as a husband and a father: leave my wife alone, leave my children alone. And don’t misinterpret that sentence for a moment to mean that Chirlane McCray cannot defend herself, because I assure you she can, but I’m offended they denigrated a woman who is a role model by any measure,” Mr. de Blasio said.
He went on to proclaim, “It’s time for us to say once and for all to the New York Post: Stop dividing this city!”
“I think there are actually some people at the Post who have a conscience, some people at the Post who are good people,” said Mr. de Blasio. “I don’t know how they tolerate this, or how they tolerate the cartoon of Reverend Sharpton years ago, or how they tolerate the depiction of the President of the United States of America. I don’t know how they stand for it.”
Once Mr. de Blasio was finished, Ms. McCray took the microphone.
“I’m a bit uncomfortable standing here talking. I would rather be writing an article. But I wrote the article 33 years ago because I believe it’s so important to speak out for what’s important to you, no matter how your words might be twisted or turned,” she said. “It’s important because, when you verbalize something you put it out there for people to deal with. Right? Your silence will not protect you. I think that is the lesson of the day here…silence is just not a good thing.”
Before Mr. de Blasio and Ms. McCray spoke, the other mayoral candidates also slammed the Post. City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, who is a lesbian, said the Post cartoon was “the worst” thing in the coverage of Ms. McCray’s past.
“What Chirlane McCray did by writing that essay, let’s be clear in the late 70′s and early 80′s was life saving. That wasn’t 2012, that wasn’t a time when the Supreme Court was taking up gay marriage. It was a totally different world. A world when the president and the federal government turned their backs on thousands of people dying of AIDS every day,” said Ms. Quinn. “Think of what it felt like, if you were a child struggling with your identity to see that cartoon in the New York Post. And maybe to see people you love–I hope not–but see people you love laugh at it. Think of what–that did not save lives at all. So I want to first say I’m so sorry that this has had to happen and echo what Reverend Sharpton said: Those folks who covered this in a way that’s homophobic and racist and sexist need to apologize first and foremost to Ms. McCray and to Public Advocate de Blasio, but also to the entire city of New York because it is just wrong.”
Comptroller John Liu echoed the criticism of the Post’s cartoon and the other comics it has published in the past. He also brought up another controversy that the tabloid sparked this week–the cover photo it ran featuring the moments before a man who was pushed onto subway tracks was run over by a train.
“Not only the picture, but the words that came with the picture in big letters; ‘THIS MAN IS ABOUT TO DIE,’” said Mr. Liu, who has spent time with the man’s family. “The Post, they have a lot to apologize for. They have to answer to the people of New York and we have to hold them accountable. Stop buying this rag! We’ve got to tell them that there is a line they cannot cross and they cross it too often. This is not journalism, this is not reporting the news. This is far worse than any National Enquirer or any supermarket tabloid you can buy and they call themselves, ‘The Nation’s Oldest Newspaper.’ That’s not what a newspaper is.”
Former Comptroller Bill Thompson said he was “in shock” after seeing the cartoon about Mr. de Blasio and Ms. McCray.
“I saw–and Bill and Chirlane are friends–saw the New York Post and, again, they have sunk to the lowest possible level. The cartoon that was there yesterday, I’m still in shock,” Mr. Thompson said. “The first thing you think about is, my God, how could they do this to a family? How could they do this to their children? How could they do this?”
Mr. Thompson also noted the past cartoons by the paper and said “this isn’t the first time that we’ve seen something that offends us just as human beings, just as decent people” from the Post. He closed by offering Ms. McCray and Mr. de Blasio an apology.
“Bill and Chirlane, I believe that your family’s supposed to be left out of campaigns. I’ve had my wife attacked and there’s nothing lower than that,” said Mr. Thompson. “While you won’t get an apology from the Post, on behalf of good people from New York, I’m sorry you have been dragged into this mud by this newspaper.”
Additional Reporting by Colin Campbell.