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Long IslandColumnistsDan Janison

A refresher on candidate Bill de Blasio

New York mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio speaks

New York mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio speaks at Victory Seventh-Day Adventist Church in the Bronx. (Aug. 17, 2013) Credit: Jeremy Bales

Now that polls show Bill de Blasio leading or co-leading the New York City mayoral pack, he and his candidacy have gained a sudden surge of interest. Still, despite his nearly four years in citywide office as public advocate, some voters will inevitably ask: Which one is de Blasio again?

Parts of the 52-year-old Brooklyn resident's personal profile have been publicized for months -- his teen son Dante's afro as a visual symbol of interracial identity, his wife Chirlane's earlier orientation as a lesbian and the tragic descent into alcoholism of his late father, a traumatized World War II veteran, as described in a campaign commercial.

In pushing a tax on top earners to fund pre-K programs, de Blasio stresses the importance of early influences on people. In his own upbringing, the push for education and literacy seem to have played an important role.

De Blasio was raised in Cambridge, Mass., Bay State roots being one of the few things he shares with Mayor Michael Bloomberg. And de Blasio remains a Red Sox fan.

The 6-foot-5 Democrat quipped in a televised debate last week: "Although I did go to high school with Patrick Ewing, he made it to the NBA and I didn't." De Blasio attended Cambridge Rindge and Latin School, a public school, before leaving for New York University and graduate school at Columbia University.

Among the lesser-known, more impressive facts is that his mother, Maria de Blasio Wilhelm, who died in 2007, wrote a widely hailed book, published by W.W. Norton & Company in 1988: "The Other Italy: The Italian Resistance in World War II." De Blasio recalls joining her on one of her research trips to Italy.

A daughter of Italian immigrants, she grew up in Manhattan, graduated from Smith College in 1938 and worked as a researcher for Time magazine, de Blasio said through a spokesman. During the war, she worked in the Office of War Information, which broadcast U.S.-produced news programs into then-fascist Italy, and later, in public relations for the Polaroid Corp.

According to de Blasio's spokesman, his father, an Army veteran who lost a leg at the Battle of Okinawa, became an economist after the war. His parents divorced while he was a small child.

Bill de Blasio's official name change from Warren Wilhelm Jr. (he says he'd always been known as Bill) to his mother's maiden name was filed in court in 2002 after he became a councilman. "I was really brought up by my mother's side of the family," and the name he used as of 1983, de Blasio-Wilhelm, became "unwieldy," he told Newsday then.

Politically, de Blasio's indelible identity as a Democrat comes clear just from a glance at his resume: He was a union organizer and campaign coordinator in 1989 and later aide to the city's last Democratic mayor, David Dinkins. He worked in the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development under secretary Andrew M. Cuomo and managed the 2000 Senate campaign for then-first lady HillaryClinton.

His manner bears an odd resemblance to that of former Gov. George Pataki -- somewhere between ease and aw-shucks awkwardness. He bends the height a bit to converse.

He engages in one-on-one side conversations with rival candidates during mayoral forums. He banters gently -- saying, for example, at a rally in acknowledging one of his supporters, Karen Bacal, a teacher at PS 321: "Karen has that teacher voice."

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