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Long IslandColumnistsDan Janison

De Blasio family navigates the reality-show part of politics

New York mayoral elect Bill de Blasio poses

New York mayoral elect Bill de Blasio poses with his family, wife Chirlane McCray, son Dante de Blasio and daughter Chiara de Blasio. (Nov. 5, 2013) Credit: Getty Images

Still days away from becoming New York City's first family, the de Blasios of Brooklyn already negotiate the hazards of new celebrity.

For months, at opportune moments, New York City Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio strategically displayed pieces of the story of his life and of the family he showcases.

Little known before he emerged from the back of the candidate pack last fall, he's proved himself intent on pre-empting and finessing troublesome publicity -- wrestling, as other pols do, to control the news narrative.

So with a story about to break in September on his father's suicide, he announced: "My father tragically ended his life while battling terminal cancer in 1979."

That had not been mentioned in a June campaign commercial when the Democratic candidate did speak sadly of the late father, Warren Wilhelm, a wounded World War II veteran who left home when he was 7.

"It was like every time I saw him, he was drunk, and it was just a reality," de Blasio, 52, told the world. "He had these demons that he couldn't beat."

That fit with the narrative -- which he discussed when questioned after his first City Council election in 2002 -- of his name change from Warren Wilhelm Jr. to use his mother's last name instead.

And now, in a Christmas Eve video confessional set to piano music, his daughter, Chiara de Blasio, has pre-emptively acknowledged and discussed her own previously rumored substance-abuse problem.

It is far from exceptional to hear of a 19-year-old using weed, booze or worse. But she's now living inescapably in the fishbowl, after her dad's campaign made her colorful flower crowns almost as much of a pictorial trademark as her brother Dante's Afro.

So here she is, speaking out, in a controlled setting -- on her and her parents' terms -- drawing accolades from substance-abuse professionals for raising consciousness.

In the video she talks about "bartering" between drinking and smoking marijuana, a trade that resulted in "equally bad outcomes."

As a public policy matter, Republican Joe Lhota and Democrat John Liu argued for legalizing pot during the campaign, but de Blasio said he would only go so far as supporting a state move to decriminalize display of small amounts.

Other family lore had already proved more sensational. Nearly a year ago, her own printed accounts of being lesbian, dating to 1979, drew media attention to de Blasio's wife, Chirlane McCray.

Inadvertently or not, Chiara de Blasio has broken family news before. She told an interviewer in September that her dad and mother had honeymooned in Cuba.

"In one of the forums . . . the moderator asked if the candidates had ever been to Cuba. They had always told me they went to Canada," she said. "They actually flew out of there to go to Cuba, but they'd never told us. I thought it was awesome. I was like, 'Why didn't you tell me that?' "

GOP candidate Lhota had responded: "One of the things I always do is tell my family the truth," and he demanded an explanation, given the legal restrictions on Americans visiting Cuba.

De Blasio shrugged off the past omission: "We didn't tell our children a lot of things about our honeymoon."

Welcome to the reality-show part of politics -- where personal lives get as much attention as taxes.

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