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Long IslandColumnistsDan Janison

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio's strategy: 'otherness'

Mayor Bill de Blasio speaks during a press

Mayor Bill de Blasio speaks during a press conference at City Hall on Wednesday, July 9, 2014, in Manhattan. Photo Credit: Louis Lanzano

The prevailing theme of New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio's public life seems to be otherness.

Perhaps it was no accident that he chose the well-worn message "A Tale of Two Cities" when he campaigned for the job last year, just as an earlier mayoral candidate Fernando Ferrer once identified himself with the "Other New York" and ex-Gov. Mario Cuomo gave the same tale-of-two-cities title to his famous 1984 Democratic National Convention speech.

Whatever the reason, when he visited Italy with his family last month, it drew little or no notice to one of the more interesting facts in his background. His late mother, Maria de Blasio Wilhelm, a daughter of Italian immigrants, in 1988 wrote "The Other Italy," a historical book about those around the nation who carried out resistance and insurrections, region by region, against the Nazis and ruling Fascists during World War II.

Its foreword concludes: "And finally I want to thank my son, Bill de Blasio-Wilhelm, for his constant interest and editorial support in this project, without which it might never have been undertaken much less completed." De Blasio later trimmed his name to the other, maternal side.

Otherness, of course, has its complications. GOP election opponent Joe Lhota last year zinged him for fun in a debate: "What color is the sky on your planet?" But de Blasio prevailed in the election, as did others before him, by being something quite apart in many ways from his predecessor, in this case Michael Bloomberg.

During a recent period when the de Blasios were moving from gritty-if-trendy Park Slope, Brooklyn, to another New York -- stately Gracie Mansion on the Upper East Side -- a separate issue developed that reinforces the two-cities theme, or mocks it, depending on your view.

It turns out the city signed off on plans to allow a new luxury high-rise in Manhattan to have a separate entrance for low-income residents. Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen told The Associated Press that the plans were submitted and construction began last year before de Blasio's election.

But the builder, Extell Development, has defended the zoning law that authorized this as a way to add affordable-housing units, which are grouped in one part of the structure and spun by some as really a separate building. Critics, including several elected officials, call this "poor door" a form of segregation.

Any mayor wants more housing for those with modest incomes. Wait and see if and when de Blasio reverses this symbol of otherness.

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