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Appointment signals role of de Blasio's wife at City Hall

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio speaks

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio speaks at the National Action Network's Annual King Day Public Policy Forum in Manhattan. (Jan. 20, 2014) Credit: Charles Eckert

Mayor Bill de Blasio hinted at the political influence his wife, Chirlane McCray, will have at City Hall by appointing a seasoned civil rights activist as her chief of staff Monday, but said he wasn't ready to discuss McCray's role in his administration.

Rachel Noerdlinger, executive vice president of communications for the Rev. Al Sharpton, will be chief of staff to the first lady, the mayor announced at Sharpton's annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day public policy forum in Harlem.

"I'm thrilled that Rachel's going to join us," de Blasio told reporters afterward. "Over time we're going to have more announcements about specific areas that Chirlane is going to focus on, but today we simply wanted to make clear that she's bringing in a great chief of staff to help her."

Noerdlinger, who worked for 15 years with Sharpton and his National Action Network, will make $170,000 in her post and be paid as a City Hall employee, the mayor's office said later Monday.

McCray will not receive a salary as first lady and details of her staff, office and issues portfolio haven't been determined, the mayor's office said.

McCray was a constant presence at de Blasio's side during the mayoral campaign, has accompanied him to the bulk of his public events as mayor, and is expected to have an active role in his administration.

De Blasio makes frequent references to her as his sounding board, the love of his life, his most trusted adviser and his "partner in all I do."

The couple met in 1991 when they both worked for David Dinkins' administration, for which she served as a speechwriter.

The city hasn't had a first lady at its helm since Rudy Giuliani's wife, Donna Hanover, who had a four-person, taxpayer-funded staff until the couple divorced in 2000.

Noerdlinger Monday called McCray a "voice for the voiceless," and McCray complimented Noerdlinger's "experience, knowledge and know-how."

The mayor and first lady honored King Monday at events with Sens. Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand and other elected officials.

In Harlem, de Blasio said King inspired his fight against economic inequality, paraphrasing the slain civil rights leader: "As long as there is poverty, no one can be totally rich."

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