Sunday, December 28, 2014

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NY1's Grace Rauh and Courtney Gross examine what's shaped the lives of mayoral candidates Bill de Blasio and Joseph Lhota in this two-week special series.

The Contenders: De Blasio's Political Awakening Started As A Child

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This week, NY1 is going to take a closer look at the life of Bill de Blasio and the forces that have shaped and influenced him along the way to becoming the Democratic nominee for mayor. NY1's Grace Rauh filed the following report on de Blasio's childhood and high school years.

CAMBRIDGE, MASS. - Bill de Blasio's political awakening began early, as a child growing up in Cambridge, Mass.

By high school, he was known as a guy who could get things done.

"I remember once, I wanted this different kind of English class," said Nora Burns, a high school friend of de Blasio's. "I was like, 'Bill, what do you think? Do you think we can we get this?' He was like, 'Yeah, of course we can.' He went and made it happen."

De Blasio attended a small alternative high school on the Harvard University campus called The Pilot School.

"He could walk up to the toughest kid in the school, and he wanted to, because he wanted to engage in discussions with them and learn from them," said Ray Shurtleff, former dean of The Pilot School.

The Pilot was technically part of the Cambridge Rindge and Latin School, a large public high school, but it was structured differently. Admission was by lottery, students called teachers by their first names, and there were all-school meetings.

De Blasio, who was known as Bill Wilhelm then, threw himself into student government, advocating for student rights. He wrote stories for the school newspaper. In the yearbook, he was named "future president of the USA...the Untied Sneakers Association." As an adult, he changed his name to de Blasio, his mother's maiden name.

"His nickname was the Senator," Shurtleff said. "When he used to come into class, they'd do the 'Hail to the Chief.'"

But his family life was troubled. His father was an alcoholic who left when de Blasio was young. His mother raised him. His father later committed suicide.

In 1968, when de Blasio was 7 years old, the Cambridge directory lists 17 Brewster Street as the home of his parents. Four years later, after his parents divorced, de Blasio lived with his mother in a different apartment building.

But it is a yellow house on Alpine Street in Cambridge that de Blasio considered his childhood home. It was the only address the campaign provided when NY1 asked to see where he had grown up.

It was a childhood in which de Blasio demonstrated a desire to improve the world - at least, the world around him.

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