Monday, December 22, 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 Activism Grew Upon Arrival In The City

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TWC News: De Blasio's Activism Grew Upon Arrival In The City
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After graduating from high school, the Democratic nominee for mayor left Cambridge, Mass. to attend New York University. His activism grew on campus, and soon extended beyond the boundaries of the city, as he shifted his focus to foreign policy. NY1's Grace Rauh filed the following report.

Bill de Blasio arrived at New York University in 1979.

His interest in the city was clear from his choice of majors: Metropolitan Studies.

"The fact that he's running for mayor of New York surprises me this much," his college roommate, Tom Kirdahy, said, nearly touching the thumb and index finger on his right hand.

Academics were only part of his education. De Blasio helped found a new group on campus called the Coalition for Student Rights. It organized protests against university policies and held a sleep-in at the library to demand that it stay open longer.

"I can't remember if anyone actually slept, but it was exhilarating," Kirdahy said.

Kirdahy was De Blasio's roommate his senior year. He went on to become the president of the student government.

De Blasio was two years ahead of his roommate and introduced him to a lot of seniors on campus. Usually, the graduating class did not turn out for student government elections, but de Blasio bet he could change that.

"It was very smart tactically to court these people who had voter eligibility and who weren't historically tapped in a meaningful way," Kirdahy said.

De Blasio went on to get a Master's Degree from Columbia's School of International and Public Affairs. One of his classmates, Dan Cantor, would later become a close political ally.

"We were in a class together, I think Latin American studies," Cantor said. "And he was, as he is now, tall, kind of serious and funny at the same time."

De Blasio's interest in Latin America came into sharper focus after grad school. He traveled to Nicaragua in 1988 to distribute medical supplies and food, and he became an active supporter of the Sandinistas, the leftist ruling party that the U.S. government considered dangerous.

In 1990, he called himself a proponent of Democratic Socialism. Today, he simply says he is fighting for equality.

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