A piece in today’s New York Times describes Chirlane McCray’s “outsize” role in her husband, New York mayor-elect Bill de Blasio’s, political career. McCray and de Blasio have an extremely close intellectual relationship, and McCray weighs in on his appointments and policy decisions. After reviewing previously undisclosed emails and talking to many former aides, reporters Michael Barbaro and Michael M. Grynbaum posit that “there is little precedent in New York for the intense day-to-day political partnership that the mayor-elect and his wife intend to bring to City Hall on Jan. 1.”
But maybe that’s just because the last time a New York City mayor was happily married was David Dinkins in 1994, and Dinkins probably didn’t have email.
Many, many, many political wives have had so-called “outsize” roles in their husband’s political destinies. Carl Sferrazza Anthony, a historian of the National First Ladies Library, wrote a great roundup of First Lady political influence in 2009. Some of the highlights include:
Jackie Kennedy’s 1956 drafting of JFK’s endorsement of Stevenson for president, Edith Wilson’s scribbled version of her paralyzed husband’s instructions to Cabinet members, Chief of Staff Don Regan’s book which unintentionally shows Nancy Reagan’s wisdom on presidential appearances and statements and military aide Benjamin Montgomery’s attesting that Ida McKinley successfully urged her husband to retain the Philippines after the Spanish-American War.
Doris Kearns Goodwin’s just-released book, The Bully Pulpit, about the relationship between Teddy Roosevelt and William Howard Taft, describes how Taft wasn’t even at the meeting where his wife, Nellie, and Roosevelt decided that Taft would run for President in 1908. Taft might have been taking wifely input a little too far by not even bothering to show up, but all of these examples illustrate how spouses with close relationships deeply influence each other. McCray’s role in her husband’s future mayoralty doesn’t seem so “outsize.” It seems pretty normal.