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Chirlane McCray, the wife of New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, is going to have a major role in Manhattan Politics and this new administration. While the mayor has declined to define her role with any precision, she’s going to be more like Hilary Clinton or Michelle Obama as the wife of the chief executive than Laura Bush or Rosalyn Carter.

That isn’t to say that Mrs. Bush and Mrs. Carter had no influence but rather that they operated behind the scenes. Any married man will tell you that a wife doesn’t need an office and a chief of staff to have influence. The question is how overt that influence will be. Mrs. McCray’s role is not going to be backstage.

Manhattan Politics NYC First Lady
Credit: Kelly Weill

McCray has just appointed Rachel Noerdlinger as her chief of staff – a woman who has been near the top of Al Sharpton’s operation. Her $170,000 annual salary is less than the $205,180 that city commissioners in charge of agencies get. Still, it’s hefty.

The mayor said “We utilized the model from the last person who had a similar role, which was Donna Hanover, who obviously was very active as chief of staff. So we looked at how her staffing was done and we’ve tried to base it on that model,” de Blasio said. Hanover, for those who don’t recall, was Mrs. Giuliani – who had a chief of staff, a press officer and two assistants.

Another signal that McCray is not going to operate behind the scenes came on Dr. King’s Birthday, when she spoke at Sharpton’s celebratory event. Speaking roles there are almost exclusively reserved for elected politicians.

However, the real reason to expect the mayor’s wife to be front and center on certain issues is her professional background. She entered politics in 1991 as a speechwriter for then-mayoy David Dinkins, a role she also held for state comptroller Carl McCall and city comptroller Bill Thompson. While Clinton was in office, she was a public affairs specialist at the New York Foreign Press Center. She also has private sector experience with 5 years with Maimonides Medical Center, and a six month stint at Citigroup’s PR department, which she herself said was “not a good fit.”

In an interview with Elle magazine, candidate de Blasio said “Chirlane’s been part of every major strategic decision in this campaign from day one. Literally. We started with an idea, and then we had to choose the core of our personnel, and then we had to choose our core ideas and message. Every part of it, every meeting that mattered.”

Her personality predisposes her to an active role, her experience and talents prove she has contributions to make, and the mayor has learned to rely on her. Her role in city government is going to be significant.