NEW YORK (Reuters) - Bill de Blasio, New York City’s next mayor, has been drinking coffee at the Little Purity diner since Nick Kolosakas opened the Brooklyn neighborhood spot six years ago.
“About two years after he started coming in almost every day, he comes up, he puts his hand on the counter, he looks at me and he goes, ‘Nick, I love your place, but your coffee sucks,’” said Kolosakas, the diner’s owner.
De Blasio, who will take office on January 1 as the first Democrat to lead City Hall in two decades, has made much of his regular guy persona and has sought to contrast himself with outgoing Mayor Michael Bloomberg - New York’s richest person, who lives in a townhouse on Manhattan’s Upper East Side.
In Brooklyn’s Park Slope neighborhood, where de Blasio and his family have lived for decades, he is often seen taking out the trash at his 11th Street house, ordering black olive pizzas at Smiling Pizza on 9th Street and renting DVDs at the movie-rental store near the Seventh Avenue subway stop.
De Blasio will be the city’s first mayor with a child in public school. He hosts political events at the Italian restaurant across the street from his house. When his wife, Chirlane McCray, picked a dress to wear to de Blasio’s victory speech on election night, she chose a local designer whose clothes are sold at a Park Slope boutique near their home.
Park Slope, with its tree-lined streets and brownstone row houses, seems far from Manhattan. It is considered one of the city’s most child-friendly neighborhoods, a place many Manhattanites have escaped to in search of quiet.
Local business owners and neighbors said they have watched the evolution of the politician, who was elected to the city council in 2002 and in 2010 became public advocate.
Kathy Smelyanski, owner of the Video Gallery, a movie-rental shop a few blocks from the de Blasio family’s home, recalls the 6-foot-5 (1.96-meter) politician showing up to rent the documentary “Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price,” to screen to his staff at a time when the council was considering whether to allow Wal-Mart Stores Inc to open in the city.
The retailer lost it bid in September 2012, as a result of fierce opposition from union groups and politicians, including Public Advocate de Blasio, whose office published reports stating that Wal-Mart’s entry would eliminate jobs.
Throughout the campaign, de Blasio seized on the public’s fatigue with Bloomberg, who has served three terms and is widely seen as making New York cleaner, safer and better managed but has also been criticized for overlooking the needs of poor and minority neighborhoods.
De Blasio overwhelmingly won New York’s mayoral election on November 5 in no small part because he trumpeted the differences between himself and billionaire Bloomberg, listed by Forbes as the world’s 13th-richest person with an estimated net worth of $31 billion. The candidate criticized the mayor for presiding over “two New Yorks” - one rich, one poor.
He proposes tackling inequality by raising taxes on the city’s top earners to pay for an expansion of pre-kindergarten programs, increasing access to affordable housing and preventing the closure of hospitals in underserved areas.
The night he won the primary, de Blasio called himself “an unapologetically progressive alternative to the Bloomberg era.”
As a 26-year-old in 1988, he traveled to Nicaragua to distribute food and medicine in support of the leftist Sandinista government. His wife is black, and their children are interracial.
But to Steve Zito, whose family has owned Smiling Pizza on the corner of 9th Street and 7th Avenue in Park Slope for 40 years, de Blasio is just a local dad who favors vegetarian pizzas.
“He’s just Bill,” he said.
Years ago, Zito asked de Blasio for help in getting a few empty newspaper bins outside his restaurant removed, because passersby would use them as trash cans. De Blasio couldn’t help - the businesses’ bins remain - but Zito liked that he tried.
“Since he is a down-to-earth guy, he’s going to try to understand where you’re coming from and he could understand where you’re coming from because he’s been there,” Zito said. “He’s a part of the community. He’s one of us.”
Politicians of all stripes - from city councilors to presidential candidates - try to maintain a “common touch,” of course.
Bloomberg, too, likes his local diner.
Cafe Viand on Madison Avenue is around the corner from Bloomberg’s townhouse, and restaurant manager Angel Pelengaris said the three-term mayor is a regular. He described him as friendly, a fan of red wine with dinner and someone who is known to snag a french fry from other customers’ plates if he stops by their table to chat.
Pelengaris said he doesn’t know de Blasio, but his relationship with Bloomberg leads him to believe a good leader is a people person.
“(Bloomberg) likes people, and people who like people will be successful at anything because they are social and can get the job done,” he said.
Maybe the two men have more in common than meets the eye - at least in terms of their love for their own home.
De Blasio says he will wait until after the November 28 Thanksgiving holiday to decide whether he and his family will relocate 10 miles north to the city’s official mayoral residence of Gracie Mansion.
Reporting by Elizabeth Dilts; Editing by Edith Honan and Douglas Royalty