Mayor Bill de Blasio Thursday rejected an opinion poll's finding that most New Yorkers don't believe his wife deserves a taxpayer-funded chief of staff or should have a major voice shaping public policy. He said he won't pare her role as his "top adviser."
First lady Chirlane McCray will continue to employ paid staff at city expense, the mayor said, including a replacement for her embattled chief of staff Rachel Noerdlinger, who announced Monday she will take an indefinite leave of absence from the $170,000-a-year job.
"She's working for free on behalf of the people of this city, so, by definition, she needs a staff," de Blasio said of McCray. "I am absolutely committed to that," he said, adding, "I think if you start with a highly effective public servant you get for free, you're ahead of the equation right there."
Noerdlinger's decision to go on unpaid leave came in the aftermath of her 17-year-old son's weekend arrest on a trespassing charge. That arrest was the latest in months of controversies that included her live-in boyfriend's criminal record and omissions on city background questionnaires about owed taxes and other debts. The mayor said he would defer to McCray regarding the choice of a replacement.
The Quinnipiac University poll released Wednesday found that by a 2-to-1 margin, New Yorkers don't think McCray needs a chief of staff and only about one-quarter favored her having a major policy role.
Although de Blasio has previously touted Quinnipiac's polling when the numbers are favorable for him, such as support for taxing the rich, he suggested the results about his wife did not accurately reflect New Yorkers' views.
De Blasio said McCray has proved herself invaluable on issues such as universal prekindergarten and domestic violence prevention, and "she's only but just begun."
McCray is the unsalaried chairwoman of the Mayor's Fund, a nonprofit that raises private funds for city causes.
De Blasio smiled at a reporter's question likening the de Blasio-McCray partnership to that of Hillary and Bill Clinton.
"I am a humble local official, nowhere near that level of impact, but I'm trying to do a lot for the people of this city, and the person who is my partner in everything I do is my wife, and she is my top adviser, and she's the person who I've built everything I've done with."
Separately, de Blasio also defended another adviser, the Rev. Al Sharpton. The mayor said he was unfamiliar with the details of a front-page New York Times story that said Sharpton and his businesses faced $4.5 million in liens for back taxes.
"Everyone should pay their taxes and everyone should pay their taxes on time," de Blasio said. "But I will also say, in my long experience, I know a lot of good people who ran into one kind of problem or another with their taxes."