NYC voters cool to policy role for mayor's spouse

AP News
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Posted: Nov 19, 2014 5:46 PM

NEW YORK (AP) — Mayor Bill de Blasio has extolled his wife as one of his crucial advisers, but city voters aren't keen on having mayoral spouses play major parts in shaping policy, according to a poll released Wednesday amid heightened attention to the first lady's unusually prominent role at City Hall.

The Quinnipiac University poll comes two days after first lady Chirlane McCray's chief of staff announced she was taking an indefinite leave following damaging revelations about her personal life, including her boyfriend's criminal record.

The poll showed voters were split on whether public officials should be held accountable for spouses' and live-in companions' actions, with 49 percent saying yes and 43 percent no. But 61 percent said a mayor's spouse shouldn't have a chief of staff, a $170,000-a-year job that de Blasio has said entails organizing his wife's considerable, unpaid portfolio of appearances and city work.

"My wife plays a very, very active role in this administration," he said Monday. "... And I think she's doing a great job."

McCray, who worked for former Mayor David Dinkins in the 1990s, now oversees a mayoral charity fund in her husband's administration. She advocated for his signature pre-kindergarten plan and other issues, and she has helped edit his speeches and choose senior staff members.

Voters have expressed warm feelings toward McCray: She got a 52-19 percent favorable-to-unfavorable rating in a survey by The Wall Street Journal/NBC 4 New York/Marist Poll in March.

But the Quinnipiac poll found 71 percent of voters feel any mayoral spouse should play little or no role in policy; only 24 percent want a spouse to have a major say. The findings echo Quinnipiac polls in March and shortly after de Blasio took office in January.

"Mayor Bill de Blasio is making his job a family affair, and voters aren't enthusiastic," said Quinnipiac University assistant polling director Maurice "Mickey" Carroll.

Mayoral spokeswoman Rebecca Katz said McCray's wide-ranging work "is helping bridge the inequality gap and lift up more New Yorkers each day."

Voters also gave the city's police commissioner the lowest approval rating — 47 percent, with 35 percent disapproving — in more than 12 years. Voters approve, 54-39 percent, of the job police are doing citywide.

The survey follows months of scrutiny of police tactics after an unarmed man, Eric Garner, died after an officer put him in a chokehold.

De Blasio spokesman Phil Walzak said the mayor and Police Commissioner William Bratton are continuing "to implement the reforms that will bring police and community together, while also keeping New York City the safest big city in the world."

The telephone poll surveyed 1,164 New York City voters from Nov. 12 through Monday. Its margin of error is plus or minus 2.9 percentage points.

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Reach Jennifer Peltz on Twitter @ jennpeltz.