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  • New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio's COVID-19 actions may be driven by inner demons. (Photo:
    New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s COVID-19 actions may be driven by inner demons. (Photo: Gage Skidmore)

    When Mayor de Blasio first announced the We Love NYC “homecoming” concert in June, daily case rates were declining and vaccination rates–and hopes for recovery–were rising. 

    Fast forward to Aug. 21, and the Delta variant was causing New York City’s COVID caseload to skyrocket.

    But de Blasio, minimizing the dangers of both the variant and pre-hurricane storm warnings, encouraged 60,000 people who had at least one dose of a vaccine or a negative COVID test to mask up and attend the show.

    After a few hours of all-star performances to celebrate the city’s COVID-19 comeback, lightning brought the concert to a halt.

    Yet, De Blasio urged concertgoers to “come back shortly,” as if he expected a minor rain delay, not a deluge. I was struck not only by how dangerous that seemed, but how disconnected. 

    What happened to the mayor who came to the rescue in 2014 with universal pre-kindergarten for city families? 

    And most disturbingly, despite the increasing dangerousness of the Delta variant, why is the mayor decreasing school testing protocols, and putting our kids at risk?

    Worried families and municipal workers, who are being mandated to return in-person to work and school with unreliable safeguards and without a remote option, are baffled by, and up in arms about, the mayor’s intransigence.

    As a psychologist, I have a duty to comprehend and prevent dangerous behavior, if possible. 

    Since the mayor is engaging in reckless behavior with high potential for dangerous consequences, I looked into de Blasio’s story and arrived at a theory.

    In my work with patients throughout the pandemic, I observed that people have underlying conditions that render them more vulnerable to the harmful medical effects of the virus.

    But people also have underlying psychological conditions that predispose them to the harmful mental health effects of COVID-19 as well–in particular, trauma, which is at the heart of de Blasio’s story. 

    I was shocked to learn that he is not the man I thought he was. 

    Beginning with the unsettling discovery that our mayor is a rabid Red Sox fan, I was also surprised to learn that Bill de Blasio hasn’t always been just “Bill.” He was born Warren Wilhelm, Jr. He officially changed his name in 2001, after winning a seat on the New York City Council.

    De Blasio did so because he wanted to de-identify himself from his father, Warren Wilhelm Sr., a charismatic, elite-educated economist who served valiantly in the Pacific during World War II.

    Tragically, a grenade from an enemy soldier he’d killed exploded, severing part of his left leg.  Awarded the purple heart, he returned home to marry Maria Angela de Blasio, a progressive, well-educated woman, born to Italian immigrant parents.

    The newlyweds moved to Washington D.C., where they were swept up by McCarthyism and branded as traitors “sympathetic to the Communist cause.” 

    Unable to work, Warren Sr. retreated to New England, where Warren Jr. (a.k.a. “Bill”) was born. When Bill was seven, his father suffered what would nowadays likely be diagnosed as delayed onset PTSD, which he self-medicated with alcohol. 

    He was prone to drunken rages, philandering and was abusive towards Maria, who eventually divorced him. 

    Tragically, when Bill was 18, his father, now unemployed and diagnosed with lung cancer, shot himself in the heart with a rifle, leaving a suicide note for his wife and his eldest son, but nothing for his youngest, Bill.

    De Blasio coped with this traumatic loss by disavowing his identification with his father, changing his name, and striving to become the “opposite” of him.

    He once stated: “My father was a picture of courage in terms of his war service and strength, and yet in his decline, I learned…what not to do.” 

    As is the case with so many who suffer from complex trauma, I hypothesize de Blasio internalized profound shame and rage from which he psychologically protected himself by developing grandiose, narcissistic aspirations to become the hero his father once was. 

    De Blasio’s gubernatorial ambitions drove his pre-delta plans for the “Homecoming” concerts and celebratory school re-openings. 

    By positioning himself as New York City’s COVID-Hero at the end of his mayoral term, he would be ripe for a run in 2022. 

    But having lost his 2020 bid for president, when Delta surged, he was retraumatized by the perceived threat to his political aims and his self-concept as a hero.

    In a fight/flight state, he doubled-down on his plans to reopen school based on a near-delusional denial of scientific reality, gambling with our children’s health and possibly their lives. 

    It’s a tragedy-in-the-making of Greek proportions.  For in the end, de Blasio may end up failing to protect New York City’s children, just as his father failed to protect him. 

    I believe that the mayor can still be New York City’s hero, if he has the moral courage to be vulnerable and prioritize protecting our kids from COVID-19 over his traumatized ego.

    Recalling his father, de Blasio once said,  “Even though he was supposed to be a hero – this wasn’t supposed to be his story.”

    Mayor de Blasio, this wasn’t supposed to be and doesn’t have to be yours.