NEW YORK -- He sported a rainbow tie for the Gay Pride Parade. He wore an "I Love LA" shirt and warbled that song on national TV to pay off a bet. He even donned a pirate outfit -- puffy shirt and all -- to join his equally outlandishly costumed family for a hipster parade in Brooklyn.
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio is not afraid to be bold -- and, at times, downright goofy -- in his appearance and manner, creating an approachable persona that is a stark contrast to his predecessor, buttoned-up billionaire Michael Bloomberg. It’s an everyman image that experts say meshes with de Blasio’s populist politics, a liberal call to reach out to poor and working-class New Yorkers who felt left behind by the city’s growing income inequality.
"He’s just a guy from Brooklyn who happened to be elected mayor who likes hanging out with his wife and talking about his kids," said Hank Sheinkopf, a Democratic political consultant. "People can relate to that, and, for some, it’ll be easier when he has to bear bad news."
Although anyone with the ambition to lead the nation’s largest city clearly possesses some ego, de Blasio -- a Democrat who took office in January -- has repeatedly shown that he doesn’t take himself too seriously. He misses few opportunities at what reporters have labeled "dad humor," such as the time he offered to do a mock strip tease when asked how many layers he was wearing on a snowy day.
After successfully navigating his first city budget negotiations and Albany legislative session, de Blasio has repeatedly embraced the lighter side of his job. When the New York Rangers lost the Stanley Cup Finals to the Los Angeles Kings in June, he made good on a bet he made with his Californian counterpart and appeared on "Jimmy Kimmel Live" singing -- badly -- the Randy Newman love song to the City of Angels.
Later that month, he donned a bright purple shirt, sunglasses and a rainbow tie to march in the city’s massive gay pride parade alongside his wife, Chirlane McCray. But that outfit, which drew cheers from throngs from onlookers, was far from his most adventurous of the month.
De Blasio’s teenage children, Dante and Chiara, were named King Neptune and Queen Mermaid for the Coney Island Mermaid Parade, an annual rambunctious march attended by thousands of people, many in revealing costumes. Chiara, a 19-year-old college student, sported blue-green body paint, a gold and turquoise dress and a crown adorned with shells. Sixteen-year-old Dante wore blue body paint paired with a fishnet toga-style outfit.
McCray dressed up as a mermaid in a turquoise dress and wig while the mayor donned a black pirate hat, hair extensions, a puffy white shirt and sword.
A City Hall official later said that while the rest of the family rented their costumes, the pirate get-up was de Blasio’s "go-to Halloween outfit."
His seemingly genuine enthusiasm for his family and his job seems to play well with those New Yorkers who cheer him at parades and rallies -- even if they sometimes groan at his jokes.
"It’s about connection, it’s about letting people feel like they can relate to him," said Patsy Cisneros, a Los Angeles-based executive image consultant. "And when he makes a big decision that impacts a lot of people, people can feel ‘He gets me, he’s one of us’ and make them more inclined to support what he decides."
Cisneros warned, though, that if taken too far, the mayor risks losing the respect for the office and gravitas necessary to run the nation’s largest city.
De Blasio’s supporters point to his legislative accomplishments -- including obtaining funding for universal prekindergarten -- and note the authority he projected when responding to an East Harlem building explosion in March that killed eight people. A mayoral spokeswoman said de Blasio’s role as a doting dad has guided many of his decisions.
"If your children are made king and queen of the largest arts parade in the nation, you can’t show up in just anything," said his spokeswoman, Rebecca Katz. "Sometimes you need to break out the puffy shirt."
His style is a marked departure from recent mayors. Few have made their families so visible during their administrations, and even fewer would be willing to look so silly, except during the annual Inner Circle charity dinner in which, for example, Rudolph Giuliani donned drag. Otherwise, the zaniest Bloomberg’s wardrobe ever got was the occasional pastel sweater he’d wear to a parade.
"It’s a different look for a mayor," Sheinkopf said. "But it seems to be working for him."