After learning that the attic space at Gracie Mansion had once been occupied by Mayor Koch’s chef, Chirlane McCray, First Lady of New York City responded to the question of how the de Blasio’s might use it: “I can tell you with confidence, there will not be a servant living there.”
Let’s overlook the slap in the face to Mitchell London, the chef who rightfully never viewed himself as a servant.
Let’s focus instead on why Ms. McCray chose that word instead of staff and let’s object to the hypocrisy implied in her statement.
It’s clear that our First Lady has not seen “The Butler” in which Oprah lashes out at her son for disparaging his father’s ’servile’ position and reminds him that not only was the butler a man of dignity and integrity but he had also paid for everything that the son had ever gotten and enjoyed.
Perhaps Ms. McCray has forgotten how many New Yorkers perform cleaning or child care work in homes, offices or hotels; how many of them are people of color; how many of them earn very respectable wages - sometimes considerably more than Wellesley graduates.
Rather than showing respect for people who are willing to work hard to earn a living, the First Lady dismissively refers to them as servants, a rank marginally higher than slaves.
In America we don’t use the word servant - we euphemize with housekeeper, butler, chef, cook, nanny, babysitter, personal assistant, steward, chambermaid.
Ms. McCray knows all this and she also knows by now how sizeable a staff it takes to clean and maintain her new residence.
She will not be doing any of that work herself - she has chosen to work in her husband’s administration and has a personal assistant who will receive a salary of $175,000 on the public payroll.
The First Lady will not be cooking for or organizing the various functions which she and her husband will host - she will be the recipient of all of that, supplied by public funding.
In fact, if we added up all the expenses related to Mr. and Mrs. de Blasio’s new lifestyle, you can be sure that it would more than cover the budget of at least one of the three charter schools which the mayor has closed.
I challenge Chirlane McCray to ask those mostly black and Hispanic parents what their preference for spending their tax dollars would be - keeping Gracie Mansion clean and well-oiled or re-opening their children’s best hope for a decent education.
Or, the mayor and his wife can probe their consciences for why they’ve chosen to move to Gracie Mansion and how they can reconcile that with their disdain for the wealthy residents of Manhattan.
Our former mayor lived in his own house and had two friendly policemen standing guard outside making everyone in the neighborhood feel that much more secure.
Undoubtedly the mayor’s Brooklyn neighbors would be just as welcoming and the First Lady would not be forced to admit how many ’servants’ it will take to make her chosen living conditions just about perfect.
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