De Blasios Return from Italy — Home to Gracie

NEW YORK (AP) -
Mayor Bill de Blasio on Wednesday receives honorary citizenship from Carmine Valentino, mayor of Sant’Agata, where de Blasio’s grandfather Giovanni de Blasio was born.
Mayor Bill de Blasio on Wednesday receives honorary citizenship from Carmine Valentino, mayor of Sant’Agata, where de Blasio’s grandfather Giovanni de Blasio was born.

Returning from a nine-day vacation in ancestral Italy, it’s home, sweet new home for Mayor Bill de Blasio and his family.

Spokeswoman Rebecca Katz says the mayor, his wife and two children will spend their first night in Gracie Mansion on Sunday night, hours after returning home.

Gracie Mansion is the official mayor’s residence, but had been empty for more than a decade. Former Mayor Michael Bloomberg chose to stay in his own home on the Upper East Side.

De Blasio had spent some time debating whether to move out of his family’s home in the Park Slope section of Brooklyn, but the family ultimately decided to make the shift.

De Blasio and his family spent Saturday wrapping up a whirlwind vacation in Italy, complete with cheering crowds, paparazzi and, yes, even proof Italians do eat pizza with a fork.

But the city he is returning to Sunday is still roiled by the death of a suspect in police custody after he was put in an apparent chokehold. The videotaped scuffle threatens to reignite distrust of police in minority communities, a long-standing problem that de Blasio has vowed to improve.

For them, de Blasio now faces, according to one ally, “a defining moment,” and his response will be closely watched by blacks who were a stronghold of support and a police department adjusting to the post-stop-and-frisk era.

“It’s a critical time,” said Jamie Chandler, a political science professor at Hunter College. “He has put a lot of emphasis on improving police and community relations and that won’t happen overnight. How he handles this will be important.”

As the story dominated city headlines, de Blasio appeared with Police Commissioner William Bratton at a hastily called news conference. A short time later, de Blasio announced that he was postponing his departure by a day. That night, he worked the phones, calling African-American community leaders and pledging a thorough investigation.

The next day, he and his family left for Rome.

“He can go because he has the people’s trust. People think he’ll do the right thing,” said William Eimicke, a public affairs professor at Columbia University. “Has the city gone berserk? No. No one is happy about this, but the city isn’t burning.”

Their trip began in Rome, where the de Blasio family walked the ancient streets, met with officials and sampled the local cuisine. De Blasio met with the secretary of state of the Vatican.

The highlight of his journey was a pair of stops in Sant’Agata de’ Goti, the small Italian village where his grandparents once lived. The family was hailed as royalty, with banners hung on buildings, cakes decorated with their names and thousands of people crammed to watch de Blasio made an honorary citizen.

There was also one inevitable photo-op. Six months ago, de Blasio took heat for eating a slice of pizza with a knife and fork instead of using his hands like most New Yorkers. He defended the decision by saying that is how pizza is eaten in his ancestral homeland and, sure enough, was photographed eating it that way again in Naples.

The moment was greeted by the tabloids back home with an expected level of forgiveness. Tweeted the Daily News: “You’re still doing it wrong.