A top aide in New York Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration is leaving following a wave of embarrassing stories about her personal life, the latest personnel problem for the first-term Democratic mayor.
Rachel Noerdlinger, chief of staff for first lady Chirlane McCray, said Monday that she’s taking an unpaid leave of absence, after her son was arrested on trespassing charges, reportedly with friends who had marijuana on them.
De Blasio won the mayor’s office last year riding a populist message and his promise to be a change agent in America’s largest city, after three consecutive terms under Michael Bloomberg. His efforts so far have included some popular but also controversial changes, including a bid to monitor and end the city police department’s stop-and-frisk practices.
However, his path from New York public advocate to mayor has at times been overshadowed by the actions of staffers.
Noerdlinger says she doesn’t want to be a distraction to de Blasio and that she is taking responsibility for the issues associated with her 17-year-old son, Khari.
“His arrest on Friday heightens the need for me to devote my full attention to Khari, my number one priority,” the 44-year-old Noerdlinger said in a statement.
That was hardly the only issue surrounding the chief of staff, as questions had been raised about her boyfriend, Hassaun McFarlane, whose long criminal history includes a manslaughter conviction for the 1993 fatal shooting of a teen in Harlem.
However, she and de Blasio also have gone on the offensive. De Blasio has suggested that Noerdlinger’s personal life should be off limits and that the local news media are involved in a politically motived “smear” campaign.
“If someone wants to smear people and use that for political purposes, there’s a pretty easy playbook for doing it,” de Blasio reportedly said. “Character assassination happens every day in public life. What’s sad is when it goes beyond the boundaries of the public servant and starts to be something that could include … any family member, anyone they’re romantically involved with, their children.”
“I can handle criticism and scrutiny of me, even when it’s mean-spirited,” said Noerdlinger, according to The New York Post. “That comes with the territory when you take on the status quo. But increasingly, my son has been subjected to attacks that have nothing to do with the public interest and everything to do with derailing this administration.”
Though Noerdlinger says she is only taking temporary, unpaid leave, de Blasio says somebody else will fill her $170,000-a-year job.
McFarlane and Noerdlinger, a former spokeswoman for the Rev. Al Sharpton, also reportedly have separate tax liens or warrants totaling more than $30,000.
And The Post reports that Noerdlinger might have fraudulently obtained an exception to live in New Jersey by saying her son “suffered devastating physical injuries in two car crashes,” considering he now plays linebacker on his high school football team.
De Blasio had staffer troubles last year as well, before he was elected. Anthony Baker, an administrative assistant in the Public Advocate office, for example, resigned in April 2013 after revelations about a series of offensive tweets about Jews, women and police. Baker was also part of de Blasio’s mayoral campaign.
In addition, de Blasio spokeswoman Lis Smith left his team after published photographs appeared to show the 31-year-old was dating disgraced ex-New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer.