New York City Democratic mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio revealed on Monday that his father took his own life in 1979 after a long struggle with alcoholism and late-stage cancer.
Speaking about a difficult personal situation weeks before the Nov. 5 general election, de Blasio, who has a wide lead in the race to follow Mayor Michael Bloomberg in City Hall, said he had learned "very powerful personal lessons" from his father's demise but that it is "tough stuff to make sense of to this day."
De Blasio, the city's public advocate, issued a statement about his father's death to pre-empt a New York Post article about the suicide, which was published soon after. He gave a long interview to New York's public radio station afterward.
"We knew his life was going to come to an end. We didn't expect it to be this way," he said. "And there had been such sorrow around it."
De Blasio said he did not intend to discuss it further.
"I think some things still need to be respected about families and I think it's fair that I would answer these questions for one person and explain the situation for one person," he said. "But after that I don't have any intention to talk about it any more."
"This particular piece is just particularly painful and difficult and wasn't something I felt real comfortable talking about," he said.
De Blasio is due to face Republican Joe Lhota, a former deputy under Mayor Rudolph Giuliani. Recent polls show that de Blasio is favored by about two-thirds of city voters.
De Blasio's father, Warren Wilhelm, volunteered to fight in World War II and was at Okinawa, one of the war's bloodiest episodes. De Blasio said he saw little of his father after his parents separated and described his father's drunkenness as a "consistent reality."
Wilhelm, 61 and sick with late-stage cancer, shot himself in a Connecticut hotel in 1979. De Blasio was 18 and had just finished high school.
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