NEW YORK (AP) — Mayor Bill de Blasio won election in 2013 promising a progressive overhaul of public policy. Robert Anderson Van Wyck won the same office in 1897 with a Tammany Hall-backed campaign featuring the slogan “To Hell with Reform.”
The two mayors would seem to have little in common, but the genealogy company MyHeritage says it has discovered the mayors are 11th cousins five times removed, sharing an ancestor who was knighted in England in 1487.
“To find a genealogical connection between two of the most impactful and significant New Yorkers in the last 120 years is quite extraordinary and unexpected,” MyHeritage researcher Nitay Elboym said.
Researchers at the company said they were looking for Van Wyck relatives because of the upcoming 120th anniversary of the consolidation of New York’s five boroughs into one city, which occurred during his administration.
They were surprised to uncover the link to de Blasio, who was born with the name Warren Wilhelm Jr. but dropped it and took his Italian mother’s maiden name after his father became estranged from the family.
De Blasio did not respond to requests for comment.
MyHeritage provided The Associated Press with names from the family trees of de Blasio and Van Wyck going back to Sir Thomas Boteler and his wife, Margaret, who were both born in the 1460s. Sir Thomas and his lady are Van Wyck’s 10-times great grandparents and de Blasio’s 15-times great grandparents if the research is correct.
A titled Englishman may not be the ideal ancestor for de Blasio, a liberal Democrat whose priorities include addressing economic disadvantages in a city he says is often rigged in favor of the rich and powerful.
The Van Wyck connection might not be a badge of honor, either.
Present-day New Yorkers know Van Wyck for the often-congested expressway to Kennedy Airport that bears his name.
Tapped to run by the notoriously corrupt Tammany Hall Democratic machine, Van Wyck presided over the five-borough consolidation and broke ground on New York’s first subway tunnels.
But his one-term administration was tarnished by the so-called ice trust scandal of 1900.
A plan by the American Ice Co. to double the price of ice — a crucial commodity in the age before refrigeration — drew outrage, and an investigation by Van Wyck’s political opponents found that American Ice had given Van Wyck 5,000 shares of stock for free while securing a monopoly over the supply of ice to the city.
Van Wyck was cleared of wrongdoing by Gov. Theodore Roosevelt but lost the 1901 election to Republican reformer Seth Low.
Mike Wallace, the author of “Greater Gotham: A History of New York City from 1898 to 1919,” called Van Wyck, “a creature” of Tammany Hall boss Richard Croker.
Asked if it would be safe to say a modern mayor wouldn’t boast of a connection to Van Wyck, Wallace said: “Safe as houses.”