NEW YORK—He comes from a family of journalists. He spent a summer in his childhood watching the Watergate scandal unfold on television. And he believes that the press has the right to “grill” politicians. And on Tuesday, the seventh day of his fledgling administration, Mayor Bill de Blasio appointed his seven-member press team.
It could be an eight member team if one counted the speed girl tasked with shuttling the foot stool to and from the podium to accommodate the oft-drastic difference in height between de Blasio and the other speakers at press conferences.
Five members of the press team worked for de Blasio previously, either during his mayoral campaign or his time as public advocate. Two have worked as journalists before crossing the line between the press and public officials.
“There are those who said that this is the toughest press corps in the world,” de Blasio said. “It takes someone with commitment, focus, and a tremendous sense of their craft to not only get the word out reactively, but help to make sure that we are getting our larger set of ideas out proactively.”
The mayor appointed Phillip Walzak to lead his press office. Walzak was the senior communications advisor for de Blasio’s mayoral campaign. A Wisconsin native, Walzak also headed communications for President Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign and directed strategic communications for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
Walzak called his year with de Blasio a “wild, fascinating journey,” which included the scorching protests outside the Long Island City Hospital in the summer and the freezing first day of the administration.
De Blasio appointed Rebecca Kirszner Katz as a special advisor. Katz worked for de Blasio’s mayoral and public-advocate campaigns. She formerly directed communications for U.S. Senate Leader Harry Reid. De Blasio noted that Katz advised de Blasio on social media during his campaign.
De Blasio picked Marti Adams for his chief spokesperson. Adams served key communications roles in Obama’s campaigns.
De Blasio appointed Angela Banks, a 23-year veteran of City Hall, as operations director. Before becoming a public servant, Banks made a career in the music world as a rap artist. She was featured in Billboard magazine and once penned a song for her former boss, Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
Wiley Norvell, who worked for de Blasio’s campaign and public advocate’s office, was appointed as deputy press secretary. Norvell is a former journalist. He previously headed communications for Transportation Alternatives, a group that advocates for safe streets and bike lanes. Norvell is a die-hard cyclist; he biked to work on Tuesday, Jan. 7 the coldest in recorded history.
Maibe Ponet was also appointed as deputy press secretary. In addition to various communications roles, she wrote for the editorial page of El Diario La Prensa, a Spanish language media. In addition to her official duties, Ponet will advise de Blasio on his Spanish pronunciation.
Mahen Gunaratna, who served as an aide for de Blasio during his campaign, will serve as director of research and media relations.