Becoming Bill DeBlasio: Masked man who played mayor at C’Heights town hall speaks

Becoming Bill DeBlasio: Masked man who played mayor at C’Heights town hall speaks
Colin Mixson / Community News Group

Crown Heights residents invited Mayor DeBlasio to a town hall at Dr. Gladstone H. Atwell Middle School on Aug. 2, where they hoped to question Hizzoner about his controversial scheme to fork over their nabe’s publicly owned Bedford-Union Armory to a private developer. But the mayor chose to attend a separate event on the distant island of Manhattan instead, where he endured the wrath of a 96-year-old woman. His absence did not stop the local activists from hosting their meeting, however, at which a neighborhood resident stood in for the missing pol. The unknown actor in a cheap DeBlasio mask brought the house down with his impression, according to an event organizer. “He was hilarious the way he answered questions,” said Vaughn Armour, a leader of anti-development group Our Armory. DeBlasio’s doppelgänger, Stephen Lurie, spoke to The Brooklyn Paper after the event about the process of becoming the 6-foot-5-inch pol.

Colin Mixson: Are you an actor? Activist? Horribly disfigured? Tell me, who is behind the mask?

Stephen Lurie: I’m a researcher at a criminal justice organization, and am involved in the movement against the armory deal through the Democratic Socialists of America. I’ve lived in Crown Heights for two years, and I’m a normal looking guy. I think…

CM: Everyone is raving about your performance last night. How did an unknown actor with virtually no experience get this job?

SL: I volunteered to find someone to play the mayor when we were planning the event. I have a lot of friends who are performers in New York and I thought I’d be able to find a tall man to do it. I talked to some people, but ultimately the meeting didn’t work with their schedules. So I was conscripted to fill in.

CM: How tall are you? Did you ever feel you weren’t fit for the role, physically speaking?

SL: I’m 6-foot-1-inch, so the mayor has four inches on me. I wouldn’t say I felt too short for the part, partially because we were sitting, but if there was a podium I might have needed a box to stand on.

CM: What did you do to prepare?

SL: I tried to watch speeches on YouTube, in addition to listening to comments the mayor has made about the armory. I tried to find his speech pattern — he’s got a nasally thing going on, and he pauses sometimes. But when I paused I fell into an Obama cadence and started to sound like the president. So I just went with nasally.

CM: How did you form responses to the questions you were asked?

SL: We had a tongue-in-cheek script with a lot of facts about the issue, but we ultimately abandoned that because I had to look down as I read it, which would have appeared awkward while wearing my mask. So I tried to give even-handed, but campy, replies based on what we originally came up with.

CM: What did you hope to achieve with your answers?

SL: I wanted to make it apparent that I was not the mayor, but that I was, to a certain extent, portraying the way he has approached the issue. He has prioritized developers and the wealthy in private, which contrasts with his public persona as an advocate for the progressive policies that people voted for and the fair housing policy that his residents need.

CM: What’s next for you? Are you taking your act on the road?

SL: In order to hype the event, I promised my friends that this would be the only time they’d see me doing a DeBlasio impersonation. I’d like to say I will keep that promise, but who knows? If the moment calls for it, maybe the ‘mayor’ will come back.

Reach reporter Colin Mixson at cmixson@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-4505.