Is Andrew Yang running for NYC mayor? All signs point to yes

Andrew Yang
Andrew Yang

Andrew Yang, the Schenectady native who gained a national following as a Democratic presidential candidate, has been privately telling New York City leaders that he intends to run for mayor next year.

Yang is the son of a former General Electric employee, who lived in the Electric City until he was 4.

Yang is not expected to announce his bid until next month, but with the Democratic primary less than seven months away, he has begun to make overtures to several of the city’s political power brokers.

He met with Corey Johnson, the speaker of the City Council, in a video call on Tuesday to seek his advice about running for mayor.

He plans to visit the Rev. Al Sharpton, the Harlem kingmaker — a rite of passage for any serious candidate — in person next week when he returns to the city from Georgia, where he has been trying to help Democrats win the U.S. Senate.

He has enlisted Bradley Tusk and Chris Coffey, prominent political strategists who worked for former Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, as advisers.

Yang, whose presidential campaign was centered around offering every American a universal basic income, could shake up a race that has a large field of candidates and no clear front-runner. He would be only the second Asian-American candidate to run for mayor, following a bid in 2013 by John Liu, a state senator from Queens who was then the city’s comptroller.

Yang, who has temporarily relocated to Georgia to campaign for the Rev. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff — both facing runoffs next month for U.S. Senate seats — declined to say on Thursday if he was running for mayor.

“I’m thrilled that people seem excited about my doing what I can to help, but no, right now I’m focused on these Senate races in Georgia,” he said in an interview.

While his name recognition and fund-raising potential could easily put him in the top tier of mayoral candidates, Yang has never run for office in New York City. He will have to learn quickly about the thorny issues that can animate voters, from rezoning proposals for the SoHo and Flushing, Queens, neighborhoods to the debate over the admissions exam for the city’s elite high schools that has pitted some Asian-American families against Black and Hispanic students.

At the same time, celebrity status and Twitter buzz do not always translate into votes in New York — Cynthia Nixon gained a lot of attention but not enough voters in her failed run for governor in 2018.

Yang will also be jockeying for endorsements along with more than a dozen candidates, some of whom have been courting elected officials and unions for years in anticipation of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s exit next year because of term limits.

Two candidates have been mainstays in New York politics: Eric Adams, the Brooklyn borough president, and Scott Stringer, the city comptroller. Others are positioning themselves as outsiders, including Raymond J. McGuire, a business executive, and Maya Wiley, a lawyer and former MSNBC analyst.

And on Thursday, Representative Max Rose, who lost his re-election bid last month and was said to be interested in joining the mayor’s race, registered a mayoral campaign committee with the city’s Campaign Finance Board.

The pandemic has reshaped the mayor’s race, and the candidates are all trying to argue that they are the best qualified to help the city recover. The field is also perhaps the most diverse ever, including several Black and Latino candidates.

Yang, who was born in upstate New York, has spent most of his adult life living in the Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood of Manhattan. He gained attention on the campaign trail with his MATH slogan — “Make America Think Harder” — and amassed 1.8 million followers on Twitter and nearly $40 million in campaign contributions.

His campaign to give every American adult $1,000 a month as part of a universal basic income mandate could be even more popular after many people relied on the federal stimulus to help survive the economic losses of the pandemic, said Susan Kang, a political-science professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice and a member of the Democratic Socialists of America.

“His brand is very zeitgeisty in many ways,” she said. “He’s made a name for himself by promoting universal programs at a time when everyone needs universal programs.”

Earlier this year, Yang did not rule out a run in an interview with The New York Times.

“Certainly the mayor of New York City can do a lot of good,” he said. “So that is something that I have to take a long look at.”

Not long after, Yang publicly flirted with the idea of running for mayor, but his deliberations have recently grown more serious. He spoke with Johnson, who dropped out of the mayor’s race in September after struggling with depression.

He also called Representative Grace Meng from Queens, the first Asian-American member of the state’s congressional delegation and a top official for the Democratic National Committee. The conversations were confirmed by two people who were familiar with them, but who were not authorized to discuss them publicly.

A spokeswoman for Sharpton, Rachel Noerdlinger, confirmed his plans to meet with Yang next week.

Tusk was a campaign manager for Bloomberg in 2009 and has been a prominent critic of de Blasio. In 2016, a year before de Blasio won re-election, Tusk led a public search for a Democratic candidate to unseat him.

After leaving the presidential race, Yang, who led a test-prep company and a nonprofit organization, created Humanity Forward, a New York-based nonprofit that is distributing money to needy families in the Bronx.

Yang performed well in a recent poll, receiving 20 percent of support as the top choice among 1,000 likely Democratic primary voters, compared with 14 percent for Adams and 11 percent for Stringer. The poll was conducted by Slingshot Strategies, a political firm that has worked for candidates like Jumaane Williams, the city’s public advocate. Yang did not hire the firm; a private client did, according to the firm.

“It’s always encouraging when people are excited about you,” Yang said of the poll results.

The race for an executive job like mayor often comes down to personality, rather than policies, and Yang, like all the candidates, will have to establish an emotional relationship with voters, Professor Kang said.

“To what extent can he project warmth, humor and competence?” she asked.

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