As I was walking down Manhattan’s 11th Avenue one day in late April, the wind seemed to be trying to blow up the plywood huts outside and tear the spindle-shaped trees off the ground. I arrived at the Gotham West Market Food Court early. My date, Andrew Yang, was unfazed by the severe weather, as lively as it appears on TV.
As a candidate for Mayor of New York City, Yang is a businessman and failed nonprofit with no experience in governing and a mixture of centrist, liberal, mundane, and simply bizarre opinions. He has some potentially interesting ideas – a public bank, for example – but he also loves solutions that involve philanthropy and public-private partnerships. And right now, although Eric Adams, an ex-cop and more conventional politician, has made strides lately, Yang agrees well with any demographic, including those who identify as progressive or liberal. With his notoriety, he could easily win a race that the city’s new electoral system made less predictable. Yang, the former executive director of a small test preparation company, could become the next mayor of the largest city in the United States. I wanted to know how a Mayor Yang would address the concerns of the progressive movement, from racial injustice to affordable housing to the climate crisis.
Given the inhospitable weather, we decided to eat indoors (a pandemic first for me). Yang, who wore his usual dark blue blazer over a shirtless tie, effusively assured me that the pizza here – from Corner Slice, an upscale company that aesthetically resembles a local New York pizza place – is “the best.” I chose what it has, the “special” adorned with a suspicious assortment of items. Pizza is a risk for any New York mayoral candidate – when Bill de Blasio inexplicably ate a piece with a knife and fork it was a tabloid scandal – but especially for Yang, who complains about his lack of authenticity as a New Yorker. His social media posts reflect confusion on points that vary from the meaning of “Bodega“On the trajectory of the A train, and he was toasted for being a” bandwagon fan “of the New York Knicks. In that light, it seemed bold to consume an expensive one square a slice of pizza with a journalist, but Yang is too confident to worry about such things.
The 46-year-old candidate grew up in Westchester County north of the city. Raised by parents with a migrant background from Taiwan, he remembers almost no political discussion in his home. Once, he remembered, his mother looked at the television and said, “I don’t like him.” Yang is pretty sure “he” was referring to “one of the George Bushes”.
Eating pizza with Yang made me realize why he’s popular with New Yorkers. He does not address the scandals of his competitors in an interview. He often changes the subject when asked about major, systemic problems, but he knows what most New Yorkers, especially the apolitical, are about: bringing back jobs, bringing children back to school, lowering the homicide rate, and getting money relief.