As a longtime 2020 presidential candidate, Andrew Yang provided a fun diversion from the grimly serious business of defeating Donald Trump. Yang’s “MATH” hats, unabashed nerdy supporters, and the uncanny ability to attribute any social problem – from systemic racism to the healthcare crisis – to his panacea of a universal basic income were less important than his entrepreneurial enthusiasm, PowerPoint personality, and his Air of business acumen.
But if his current polls are correct, Yang could actually become the next New York City Mayor – and that would be a disaster. New York already had a wealthy amateur as mayor. And Mike Bloomberg, for all his numerous flaws, was an actual businessman who built and ran an actual business. The largest organization Yang has ever led is his presidential campaign, which earned him zero delegates and fewer votes than Tom Steyer. His candidacy got him enough media coverage to fuel a second career as a celebrity expert – which must have made the candidacy for mayor seem like a win-win proposition. And at a time when Asian Americans are the target of hatred, Yang’s positive campaign and youthful followers have been a source of pride for a community that has been overlooked for too long in New York’s competing constituencies. But his repeated missteps – escaping the Covid-hit city, pushing for street vendors (many of them immigrants), clumsy attempts to reach out to the LGBTQ community and Orthodox Jewish voters – would have tended to sunk a problem-based campaign as a personality.
However, in times of social capitalism, when a Twitter fan base can easily be turned into a donor base, stopping Yang’s momentum can be difficult. Although there have been few reliable polls, he has a big head start on the polls published. While this is largely due to the notoriety he gained during the presidential campaign, his mayoral offering – led by Tusk Strategies, the consultancy firm of Bradley Tusk, Bloomberg’s former mayor campaign manager – was adept at promoting a “front runner” aura.
In ordinary times, Yang’s quest could qualify as harmless entertainment, a reality television spectacle for the clattering classes. But with New Yorkers still being hit by more than 50,000 Covid deaths and the city’s economy shattered and in dire need of repair, the stakes are too high and the cost of failure far too high to elect a mayor, that requires choice. Job training. As the disappointment with Bill de Blasio’s two terms in office clearly shows, good intentions are simply not enough to provide the leadership the city needs.
The bad news is that in less than two months to the Democratic primary (which will determine the next New York City Mayor in the absence of a prominent Republican billionaire), progressives have apparently failed to unite on a single candidate. Instead, partisans led by Dianne Morales, Scott Stringer, and Maya Wiley offer plausible arguments as to why their candidate deserves support. Morales, who is furthest behind in the polls, was voted second by members of the New York Working Families Party. Her blatant run on the left has energized many millennial voters, and she has growth potential as the only Latinx candidate in a city where at least a quarter of Democratic voters are Spanish-speaking. As a controller, Stringer has a city-wide base – and a long history of outspoken support for progressive causes, which earned him top spot on the WFP rankings and support from unions ranging from the Team Stars to the United Federation of Teachers. Wiley, who served as de Blasio’s attorney and chaired the Civilian Complaint Review Board, also has significant union support – arguing like Morales that after centuries of malevolent management, New York turned a woman to the Tip should provide.
Although the former sanitation commissioner Kathryn Garcia has the second largest résumé of the race, she faces the dangers of running with competence alone. New York’s electorate is too large and too balkanized for an unsubstantiated candidate to break through. Brooklyn-based Eric Adams is the base and leader of the most populous district in the city. But he also has a record – as a Conservative, ex-Republican, and ex-cop – that says progressives should look elsewhere.
The good news is that, thanks to the ranking, a progressive can be chosen even if there are several candidates fighting for the left lane. The key as nation John Nichols has written that voters should rate progressives as their top picks on June 22nd – and then stop. The genius of ranked voting is that progressive voters can go with the candidate they like best – as long as they remove Yang from their list. Whether New Yorkers will follow the advice of Sochie Nnaemeka, Director of the Working Families Party, to “rate Scott first, Dianne second, and Maya third to prevent a corporate-backed candidate from taking power in City Hall “Or prefer a different order, the crucial point is your conclusion. Withholding votes from candidates who are too corporate, too cautious, or too unprepared to run the city is the best strategy to save New York from a return to rampant gentrification and stubborn indifference to poverty, racism, and police brutality.
Editor’s Note: After this article went to press, Jean Kim, a lobbyist who worked as an unpaid volunteer on Stringer’s 2001 campaign, accused it of sexually assaulting her. The allegations, which Stringer has categorically denied, certainly deserve to be taken seriously – and would, if applicable, disqualify. While a prominent supporter, State Senator Jessica Ramos, joined some of Stringer’s opponents in calling for him to withdraw from the race, the Working Families Party and the unions that support Stringer did not do so this morning.