To understand mayoral politics in New York City, you have to think about two basic facts. First, the city is five to one Democrat to Republican. Two, Since 1992 non-Democrats have been mayor for 20 years: Rudy Giuliani and Mike Bloomberg, and a Democrat, Bill de Blasio for only 7. Today’s Democratic Party in the Big Apple is no Tammany Hall; the city’s voters are willing to vote for outsiders.
The news is now swirling that former presidential candidate and famed Asian good at math Andrew Yang is considering a run at Gracey Mansion (that’s where the mayor lives). Right off the bat, it’s one of these wonderfully provocative political ideas to consider. But in practice what would it look like?
The first question is whether Yang would run in the Democratic primary or launch an Independent bid. Let’s assume he does the former. This is a heavy lift. He has no substantial contacts in the local party, and would only have until November 2021 to develop them. There are also rumors that Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., of impeachment fame is weighing his own candidacy for mayor.
One way to ingratiate yourself to a political party, in fact the best way to do so is to give the party tons of cash. On Friday Yang announced the launch of his new non-profit “Move Humanity Forward.” The organization will support candidates in favor of Universal Basic Income (UBI), a fancy way of say a thousand smackers a month for everyone.
The beneficiaries of his new non-profit will likely be Democrats like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., who support UBI. Running citywide in New York City is about boroughs and neighborhoods. Handing out some walking around money to the politicians who people those places generates a lot of good will.
Another potential advantage to Yang is the appeal he could have in the Asian community. Asians are 14 percent of the New York City population, significantly behind white and black voters, but on par with Latinos. It is a quiet political constituency but one that could be awoken. Yang could be a moment like Jeremy Lin, the Chinese American basketball player who went on a massive scoring spree for the Knicks in 2012 and became the biggest celebrity in New York’s Chinese community.
The bottom line is that Yang could have a path in the Democratic primary. It would be a tough and bitter fight, but he just got out of one of those and is no longer a political neophyte.
The other option is an Independent run. This makes a lot less sense, because even though, as a GOP source in city government told me he thought would take Republican votes, there just aren’t a lot of Republican votes. And if the Democrats nominate a popular figure like Jeffries, its hard to see Yang besting him.
Giuliani won in 1992 because the city was a nightmare of crime and violence. Under Bill de Blasio the city has been slipping. Anyone who rides the subway can smell the weed and see the sharp uptick in homeless there. But this is not 1992, and it’s not at all clear New Yorkers are ready to pull that radical lever of electing a non-Democrat.
Is there a path for Andrew Yang? Yes. It’s difficult to know how wide it is, but it absolutely exists. What he will need is a vision for the city. Giving everyone a thousand dollars can’t really be that vision. It would double the city’s budget.
But more modest proposals may well be welcome. New Yorkers like math, and they tolerate technocrats who can make the cogs and wheels run smoothly, even if they have silly ideas about soda. That’s pretty much all we want.
One thing, though anecdotal, that should make Yang feel good about a potential run for Hizzonership is that I’ve spoken to both Democrats and Republicans here who welcome the idea. That’s a very good sign. We will see soon what he chooses to do. But this not a laughable idea. And frankly, after Bill de Blasio, America’s largest city, and the best one in the world, could do a lot worse.