How Andrew Yang went from rock star to also ran

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AP Photo / Brittainy Newman

NEW YORK – Andrew Yang burst into the New York mayoral race with strong notoriety, high-level backers and a relentlessly positive message of rebirth for a city torn apart by tragedy.

On Tuesday, the published author and entrepreneur – who made a name for himself with a lengthy presidential run – limped to a distant fourth place in the peloton of Democratic candidates seeking to replace incumbent Mayor Bill de Blasio.

The final results of the primary race won’t be finalized for weeks, as the city’s Election Council keeps track of postal ballots and ranked ballots that may include up to five candidates. The new ranking system will come into effect as favorite Eric Adams did not get 50% of the vote.

But Yang, acknowledging he had too much ground to overcome, conceded the race two hours after the polls closed on Tuesday night.

“You all know I’m a numbers guy. I am someone who tampers with what is happening with the numbers, ”he told his supporters during his election night before, on the terrace of a hotel in Hell’s Kitchen. “And I won’t be New York’s next mayor based on the numbers that came in tonight.”

It was a disappointing end for someone who spent a good part of the race with a comfortable lead. When he launched his campaign in January, during the second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic, Yang was by far the most famous candidate. He surpassed his competition in terms of notoriety and quickly amassed a campaign treasure that saw him spend over $ 8 million on the race. And his early support could be measured in individual donors – 21,138, down from 9,390 for Adams, according to the city’s latest campaign fundraising council disclosure.

It was never enough.

The chances of damaging Yang were both circumstances beyond his control and his own failure to overcome his lack of knowledge about municipal government.

“[Yang’s team] felt before most people that people wanted to look to the future and wanted someone who would defend New York’s return and they did, ”said city policy consultant Jonathan Rosen, who didn’t was not affiliated with a campaign. “I think the problem is they haven’t had a second act in terms of gravity and politics, and New York City primary voters are smart. They really kick the candidates.

Two of Yang’s opponents had been in office for years and three had held senior positions in the city administration. By comparison, his commitment to municipal government fell short: he had never voted before in a mayoral election – a perceived shortcoming he corrected by saying he was in good health. company, due to the traditionally low participation in local races. He was also criticized for leaving town at the height of the pandemic to scamper down to his second home in New Paltz, NY.

He sought to regain ground politically by appealing to the voting blocs that were up for grabs – namely Orthodox Jews whose community leaders endorsed the political newcomer in part because of his lax stance on underperforming yeshivots. And it energized voters in the city’s Asian pockets, especially after the mass shootings in Atlanta and Indianapolis.

A detailed map of the preliminary results shows that Yang was dominant in Flushing, Queens and Chinatown in Manhattan, a predominantly Asian part of the city. He also performed well in districts with large Orthodox Jewish populations.

But he repeatedly failed the local civic education test on the track.

In just a week, he held a press conference in which he appeared to misunderstand MTA funding, was publicly corrected for a knowledge gap about domestic violence shelters, and practically admitted to not knowing the commonly used name of a police discipline. law.

“There is no excuse for not learning about the city you want to lead. But it has been incredibly effective in mobilizing voters – especially young voters as well as the growing Asian community, ”said Mitchell Moss, director of the Rudin Center for Transportation at New York University and longtime columnist for The University of New York. urban policy.

At the same time, the ground moved under Yang.

At first, it appeared that a city economically ravaged by a pandemic was ready for its vision: a relentless and joyful belief in the power of positive thinking, bolstered by its promise of financial aid; an outsider who would not fall into traditional political traps while managing a crisis.

But a few months after the launch of his campaign, that advantage wore off: vaccinations skyrocketed and the city reopened in a matter of weeks. Businesses kept hiring and workers started making more money, all under the guidance of these career politicians.

At the same time, an alarming spike in shootings became the main concern of voters – an issue that, compared to some of his opponents, Yang was unable to resolve. Adams had spent 22 years in the NYPD and had retired as captain, an experience that gave him credibility to campaign almost singularly on tackling gun violence. Yang tried to match him, but was always left in his wake.

And just as Yang’s presidential campaign has been beset by insensitive comments about women and minorities, so has his campaign for mayor. Along the way, he pushed back LGBT activists and made his way into the Palestine-Israel debate.

In recent weeks, Yang has blamed mentally ill and homeless New Yorkers for the increase in violent crime, arguing they are hampering the city’s economic return.

“Yes, the mentally ill have rights, but you know who else has rights? We have them! The people and families of the city,” Yang said in a panel co-hosted by POLITICO, NBC New York and Telemundo 47. “We have the right to walk on the streets and not fear for our safety because someone with mental illness is going to come after us.”

Even as Wiley and Adams attacked him for the remarks, Yang continued to repeat this claim at campaign events and press conferences, even going so far as to tell a radio host that the homeless population of town would scare the tourists away: “And then they don’t come back and they say to their friends, ‘Don’t go to New York.’ ”

“When it came to recovery and we lived in a Zoom-land, where people weren’t vaccinated and we didn’t know when or how we were going to reopen, people longed for someone who would bring hope and optimism. . And we were campaigning when nobody else was, ”Chris Coffey, Yang’s co-campaign manager, said in an interview on Wednesday.

With the campaign slogan “Hope is on the Way”, Yang floated exuberantly through the city, encouraging her return. He demonstrated buying movie tickets for himself and his wife at the reopening theaters, held a press conference with the founder of TurboVax, and cut a TV commercial on Brooklyn’s famous Cyclone roller coaster.

While his style invited criticism from some of his more seasoned competitors – City Comptroller Scott Stringer often berated him for proposals without substance – all signs were that voters were interested.

But as the substance of the race changed, Yang – whose lack of ideological consistency led his own consultant to call it an “empty vessel” – struggled to come up with a new game plan.

Coffey said the campaign team, itself an ideological polylith, considered ways to pivot.

The crime seemed like a natural second chapter, given the spike in gun violence, but Adams occupied that space. Yang didn’t want to send a message of police reform like lawyer Maya Wiley, who came in second on Tuesday night, especially since the Democratic electorate seemed to want a strong NYPD.

So he tried to go back to his political roots and double down on his financial aid plans, but it didn’t seem to hold up. A recent press conference with famous supporter John Leguizamo to tout his reduced version of the Universal Basic Income drew little attention, Coffey said. The same was true for an announcement regarding the acceleration of the construction of a blocked water tunnel.

Over the campaign’s closing weekend, Yang formed an alliance with rival Kathryn Garcia and the two fell together – a common tactic in the ranked-choice elections. Yang urged her supporters to place her second; she did not reciprocate.

In the end, the candidate whose kidney stones received nationwide coverage was relegated to Garcia’s campaign van during the home stretch of the race. “He needed a way of flushing this far,” Garcia joked that day as Yang clucked awkwardly beside her.

“They kind of went from threshing houses to casinos, to UBI, to the People’s Bank, to an end on the mentally ill homeless. It was difficult to find a course of action, ”Rosen said, ticking off a list of some of Yang’s proposals. “And I think in that kind of context, as voters tuned in to other candidates, people who had initially been interested in flash and glare went elsewhere.”



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