Credit: Bill Moore photo

“I believe I can accelerate our recovery economically,” said former presidential candidate and current New York City mayoral candidate Andrew Yang. “I have a range of experiences that’s going to help New York City. Right now, most New Yorkers just want things to work better.”

City residents wanting things to work better is an understatement considering the past year-plus. While the COVID-19 pandemic has claimed many lives in the five boroughs, it’s also re-arranged the city’s economy. With small businesses shutting down (temporarily or for good) and even big companies leaving offices to save money on rent, Yang would have his hands full with the economy alone. He knows this. But he wants to not only help the economy, he wants those in poverty to see some of that recovery.

“I know most people associate me with giving money to people and one of my signature proposals is to address extreme poverty,” said Yang. He wants to provide New Yorkers with basic income (something he suggested nationally during his presidential run) and those in extreme poverty with an average of $2,000 per year with potential increases. Yang hopes that other philanthropic entities would assist him in raising the amount later on.

“If we get economic resources into the hands of these people it will not only help their families and their communities it would help the city,” Yang said.

The son of Taiwanese immigrants, Yang was born and raised in Schenectady, N.Y. and attended Brown University as an undergrad before going to Columbia University’s law school. He moved to the city when he was 21 and founded Venture for America, a nonprofit he used to run that trains college graduates who aspire to be entrepreneurs.

Yang has referred to himself as “solutions-oriented,” “results-driven” and “won’t rest” until the job is done.

The race for mayor is flooded with the likes of Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, Shaun Donovan (who served under former mayor Michael Bloomberg and for President Barack Obama), former sanitation commissioner Kathryn Garcia, New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer, Maya Wiley (a professor who served as legal counsel under current mayor Bill de Blasio), entrepreneur Ray McGuire and countless others. Recently, radio personality and Guardian Angels Founder Curtis Sliwa threw his hat into the mayoral ring.

One of the biggest issues last year and this year is the city’s approach to school in the time of COVID. With vaccines making their way to each person in the city and the problems surrounding remote learning, Yang believes that City Hall is already late to a better approach to schooling now.

“Twenty-nine percent of New Yorkers do not have high-speed internet at home and that is disproportionately Black and Brown [people],” said Yang. “We should stop pretending that online school is an option. It’s not.”

Yang wants the schools opened up to help kids with not only education but also their mental health.

“Online school is less effective than in-person learning and the kids who are getting hurt the most are the kids who can’t afford to miss schools,” said Yang. “They’re gonna be way behind.” Yang has also called for the creation of several specialized high schools in each borough not just for a better representation of the city’s population, but also for the travel issues that face many who currently attend schools such as Bronx Science, Stuyvesant and Brooklyn Tech.

“Many kids are commuting an hour and a half to specialized high schools that aren’t near where they live,” Yang said.

With the concept of keeping kids close to home, housing has also dominated a lot of the political discussion. Yang believes that no renter should be evicted during the pandemic no matter the circumstances and that there should be steep penalties for landlords who abuse the rules. Steep enough that it would actually deter bad behavior. He also has a plan to address the homeless problem.

“We should take some of these unoccupied hotels and convert office buildings who won’t recover into homes and shelters,” Yang said. “This is a large scale adjustment. We accelerate the process, relax regulations around what constitutes a dwelling. You can’t have a place that doesn’t have a kitchen, but if you’re trying to convert a hotel, there should be a community kitchen. You have to get creative.”

On social media, some New Yorkers have complained about Yang and deem him disingenuous with his approach in relating to the public. Whether it was his vision of what a bodega looks like or pictures of his subway trips on Twitter, social media has been loud with their criticism of Yang. But the loud crowd is also a small one according to the government affairs consulting group Fontas Advisors.

According to a February poll by Fontas Advisors and Core Decision Analytics, Yang leads all candidates in a poll of likely Democratic primary voters. He stands at 28% with the next closest candidate, Eric Adams, at 17%. Part of that is due to his visibility during the presidential election and his desire to be seen all over the city to make sure people saw his face, before he was diagnosed with COVID (he’s currently home in quarantine).

If Yang were to reach the promised land, he would be the first Asian American mayor in New York City’s history accomplishing what former city comptroller and 2013 mayoral candidate John Liu couldn’t do.

Recently Asian Americans have experienced a series of alleged hate-based attacks in the five boroughs. According to the Asian American Federation there were nearly 500 anti-Asian attacks in 2020, which includes verbal, physical and being spat on or coughed on. With the recent stabbing of a 36-year-old Asian man that resulted in an arrest (but no hate-crime charge) and the recent slashing of 61-year-old Noel Quintana at a subway station in Brooklyn, Yang felt compelled to address the issue.

In a statement this week, Yang thanked the AAF for its activism against anti-Asian violence and hoped that the city united against these attacks.

“The social and mental health declines stemming from a year of overlapping crises are having terrible consequences including an increase in racial violence. Hurt people hurt people. There is a lot of pain right now and it is spreading in virulent and heartbreaking ways. My hope is that a city that not long ago cheered from their windows for our essential workers can again unite for those being attacked for no other reason than their ethnicity.

“As the son of immigrants and an Asian American with kids these incidents hit home. I see my family members in those attacked,” Yang said.

Looking forward towards November, Yang said that he wants to drive the message home that New York City should be welcoming to all.

“It should not be expensive to live in New York City,” said Yang. “I want to be the tech savvy mayor and I want to be the anti-poverty mayor.”