Way back in March of last year, I wrote that Andrew Yang would make a terrible mayor of New York if he ran for the office, as he hinted he might. His hostility toward the tech revolution that drives the Big Apple economy from media to Wall Street, his screwball notion to spend $80 billion a year drawn from sources unknown to provide Americans with a “universal basic income,” and his overall ignorance of the metropolis should disqualify him in the mind of any informed voter.
And then there’s the matter of Yang’s less than civic-minded voting record: He never voted in a mayoral election nor in several other elections, according to City Board of Elections records.
Still, I worried that I had tarred him prematurely. Maybe the horror of the pandemic would snap his mind to attention. Just maybe, his low-key sense of humor and willingness to think outside the box were the thing to take on our city’s skyrocketing crime, plunging quality of life, and turnover of our streets to legions of knife-wielding psychotics.
Maybe, as a moderately affluent, self-made entrepreneur with an estimated net worth of up to $4 million, he had more of a real-world grasp on the municipality’s desperate fiscal woes than, say, Comptroller Scott Stringer, whose solution to the hemorrhaging treasury is to find ways to bleed it even more.
But since on Jan. 13, when Yang officially threw his hat in the ring for the Democratic primary in June, his performance has turned zanier than before. He scaled back his national “universal income” pipe dream to a mere $2,000-$5,000 a year for a half-million of the city’s poorest, its $1 billion annual cost to be borne by unspecified “philanthropic” donors. Even if such a handout were possible to implement, the cost would be enormous and the impact negligible.
He brightly proposed that the city take over the subways from the state, a none-too-original brainstorm that’s undermined by the fact that it’s legally impossible. He revealed almost boastfully that he fled his Midtown rental apartment for his four-bedroom second home in leafy upstate New Paltz for most of the COVID-19 crisis. And he posted a hilariously out-of-touch “I love our bodegas” video where he is shown picking out bananas in a wide-aisled, brightly lit deli that more closely resembles Whole Foods than an actual bodega.
And yet, according to one jaw-dropping poll, Yang has more support in the New York City Democratic mayoral primary than a half-dozen announced or potential rivals. Seventeen percent of participants in the Public Policy Polling survey said they’d choose Yang, topping Eric Adams (16 percent), Maya Wiley (7 percent), Christine Quinn (6 percent), Scott Stringer and Dianne Morales (5 percent each) and Ray McGuire (4 percent).
By what satanic intervention did Yang become the leader of the pack, given his comprehensive ignorance of, and basic indifference toward, the city he’d presume to lead?
If it isn’t the devil, it can only be desperation. The rest of the field is so lame, voters prefer a guy devoid of political experience but blessed with an avid, cult-like following and a keen sense of humor!
Yang, 46, isn’t altogether unknown: He mounted a short-lived campaign in last year’s presidential primary, which he quit after failing to win a single delegate in the Iowa caucuses. His “Yang Gang” of followers — true believers ready to fight back against Big Tech in the absurd premise of his book “The War on Normal People” — lent him a slender credibility.
Unfortunately, as the book trumpets, Yang is so lost in space that he believes “robots” are to blame for costing middle- and working-class Americans their jobs, when the main reason is crushing competition from cheap overseas labor. Nowhere is this more true than in New York. The Garment District didn’t shrivel from a half-million jobs to a few thousand because sewing and pattern-making employees were replaced by automatons. It happened because workers in Asia and Central America could do the work at a small fraction of the cost.
Everybody loves an all-American success story that isn’t too successful for “normal people” to relate to. Born in Schenectady, NY, to middle-class Taiwanese immigrants, he earned a law degree from Columbia, worked in the dot-com world and rose to CEO of test-prep firm Manhattan Prep before leaving to launch several nonprofits devoted to his jobs-and-dough-for-everyone ideals. He enjoys a wholesome family life with his wife and two children.
But a dilettante seeking to exploit “progressive” voting trends isn’t what our city needs. Yang deserves even fewer primary votes than the scant, under three percent he earned in the New Hampshire primary. In all likelihood his campaign will crash and burn once New Yorkers come to understand the undiluted truth about him:
Namely, he’s nuts.
Of course, back in 2013, nobody thought little-known de Blasio had a chance either. Sometimes the devil you don’t know really is worse than the ones you do.