New York’s energy brokers weren’t sure what to expect when Andrew Yang joined them by Zoom one recent morning to audition for the city’s top job. An hour later, many were quietly impressed.
To begin with, the mayoral candidate addressed the crowd from an empty Midtown office building – a recognition of the urgent need to bring workers back to town. He took a pragmatic tone on the controversial issue of raising taxes. And he presented business leaders as partners and allies in the effort to heal a wounded city – not enemies or obstacles.
“We can’t let Covid become the moment when companies conclude they don’t need to be here,” Yang said, calling the city “inconvenient”. lose jobs in Florida.
“The biggest city in the world is open for business!” he declared with unfailing enthusiasm.
This performance, and others like it, began to thaw the opinion of city business leaders towards Yang, a foreign candidate who many view with suspicion for his limited experience and sometimes elusive political orientation.
After sacking Yang, leaders are increasingly considering the possibility of him being the city’s next mayor, with several polls showing him opening a sizable lead ahead of the decisive Democratic primary on June 22.
In a recent survey by think-tank Data for Progress, Yang won 26% of the first-place votes, compared to 13% for his closest rival, Eric Adams, president of the Brooklyn borough. Surprisingly, Yang, who is of Asian American descent, led the pack among black voters. Another poll from NY1 and Ipsos yielded a similar result, with Yang at 22 percent, Adams at 13 percent and Scott Stringer, the city’s comptroller, at 11 percent.
Yang, meanwhile, is stepping up his footfall in the business community by arranging one-on-one meetings with top executives, people familiar with the matter said.
“Andrew Yang started to be seen in a much more favorable light because he does not demonize the business class and he does in fact repeatedly recognize its centrality in the city,” said Mary Ann Tighe, general manager of the region of the three States for commerce. real estate broker CBRE, who admitted that she didn’t initially take Yang’s candidacy seriously or believe he had the credentials to run the city.
“What always surprises me is the failure to recognize that the business was New York’s. purpose since the Dutch West India Company landed in 1624, ”added Tighe, former chairman of the powerful developer group Real Estate Board of New York. “And I think one of the things people love about Yang is that he accepts it.”
Travis Terry, president of Capalino, one of the city’s most influential lobbying firms, has noticed a similar change.
“My feeling based on a variety of conversations with business leaders is that, yes, they’re warming up with him,” Terry said. “They might have been worried about Andrew at first due to his inexperience, but it has become more evident that he sees the business world as an important partner.”
Some stay cool. One executive, who asked not to be identified, described Yang as a Trump-esque candidate – a celebrity with no governing substance. “He talks about a good game, but it’s not a proven commodity,” the person said dismissively.
Business leaders anticipated this pandemic-shaded election with a growing sense of terror. Many consider the current mayor, Bill de Blasio, a progressive who came to power telling the story of two cities, as one of the worst in New York history.
With Covid-19, the city’s challenges – considerable at the best of times – have metastasized: multi-billion dollar deficits are forecast for years to come; racial divisions have deepened; schools, basic services and public security have all collapsed; and there is now an existential threat to the city’s economic engine if workers decide not to return to office buildings like the one Yang spoke about.
In short, many leaders fear the city is at a crossroads and cannot afford another de Blasio, a Boston Red Sox supporter they see as an ideologue with poor management skills. The recent move by a left-wing state legislature to raise taxes on businesses and the wealthy has only deepened their sense of being under siege.
“It’s a moment. The city could go both ways, ”explained an adviser to a major developer.
Given the stakes, many leaders are inclined to put aside their dream candidate to support the moderates with the best chance of winning.
It seems to weigh against Ray mcguire, the former head of investment banking at Citigroup, whom business leaders tend to see as the most accomplished leader and one of their own.
“We need a mayor who knows how businesses work – not a mayor whose first managerial job will be running a big city,” McGuire said recently, in an apparent shot in Yang.
McGuire, who is black and grew up without a father, has also become a vocal spokesperson for a corporate vision for a more inclusive city. Yet the neophyte politician failed to generate much momentum in his first campaign.
Adams, a former black police officer who is committed to restoring safety to city streets while healing racial divisions, is drawing favorable – if uninspired – reviews after a long career in city politics. Some analysts still see him as the eventual winner.
Stringer, meanwhile, is respected for his understanding of the complexities of municipal government. But it has alienated much of the business community by pivoting in recent years to an emerging group of anti-business progressives. Developers were stung last year when Stinger announced he would no longer be taking their contributions. Business is also wary of Maya Wiley, a lawyer and civil rights activist who served as de Blasio’s chief counsel.
A politically connected New York leader predicts that a prominent Yang will face a devastating fire in the weeks to come. If he can resist it, then even those who are suspicious of him may choose to support him.
“At the end of the day, the business community is practical,” the executive said. “No one wants to be the last person on the train.”
For the first time, New York City will use ranked choice voting. If no candidate wins a majority after the first round, the less popular candidate is excluded and his votes redistributed. This means that there may be value for Yang, or for others, to influence voters – even if the candidate is ultimately not their first choice.
Yang, 46, was born in Schenectady, a town near Albany, the state capital of New York, and grew up in Westchester County before moving to Manhattan to attend Columbia Law School. He worked at Davis Polk & Wardwell. He eventually became the general manager of a test preparation company, Manhattan Prep, which was sold to Kaplan, the education company.
He has appeared as an eccentric star in a crowded field seeking the Democratic presidential nomination for his advocacy for a universal basic income for citizens. Where most candidates wore an American flag pin on their lapel, Yang sported a button that read: Math.
Chris Coffey, Yang’s co-campaign manager for the mayoral contest, said the candidate didn’t fit neatly into one box: He was a progressive defending UBI, an outsider untainted by politics from the city, and also a former pragmatic ruler who believed in business – large and small – were essential to the city’s recovery.
While Yang still supports a lean version of the UBI, he now talks a lot about the less lofty issues of garbage collection and other basic administration that are dear to New Yorkers. When JetBlue recently mentioned the possibility of moving jobs to Florida, Yang didn’t issue a hot press release, but instead sought to meet with the company’s CEO to hear his concerns.
“Honestly, I don’t think this is a particular problem,” Coffey said of the leaders’ growing attachment to Yang. “I think it’s, ‘is there anyone going to listen to me?'”