We haven’t seen the last of Andrew Yang. This week, the former presidential candidate sent strong signals that he might throw his hat into the ring in New York City’s already extremely crowded mayoral race. On Tuesday, a New York Post headline proclaimed: “Stringer weak, Yang could be 2021 NYC mayoral contender, poll shows.” The poll in question had Yang at 20 percent, with Brooklyn borough president Eric Adams at 14 percent, Comptroller Scott Stringer at 11 percent, and everyone else in the race below 10 percent.
Polls, of course, are sometimes employed for specific political purposes, to affect public perception and influence the course of a race. The Yang bombshell is a prime example — it’s an internal poll, conducted by the political consulting firm Slingshot Strategies. In other words, this is far from an independent measure providing a potentially accurate snapshot of the race; it’s something more akin to a press release.
But regardless of his chances of winning, or even his chances of running, both of which are at this point very unclear, Yang is a relatively big name in politics, and his potential entry into the NYC mayoral race should be taken seriously by the city’s growing socialist left. Like it or not, we may have to contend with Yang’s presence. So it’s about time we contend with his politics.
Socialists have had a strange and often strained relationship with Andrew Yang. The presidential candidate made a proposal for a “Freedom Dividend” the centerpiece of his 2020 campaign. And though he lost the primary badly, he succeeded in bringing the idea of a Universal Basic Income (UBI) into the public discourse.
However, the central proposal of Yang’s presidential campaign was actually a surprisingly right-wing variant of a Universal Basic Income. A 2019 Hill article noted that many longtime UBI advocates were actually against Yang’s “Freedom Dividend” plan, arguing that “Yang’s version could do more harm than good because some Americans would need to choose between accepting $1,000 a month and receiving certain public assistance benefits.” In other words, the “Freedom Dividend” plan was far from a redistribution of wealth. It was just a reshuffling of social programs — undermining existing entitlements like Medicare in order to provide $1,000 a month instead.
So it was perhaps unsurprising that Yang’s advocacy for his trademark proposal wasn’t accompanied by support for other universal programs as well. On the campaign trail, he was actually outspoken in his opposition to Medicare for All. This position did not go unremarked upon. In October 2019, Rising host Krystal Ball spent an entire segment of her show talking about how Yang’s position on Medicare for All was “a mistake, and ultimately inconsistent with Andrew’s overall worldview.” Yang often seems to receive the benefit of the doubt — perhaps because it’s more convenient than accepting the reality that despite his likability and popularity, his politics are, at best, underdeveloped, and at worst, actually regressive.
Yang never retracted his opposition to Medicare for All. But this week, even the left-of-center Ball tweeted, “I think @AndrewYang would make a fantastic mayor.” It’s time to ask the question: What would our city look like with Andrew Yang as mayor? The answer: not great, actually.
In case people don’t remember, we’ve already had a businessman as mayor, and it didn’t go well. Michael Bloomberg’s pro-developer reign over our city is a huge reason why we’re in the dire straits we’re currently in. We have underfunded schools and more than fifteen thousand vacant apartments, while nearly eighty thousand New Yorkers are homeless. Despite the initial progressive promise of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s candidacy, outside of an ambitious universal pre-K program, he’s done little to change the status quo that was put in place over the course of Bloomberg’s nearly twelve years as mayor.
Yang has done nothing to prove that he’s actually different than Bloomberg. In fact, he’s done quite the opposite: according to Politico, Yang is “in talks with Tusk Strategies, the consulting firm that worked on Mike Bloomberg’s 2009 mayoral campaign.” CEO Bradley Tusk was Bloomberg’s campaign manager, has been a political adviser for Uber, and is a former consultant for the Police Benevolent Association, the largest NYPD union. In a mayoral race where the debate about policing will undoubtedly loom large, it’s alarming that even before announcing, Yang is unabashedly teasing an association with a pro-cop power player.
In the wake of George Floyd’s killing in May, as massive protests demanded the defunding of the police, Yang weighed in on Twitter, offering this sage advice: “An officer suggested to me national training to get away from the ‘shoot to kill’ and replace with intermediate weapons and non-lethal approaches to slow down life-or-death decision-making.” In the midst of massive civil unrest and a clarion call to defund the police, Yang’s message was clear: let’s hear what the cops have to say.
Unfortunately, the Bloomberg-Yang similarities only get more apparent the closer you look. And when Yang has weighed in on local issues, he sounds completely out of touch. A 2019 article published in Reason magazine, a libertarian outlet, was titled “Andrew Yang Hates Zoning Laws.” The article excitedly proclaimed that “The long shot presidential candidate wants booming cities to get rid of their restrictions on new development.” The piece references the “Zoning” platform page on Yang’s website, a page that manages to come across as both hilariously uninformed and alarmingly right-wing: “Through NIMBY (not in my backyard) and zoning laws, the ability of new housing to be built in certain areas has been impeded . . .”
This is kind of a strange sentence — there is no such thing as a “zoning law” that can just be repealed. Zonings are what cities use to plan what can be built on each piece of land. Even the powerful position of NYC mayor can’t get rid of the concept of zoning — to advocate for its wholesale removal makes no sense. Yang even cites “my hometown of New York City” as evidence of “how true this is.” Anyone who’s spent any time in NYC recently should find this funny. All over our city, there are massive new buildings being constructed. When you look up, all you see are super tall towers and the cranes building them.
The idea that we can solve our city’s housing crisis by removing already flimsy regulations and letting the market work its magic isn’t just laughable — it’s dangerous. Picture thousands of luxury apartments sitting thousands of feet in the air, completely empty, while thousands of people sleep on the streets far below.
If the housing stock being constructed is not affordable, or public even, we’ll continue down a path where eventually our entire city will lie in the shadow of towers that no normal person can afford to live in.
Yang’s YIMBY approach reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of how displacement works in New York City. When developers build luxury towers, this has a cascading and devastating effect on the surrounding neighborhood. Property values increase rapidly, and landlords raise rents accordingly, kicking out people who had lived there for years, or even their whole lives, simply because they can’t afford to pay the suddenly much more expensive rent. And because of the increased profit potential, landlords also have a massive incentive to harass and evict tenants of rent-stabilized apartments. A deregulatory approach would leave everything up to the developers and only accelerate the displacement process.
In the last few months alone, there have been several huge fights over developer-driven rezoning plans in New York City. These have been uphill battles against immensely powerful moneyed interests. The last thing we need is a mayor willing to rubber-stamp these proposals.
Luckily, New York’s political landscape is currently experiencing a sea change. With a host of elected officials and allies, NYC Democratic Socialists of America is hoping to build on that momentum in 2021 with a slate of six city council candidates, and a massive Tax the Rich campaign at the state level.
Regardless of whether the organization endorses in the mayoral race, it can use its newfound power to forcefully push back against any candidates not representing the interests of working people. I regret to inform you that this includes Andrew Yang.