After a disappointing result in Tuesday’s New Hampshire Primary, the most unlikely breakout star of the 2020 Democratic primary season, entrepreneur and nonprofit executive Andrew Yang, ended his longshot bid for the Democratic nomination. Despite having never held elected office, starred in a popular television series, or amassed a vast personal fortune, Yang cultivated a loyal following and outlasted a cast of senators, governors, and members of Congress. Yang’s impressive showing has fueled speculation about his potential next move, including the possibility of a run at the second most-scrutinized job in America: New York City mayor. Yang is “not ruling out running for mayor of New York City next year,” Edward-Isaac Dovere writes in The Atlantic, “though that doesn’t seem to be where his heart is.” Few would advise Yang to enter the brass-tacks world of urban politics with anything less than full enthusiasm. But should he decide to pursue New York’s top job, he could make a plausible candidate.
New York City’s demographics are changing rapidly. Over the last two decades, as Asia has replaced Latin America as the major source of immigrants to the United States, New York has seen an especially dramatic surge in its Asian population, which now represents 13.5 percent of the city total. Thus far, the population growth has not produced a commensurate increase in political clout, at least in the form of Asian elected officials. Only five Asian-Americans sit on the city council and state legislature, combined, which may explain why nonprofit social-service organizations targeting Asian-Americans receive a disproportionately small share of city funding. Yang has shown an ability to connect with the Asian-American community, receiving the most donations from these voters in the most recent fundraising quarter. At some point, a savvy political entrepreneur will mobilize New York’s Asian community, making himself a force in city politics. It might be Yang’s opportunity for the taking.
A Yang for Mayor campaign could also be refreshing. Whatever one thinks of his signature proposal of a universal basic income, he has shown, at least on occasion, a willingness to distance himself from positions favored by the progressive vanguard, and he consistently tried to reach across the aisle by engaging respectfully with conservative media figures whom most progressives spurn, including Ben Shapiro and Tucker Carlson. Most notably, he has rejected cancel culture. When would-be Saturday Night Live cast member Shane Gillis made ugly jokes about Asian-Americans, and Yang in particular, Yang responded with a magnanimous call for forgiveness and understanding—a move that earned him harsh rebukes from progressive activists.
New York City is in desperate need of a politician who can push back against the excesses of the post-2014 “Great Awokening.” From plans to scrap the standardized tests that govern admissions to New York’s magnet high schools to the recently adopted bail reform that will send repeat offenders back into high-crime neighborhoods, the city’s political class is open to any bad idea, so long as it’s defined as a blow against “structural racism.”
The Yang for President campaign was about crafting a response to the social dislocations caused by declining manufacturing employment. His campaign spoke to and about the places that had missed out on economic growth in recent decades. New York City is obviously not one of those places. Instead, New York is one of the handful of superstar cities experiencing what Richard Florida has dubbed “the New Urban Crisis”—a disease of economic success, too narrowly distributed. New York suffers from economic segregation, obscene housing costs, and a growing homelessness crisis. These conditions are beginning to produce their own left-wing populism, which takes the form of socialist economics married to identity politics. New Yorkers should hope that, if he chooses to enter the mayoral race, Yang will show the intellectual honesty to tell these emergent left-wing populists that their ideas are wrong for the city.
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