Yang Leads the Race to Become New York City’s First Asian Mayor

The former Presidential candidate is on pace to make history as Asian hate crimes spike across the country

In his first rally as mayoral candidate, Andrew Yang promotes his idea for universal basic income. Shot by Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images

Former Presidential candidate and nonprofit entrepreneur Andrew Yang is once again running for political office, spearheading the race as a Democrat for Mayor of New York City and paving the way to be the city’s first Asian to hold the position this summer.

Yang started his political career in 2017 when he launched his candidacy for the 2020 Presidential election. At the time, CNBC deemed Yang, “Silicon Valley’s presidential candidate,” as he was able to attract Silicon Valley Democrats with his approach to data, nerdy personality, and understanding of the dilemmas in the tech industry. His campaign ended in February of 2020, after disappointing results in the New Hampshire primary but surpassing the public’s expectations for a political rookie.

Less than a year later, in January of 2021, Yang announced his candidacy for mayor of the Big Apple, the city he’s called home for 25 years ever since he moved to Morningside Heights from Schenectady, New York to attend Columbia Law School. After graduating in 1999, he stayed in the city and settled down in Hell’s Kitchen with his wife Evelyn and became an entrepreneur. He is the CEO and founder for Venture for America, a nonprofit organization that educates recent college graduates who want to be business owners. Yang has received accolades like the Champion of Change in 2012 and named a Presidential Ambassador for Global Entrepreneurship in 2015 by the Obama administration. 

Throughout his presidential campaign, Yang ran as an outsider, winning the hearts of his supporters with his headline idea of a, “Freedom Dividend.”  This meant a universal basic income of $1,000 every 12 months to every American over the age of 18. In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, Yang has custom fit his idea of a more human centered economy to New York City, where he plans to build a “People’s Bank of NYC,” to tackle poverty by reinvesting in lower-income communities through similar monthly checks.

Two months after announcing his candidacy for Mayor, Yang leads the latest polls. Recent data released on Wednesday by Pulse of the Primary, an organization that takes surveys to provide voter insight in New York City, showed that 85% of likely voters in March say they have heard of Yang, and 16% expressed they would vote for him in June. Right behind him is Eric Adams, the Brooklyn borough president, who is known by 64% of voters with 10% of them planning to vote for him on election day.

New York City was the biggest donor to Yang’s presidential campaign out of all major cities, contributing a grand total of $2,610,799 according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Now as he runs to lead the city, the New York City Campaign Finance Board states he’s ahead of everyone else on the field with more than 14,000 donations. More than 80% of them total up to $175 or less raising a total of $2,139,231 as of March 15th.

In an election that is historic already, being the fourth in roughly half a century to not include an incumbent Mayor, Andrew Yang’s positive results so far as the son of Taiwanese immigrants allude to the idea of Yang being New York’s first ever Asian Mayor.  Alice Wong of the Chinese American Planning Council, shares that there is excitement regarding an Asian American being a representative in politics.

“One of the metrics that we look for is just having actual representation,” Wong said. “Someone who looks like us and comes from our community.”

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Asian American community in New York has been especially affected by the fact that the virus originated in China. The negative connotation of this detail has resulted in an uptick of anti-Asian hate crimes and the mass shut down of their small businesses.

A study from California State University, San Bernardino shows that out of all major cities in the United States, New York has seen the biggest rise in hate crimes towards Asians, with 28 incidents in 2020 compared to a mere three in 2019.

The same fear that triggers these crimes has also hurt Asian American small businesses. As seen on the NYC Poverty Measure Report from 2017, Asians in New York are the poorest amongst all other demographics with a 23.8% poverty rate compared to 22.4% for Hispanics and 20.4% for Black New Yorkers. COVID-19 mitigations have now made Chinatowns in all boroughs especially vulnerable to shutdowns as tourism and customer traffic has depleted an already impoverished community.  

“The poverty levels are high in the Asian American community,” Wong said. “A lot of them haven’t adopted technologies that a lot of other small businesses were able to adopt.”

These issues have put Yang in the spotlight as the frontrunner Asian candidate for the city’s highest office. At a press conference in Times Square after the anti-Asian mass shootings in Atlanta, Yang promoted the full funding for NYPD’s Asian Task Force, which was formed by Mayor Bill de Blasio at the end of 2020.

On his campaign website, Yang emphasizes that, “the NYPD must serve as true partners to the New York City Commission on Human Rights (CCHR) to prevent hate crimes.” This idea wasn’t received well by some in communities of color.

“A really important aspect of this is recognizing that the response to the hate and the violence shouldn’t be more police on the street,” Wong said.

The Emerson College poll from early March estimates that Yang is leading with 50% of White voters and 60% of Asian voters. Despite his lead for right now, he still has strong competition from Eric Adams, who is a former police officer and strong advocate for public safety, including resources to fight Anti-Asian Hate. Yang cannot blindly depend on the Asian community for  their vote due to its large size and diversity.

“The Asian Community is built of many different ethnic communities and many people that come from many political ideologies,” said Wong. “So, I would not say that there is a specific candidate that the Asian American community supports.”

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