Meet the Mayoral Candidates: Andrew Yang Says the Clock is Ticking to Get the City Back on Track

Andrew Yang.

By Michael McDowell

Andrew Yang may be a newcomer to New York City politics, but—so far—he’s been leading many of the polls in the 2021 race for mayor.

Before his unsuccessful run for president in 2020, Yang founded and led Venture for America (VFA), a nonprofit which aimed to enlist recent college graduates in the economic revival of faltering cities — an effort that fell short of its goals. Prior to VFA, Yang was CEO of Manhattan Prep, a test preparation company that was acquired by Kaplan in 2009.

Yang has become widely known for his support of a universal basic income. He has proposed a scaled-back version of this idea in his campaign for mayor.

The following conversation has been condensed and edited.

WSR: It’s 2025 and Mayor Yang is running for his second term. What are his specific policy accomplishments?

AY: The single biggest indicator of my success is going to be whether our city is back on its feet, whether we’ve regained most or all of the 600,000 jobs that we’ve lost, and whether people are excited about raising our families in New York City. That’s my measuring stick.

WSR: One of your platforms is a direct cash grant program. In a city where infrastructure is falling apart and a lot of parents are still hesitant about sending their kids back to public schools, why is cash relief to the poorest New Yorkers such a central part of your campaign?

AY: Pre-Covid, New York City’s economy was expanding, but there were so many New Yorkers who were left behind even then. Now, as we’re coming out of the pandemic, there are so many New Yorkers who are suffering food insecurity, or are on the edge of losing their home. We can do better for people. No one should go hungry in this city. Keeping people in more secure, [more] stable situations is a win for all of us. 

I’m committed to fighting poverty on multiple fronts. I’ve proposed an ambitious cash relief effort to alleviate extreme poverty in New York City. I’m also championing a People’s Bank, which will help the 11 percent of New Yorkers who don’t have a bank account right now and are getting exploited by check cashing firms and money lending storefronts get access to basic financial services, so it’s not as expensive to be poor. I think getting high speed internet to serve families that want it will help combat poverty. I think alleviating transit deserts in certain parts of the city is another way we can help. So there are a lot of things that we can do. But we have to be very deliberate about it.

WSR: In 2020, the city recorded 447 homicides, the most since 2011. As mayor, how would you address this?

AY: I believe I was the only mayoral candidate that called for sending 500 additional police officers to subway stations and platforms in response to some of the incidents. We need to make sure that our police are responsible and accountable and professional, but we also need them to be activated in enforcing our firearm laws and trying to get these crime rates going down and the clearance rates (those arrested and formally charged) going up.

I think most New Yorkers—on the Upper West Side and around the city—think that we’re capable of doing two things at once where the NYPD is concerned: helping to advance and evolve the culture and reform the department in certain ways, but also engage in bringing down these rates of violent crimes, particularly shootings.

I’ve suggested that new police officers should live in New York City, which would give them a better understanding of the neighborhoods that they’re serving and protecting. It would also mean that we have hundreds of off duty police officers living and commuting throughout New York City, every day, which would be very positive. We already require employees of certain agencies to live in New York City, so there’s no reason why we can’t do the same for police officers, given the nature of their duties.

WSR: Vacant storefronts were a concern in the neighborhood before the pandemic, and that concern has only grown since. Do you have a plan to address it?

AY: One way that we can help is by facilitating pop-up shops and pop-up restaurants that require short-term commitments on the part of either retailers or restaurateurs, who right now, frankly, could be leery of signing a four-or five-year commercial lease. You can [also] imagine what one of my supporters called ‘an Airbnb for storefront space,’ trying to connect opportunities with enterprising retailers or restaurateurs who want to give a particular location or menu a shot without committing to years and years of investment. This is the kind of measure that we should be pushing forward with, and this kind of effort would actually spur foot traffic, which would help everybody—including existing retailers.

WSR: Some people blame the struggles of small businesses on red tape and regulation; others say the government needs to level the playing field between landlords and small businesses with legislation like the Small Business Jobs Survival Act. Where do you land?

AY: We need to be a better partner to small business owners who are trying to get back on their feet right now. One thing that I’ve already declared is that we’re going to give people a [grace period] during my first year and not hit them with fines, because if you’re trying to reopen your doors, the last thing you need is a city inspector hitting you with a $1,000 fine—or worse—when you can least afford it. I think that’s going to be music to many small business owners’ ears. When I talk to small business owners, they tell me that the City only reaches out to them to ding them, and that’s not the right type of relationship, particularly when right now we need every small business that’s trying to make it to get every chance to do so.

WSR: Pre-COVID, some might say that one of the symbols of the inequality in New York was a proliferation of luxury towers. We have one on the Upper West Side: 200 Amsterdam Avenue on 69th Street, which made use of a “gerrymandered” 39-sided zoning lot. The lot looks like the Mars Rover upside-down. There has been a court case, and a judge initially ordered the developer to take down 20 floors; an appeals court has said no, the developers don’t need to do that. But at a basic level, is this acceptable developer behavior? Why or why not, and what would a Yang Administration do about it, if not? 

AY: Well, you certainly don’t want to be in a position where after the fact you’re going to a building and saying that you need to take down 20 of 51 stories. Communities have to be more involved in this process from the get-go, and no one should be having to sue after the fact because of the features of a particular development. 

Why is this building so tall? Because the developers thought that they could make more money trying to tack on as many floors as possible. We need a process that integrates community concerns to a higher level. Obviously a developer is going to be driven by financial incentives, first, first and foremost, [but] the process has to balance other types of concerns very early on.

WSR: Big picture question: The city has lost $10.5 billion in tax revenue from fiscal year 2020 to 2022. Unemployment was recently over 10 percent. You and the other mayoral candidates have ambitious plans that will cost a lot of money. You’re going to get a temporary reprieve because of the American Rescue Plan, but how are you going to pay for anything new when your first term will likely be about fighting to preserve what we have?

AY: What I’ve been telling people is that we have approximately two years to get the city back on its feet thanks to Chuck Schumer. We have to use that time as effectively and efficiently as possible, and not takes this situation for granted. There are very significant costs within city government that we at least have to examine and see if there are efficiencies that can be gained before the federal aid runs dry in about two years.

Imagine if you were a household and you knew you had a windfall coming in: it was going to last you two years, and then years three and four, times were going to be very tough. Everyone would would start preparing for years three and four now: they would be budgeting, saving, and trying to make sure that when the windfall ended they were in good shape. Our city’s in a similar situation. We need to be spending money effectively to try to reignite economic growth and regain jobs with full awareness that in year three we’re going to have to make ends meet, without any promises [of federal aid.]

WSR: Given how significantly real estate contributes to revenue in the city budget, how will the city deal with midtown, where many people are still not back in office buildings? Businesses need to decide whether to sign new 10-year leases while some people might be considering working remotely permanently.

AY: I talk to CEOs and they say that they’re eager to get workers back into the office. I know that some people reading this might not love to hear this, but organizations know that workers are more collaborative, innovative, and creative when they’re in the same environment. I’m going to suggest that this is good for workers, too, on a couple of levels. One is that it’s easier to have your job automated if you’re working remotely, and to it’s harder to get promoted over Zoom. Those things are kind of related. People coming back to the office is a must: Zoom is not the workplace of the future.

We have to support organizations that are bringing workers back, and we have to get kids back into schools for the same reason.

WSR: You mentioned schools. Are you a public school parent or a private school parent, and can you talk about that decision?

AY: Our older son is autistic, and he’s in a special needs school downtown. Our younger son is in public school on the Upper West Side. So we are public school parents, and we’re pleased with the situations that both of our sons are in. With the older son it was definitely a journey, and I feel for special needs parents as both a special needs parent and a public school parent. I’d love for our city to do more, because there are tens of thousands of families that have special needs children like Evelyn and I do.

WSR: District 3 schools—the Upper West Side and portions of Harlem—were the first in the city to change admissions policies to address segregation in middle schools. In terms of integrating New York City schools, are there any policies you favor?

AY: Most parents are the same in that we want to send our kids to a school near us that provides an education that we’re excited about and that reflects our community. That, to me, is the direction that we need to go in, in terms of just investing in schools that families are excited about in their communities. I think that if we can make it so that more schools are able to respond to our kids needs at higher levels, then we’ll also see schools that are more representative of the city.

WSR: Kim Watkins is a familiar name for many Upper West Siders, especially those whose children attend District 3 schools. What do you have to say to Upper West Siders who may find her story credible, and how will you reassure them that women will have a place in a Yang Administration? [Watkins is president of CEC3, the parent council that oversees local public schools, and she is running for Manhattan Borough President. In 2019, she wrote an op-ed accusing Yang of firing her from Manhattan Prep because she had just gotten married and he didn’t think she would work as hard as she had been.]

AY: My education company that Kim worked at, the management team was half women. The nonprofit that I founded was majority women—both leadership levels and the staff levels. My successor as CEO of that organization is a woman. I would never have been able to achieve anything in any environment if I hadn’t had incredible women working alongside me every step of the way.

WSR: Community District 7—that’s the Upper West Side—is home to the third highest concentration of seniors in the city. How will you mobilize seniors if they want to contribute to the city’s recovery, and how will your administration make life easier for seniors?

AY: I love this question in part because my my mom resembles this, although right now she’s been out of the city for a while. New York is a tremendous place for seniors, and a place that needs a lot of work for seniors. On the plus side, there’s proximity to culture and activities, and in many cases, family members and loved ones and friends. On the other hand, it’s tough to afford to live here, and sometimes getting around is not what it should be. 

I talked to a woman who’s on the Upper West Side just the other day, and she said that she now is no longer riding the subway, or doesn’t feel comfortable doing so, and she said that it’s the first time in her entire life that she’s felt that way. That’s a terrible thing for seniors and for New Yorkers. 

The way I would hope to activate seniors is to say that we have to make it so that you all feel safe and comfortable walking your streets, taking the subway, visiting your friends and family members, and if we don’t have that, then it’s going to be very hard to recover, and it’s going to be much harder to be excited about living here and raising our families here.

The second big aspect would be trying to make it so that housing is more affordable, on the Upper West Side and around the city. I’m committed to spending $4 billion a year on trying to develop, over time, hundreds of thousands of affordable housing units.

WSR: Many of our readers live in New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA). RAD and PACT are ongoing at NYCHA. Are you for or against RAD?

AY: I’m for proposals that residents of NYCHA are for, and so if there are people who believe that RAD is the right step forward for their community, I’m supportive. But it’s their home, and we should be listening to the residents first and foremost.

WSR: Probably the most contentious community meeting I’ve ever attended, believe it or not, was about bike lanes. The mayor exerts a lot of control over New York City’s streets. From bike lanes, to car share, to parking permits, how might a Mayor Yang regulate our streets?

AY: One of the joys of my days for a number of years was biking one of my boys to school every morning, so I’m a big believer in bikeability and walkability and mass transit. I moved to New York City as a 21-year-old student at Columbia, and did not own a car for 19 years, so, I got around the way most New Yorkers get around, which is by foot and by subway and by bicycle. I think that these things are core to the identity of New York City. People need to be able to come here and live their lives without owning a car. I’ve committed to making Open Streets permanent and financing it, or funding it, from the city. This is the kind of thing that will make our city more livable and appealing for many.

WSR: In 2001, then candidate Michael Bloomberg ran as the businessman New York needed to steer the city’s recovery after 9/11. How are you different?

AY: My gosh, we’re very different humans. I think right now a lot of New Yorkers want someone who will just help make their lives better. I ran a national campaign around fighting poverty, and I think I’ve got a different perspective on what’s going on than perhaps Mike did—it’s a different time. I will say that I appreciated the fact that Mike seemed to enlist people from different points on the political spectrum in his administration. I’d like to follow suit in recruiting people who just want to do great work on behalf of the city, and are going to be solutions-oriented.

WSR: Is there anything I missed that you’d like to address?

AY: I think the thing I would emphasize really is like, I think a lot of people can relate to my experience. I moved here as a student, and I’ve lived here, I’ve met my now wife here, we’re raising our two boys here, one of them goes to public school on the Upper West Side. I feel like there are a lot of folks who can relate to aspects of this, and I just want to get our city working better for us and our families. I can’t wait to get started.

Primary Day is June 22nd. It will be the first citywide election to utilize ranked choice voting.

See all of our interviews with the candidates here.

COLUMNS, NEWS | 33 comments | permalink
    1. Kim says:

      Not Yang. Absolutely not Yang. He is not qualified to hold the office of Mayor at all.

    2. Crankypants says:

      He is the guy most qualified to enjoy a beer with…NOT run our city.

      • Wayne Z. says:

        Yup, likable guy, but I’d rather not witness someone learning on the job for the next four years.

    3. good humor says:

      It’s weird that New York is a home for some people, but so often an on-deck circle for future Presidential contenders. Hillary, Andrew Yang, etc.

      I wish we had some hometown heroes.

    4. JSW0 says:

      I was not a fan of Yang for mayor when he entered the race, but have reconsidered. This interview confirms that now-positive view. His responses were thoughtful, measured, personal, and in contrast to his peers, realistic and even optimistic. I am not a fan of cash payments, but the people’s bank idea is a good one (costs almost nothing, could yield big gains for many). Also I do not think more policing is a good idea – better policing, and especially better guidance from City Hall are both necessary. He clearly has no sacred cows (lots of those in the race for mayor!), and seems genuinely non-idealogical (which is of course the way a mayor should be – its an operational job) and interested in building an effective management team. Finally, he would be an excellent promoter for NYC, which is what the city very badly needs right now. Yang and Garcia for me. Thanks again for these helpful interviews.

      • konij says:

        This is a classic “I was not a fan until I read this” that the Trump team mastered. We can expect more from the PR team

        • JSW0 says:

          Konij, can you explain what you mean, and what my comments have to do with Trump? (they have absolutely nothing to do with Trump)

          Are you suggesting I am affiliated with Yang? I am not. I am not affiliated with any candidate.

    5. dc says:

      He’s got my vote.

    6. SM says:

      We need to vote for candidates such as Yang who understand that first and foremost, NYC is the commercial capital of the world. Without that moniker, NYC would be just another city in the US.
      Having a mayor like de Blasio or de Blasio 2.0 (i.e., Wiley, etc.) would be retrograde for our city.

      We cannot afford to do that. No single candidate is perfect nor will they fulfill each of our individual preferences.

      I think we should vote based on who is most likely to ensure that NYC remains the commercial capital of the world.

      Yang, Adams, McGuire understand this issue. Others not so much – they want to turn NYC into a socialist city.

    7. ML says:

      Andrew Yang is not qualified to be Mayor of NYC, I’m voting for Scott Stringer. Yang did not vote in the 2000 and 2012 presidential elections or in every mayoral election in New York City between 2001 and 2017. He also fled NYC to live elsewhere as the COVID pandemic surged.

      https://www.politico.com/states/new-york/albany/story/2021/01/08/andrew-yang-left-new-york-as-covid-surged-now-he-wants-to-be-mayor-1353859

      • Leon says:

        It is sad to see posts by people envious of what others have (and I am far from rich myself). Yang had the opportunity to provide a better living situation for his family, including an autistic child. He did what he had to do.

        If someone had called you last spring and offered you access to a larger home outside of the city and you could do that while still working, would you have turned it down?

        Let’s focus on the real issues here. I have mixed feelings about Yang but this is not part of the equation.

        • ML says:

          Leon, You don’t know what I personally own or have access to, so don’t make false assumptions that my criticism is because of envy. If Yang can use his children as a reason to flee NYC during a crisis then that is a legitimate concern for voters. This topic was covered across several media outlets, are you going to claim that all those journalists & critics are envious?
          https://www.forbes.com/sites/jackbrewster/2021/01/11/yang-slammed-after-trying-to-justify-fleeing-new-york-city-during-pandemic/?sh=5d9a673e3c5c

          • Leon says:

            He admittedly could have been more tactful in how he put it but I do not fault him at all for leaving the city. What did you want him to do? To me, it would have reflected poorly on him if he had had the chance to leave and didn’t. No need to be a martyr.

            There are so many huge challenges this city is facing – this is very low on my list. And I am not saying this as a Yang supporter – he is not one of my top few candidates.

    8. Carlos says:

      I am still not clear on how he plans to fence off his basic income payment so that every poor person in America doesn’t come here to get their check, and then we end up with a huge resulting social service burden.

      I am having a tough time figuring out Yang. He has some good ideas. But he also seems to like to tell each group what he wants to hear, so I am not clear what he will actually do.

    9. D says:

      Wiley
      Garcia
      Stringer

      Yang is a nobody who has accomplished nothing in life other than becoming famous for running in a single idea that cities can’t afford. The UBI is a federal/state issue, not a city responsibility.

    10. UWS Craig says:

      I think Yang’s basic income plan could help revitalize the city, but it should be universal. A family making $200K per year saves $30K per year in taxes alone by moving to Florida, but give that family an additional $30K and that family will stay.
      The funds for this program can be found by requiring municipal workers to pay for the cost of their health insurance. Those workers can move to Florida if they don’t like the change, either way a net win for the city.

    11. joe smitten says:

      My Man! he’s the most qualified mayoral candidate be far. Dude has a vision, a plan, and actually appreciates the city.

    12. John says:

      We need a Republican Mayor or we are doomed to much free stuff that is not free.

      • Ella says:

        I agree with you but I am afraid it will never happen. Which is why I support Eric Adams.

    13. Upper Jess Side says:

      Yang is my #1 choice. Upper West Siders complain about everything (bike lanes, helicopter noise, construction, street homeless, vacant store fronts, sidewalk sheds . . . blah blah blah) and we have local politicians who are great at feigning outrage but not actually doing anything. Now we have an innovative, solution oriented, energetic candidate who is asking for a chance to really move NYC in a positive direction. But all we can do is . . . COMPLAIN! I’m starting to think I’m surrounded by misanthropes.

    14. Jon says:

      Yang has my vote!

    15. Nathan says:

      Read each of his responses as starting with “Aye”, sounds like a pirate.

    16. Vincent says:

      I’d vote for the inanimate carbon rod before I voted for Yang.

    17. Steve S says:

      Mr.Yang was laughed at during the presidential campaign for offering $1000 to people as a “hand-up” approach for the economy. An out of the box idea, yet one which Biden’s PPP implemented! Ya see, Mr. Yang can do great things for NYC that others will later (too much later) embrace! Politics should not be a profession but rather a part time, temporary citizen obligation just like the farming founding fathers. Great enlightening WSR interview! Opened my eyes!

    18. John T says:

      All for Yang. Voting for Yang. Time for good changes to happen

    19. UWSWasp says:

      I like Andrew Yang.

    20. SmartGuy says:

      I started this process a McGuire fan, but he hasn’t shown much in the leadup to the election. I’m starting to take a good look at Adams – a hardline guy who gives a crap and will take a stance against further deterioration of NYC. If you’re mentioning Wiley as a serious candidate, please have your head examined.

    21. Josh P. says:

      There are a lot of questions here about senior citizens, crime, and tall towers, but personally I would love to see candidates asked more about what the next mayor can do for affordability and young families. We need more homes.
      200 Amsterdam is singled out as a symbol for inequality, but brownstones are just as unaffordable and our zoning code requires block after block after block be set aside for them. It’s fine if you prefer how they look but you can’t say that a $15 million townhome is anything but a symbol of inequality. More broadly, I think it’s hard to argue that a single building’s funny looking zoning map is a bigger driver of inequality than the neighborhood wide zoning map that requires multimillion dollar brownstones and prevents the development of higher density apartments for a broader mix of incomes.

      • Leon says:

        Many of those brownstones are not single family. I lived for several years in an eight unit brownstone where I believe five of eight were well below market, and my market rate unit was not that expensive.

    22. Ella says:

      Yang is well meaning but totally misguided. This city needs a strong individual who will let the police do their jobs and give the courts their ability to do theirs. Eric Adams is the only choice for me.

    23. Tofu Lover says:

      Can Mayor stop Hate crime?
      His idea of offering free $1000 doesn’t help bringing more rich tax payers in the City.

    24. Just Bob says:

      My vote is for Yang. We definitely don’t need de Blasio 2.o in Wiley. Adams could also be a viable candidate.