By Michael McDowall
A former Wall Street executive who rose from impoverished beginnings, Ray McGuire has positioned himself as the only candidate with the experience and the values to rebuild New York as it emerges from the COVID-19 calamity.
McGuire recently resigned from a high profile position as a vice chairman at Citigroup, which means he oversaw deals and other transactions worth tens of billions of dollars. An established donor who has supported the campaigns of politicians including former President Barack Obama, McGuire has reportedly previously been considered for roles at the Department of the Treasury and the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.
The following conversation has been condensed and edited.
WSR: I believe you’re the only candidate in the race who lives on the Upper West Side. What, in your view, are the major issues facing the neighborhood?
RM: As I walk around—and I do practically every day—I would say there are several. One is small businesses, which today are really challenged. I would also say the homeless, which are increasing in number. I would say those two: small businesses and homelessness.
WSR: Let’s start with small businesses. Vacant storefronts have been a problem in the neighborhood and in the city since long before the pandemic. Do you support things like commercial rent stabilization and/or a vacancy tax on owners of long unoccupied storefronts, or do you think the issue has a different set of potential solutions?
RM: In addition to making sure that rents don’t skyrocket, we need to focus on rescuing and incentivizing small businesses. My comeback plan is what I call the greatest, most inclusive economic comeback plan in the history of New York City, creating the environment for 500,000 jobs, [and] 50,000 of those jobs go to small businesses, because small businesses clearly are the lifeblood, both commercially and culturally, of our communities. My comeback plan—the “Jobs Accelerator Plan”—is focused on subsidizing [small businesses] by taking care of half of the cost of employees for one year, by helping them retain New York City sales tax receipts for a year.
A deputy mayor for small businesses will create a red tape commission and a shot clock, because a lot of this today is very bureaucratic. We need to do whatever we can to cut through the bureaucracy, which the red tape commission will do, and respond on a timely basis, because there’s too much lag now, and way too much bureaucracy. Small business are at the core of my rayformayor.com comeback plan.
WSR: You mentioned homelessness. Are you familiar with The Lucerne?
RM: I am familiar with The Lucerne.
WSR: How would you have addressed this situation as Mayor?
RM: The situation wasn’t done collaboratively, I think the decision was made on a Friday night, somehow, brokered on Friday night, and on Monday morning the community woke up to find that there were a number of homeless people now being housed at The Lucerne.
Let me be specific about how I think about this: this is both a letter of the law [issue]—which is a legal obligation—as well as a moral obligation. As part of that, the communities that are going to be impacted should be at the table. I think what you’ll find is that people are open [and] empathetic—New Yorkers want to be supportive—but anything that impacts our houses, we should make sure that we’re coordinated on. What I would have done differently is communicated with the community boards and the local civic organizations to be much better coordinated, to make sure that we [had] the services in place for the homeless, and make sure that The Lucerne was the location. So, in keeping with both the moral and the legal obligation, let’s do it in a way that is much more collaborative, that the communities and the neighborhoods that are impacted are involved from the outset, and let’s just not parachute into a decision without the community being involved.
WSR: There’s a clear connection between housing and homelessness, and on that note, should rent stabilization be expanded or should it be shrunk?
RM: Rent stabilization, given the number of homes that we don’t have here, let’s stabilize it until we can manage through, which is in my housing plan. My overall approach is going from homelessness to homeownership. What I need to do, which is what we haven’t done, is to create 350,000 new units of housing. Now that’s going to be 10 percent more than what we’ve built here recently, and we need to build housing such that no New Yorker has to pay more than 30 percent of her or his income in rent. Today, we’re rent burdened in New York, where 40 to 45 percent of New Yorkers pay 50 to 60 percent of their income in rent. That’s not sustainable. We haven’t built to accommodate those who are below 50 percent of the area median income. What has been built during this administration [is housing] for those people who are 80 to 100 percent plus of the area median income. We need to readjust and we need to approach this differently, so that New Yorkers can live and live comfortably in affordable housing.
WSR: Many of our readers live in NYCHA, from Douglas Houses to Amsterdam Houses to the Brownstones. Are you for or against RAD?
RM: It’s interesting that you ask that. What I’m for is the tenant’s association being at the table with me. I have recently received the endorsement of a few of the leaders at NYCHA, including Danny Barber, who heads the [Citywide Council of Presidents]. So my answer is, I want the tenants to be at the table, the leadership of the tenants to be at the table. What’s taking place with RAD and with the [NYCHA Blueprint for Change] is that they haven’t been, so there lots of anxiety that’s out there, there’s lots of misinformation. Before we move forward, we need to make sure that those whose lives are going to be most directly impacted are at the table. None of us would want anything taking place in our homes without us being consulted in how those decisions are made.
WSR: According to NYPD data, Black and Hispanic New Yorkers were 91.4 percent of murder and non-negligent manslaughter victims in 2020. What are three specific policy actions you will take to shift how all New Yorkers are kept safe?
RM: First of all, we have an obligation—a covenant, a contract—[which] the leadership of New York has with all New Yorkers, and that is to keep us safe. We’ve not done that.
There’s a lot of talk about what the NYPD needs to do, and we need to have more trained specialists within the NYPD focused exclusively on gun violence, using the latest intelligence, and that’s the centerpiece of my safety plan. The solution isn’t defunding—I’m not for defunding. It isn’t about solely adding to the police force either. It’s about addressing the root causes of gun violence and crime. All the police in the world can’t solve that problem. When I’m Mayor I’ll immediately initiate a safety surge: a surge in officers focused on gun violence, a surge in community policing, and, importantly, a surge of mental health support services. These specialized officers will work with the community police officers who have relationships with the neighborhoods.
Some of my opponents say that just adding more police will solve this: it won’t. My view is if you have a prior conviction for a violent crime or possession of an illegal firearm, and you’re arrested with a loaded gun you should be held in jail with no exceptions. If you’re actively facing felony charges, act out on your own recognizance, and you’re arrested with a loaded gun, you should be held in jail with no exceptions.
I also think about what I’m going to do about the structure of the NYPD. I am not for defund, I’m for better policing. As a 6’4, 200-plus-pound Black man, I want the police to protect me and not profile me. The police need to be held accountable. My plan has the following: One, I will appoint a deputy mayor for public safety whose day-to-day responsibility will be to help manage the NYPD and be connected to the community. Number two, chain of command accountability. Whenever one or more officers is involved in something that is overly aggressive, the entire chain of command gets held responsible. Number three, given that four to five of the ten calls that go into 911 have to do with mental health services, I will create an emergency social services office, a core of mental health care professionals who sit within the NYPD, the precinct, and in the subways, to go and intervene with those who are mentally ill. Number four, I will [give] the Civilian Complaint Review Board full investigative authority. That means that rather than take 48 days to review video footage, I want them to do it in 48 hours. They’ll get the entire file, they will review the file with the footage, make a recommendation to the commissioner, and based on the commissioner’s recommendation, I would have the ultimate authority.
I would also invest in the community, I’d return to community policing, I would invest in community centers, and I would also invest in summer jobs—invest in the community so that we can prevent these occurrences before they start. I would invest in the Cure Violence [program], the violence interrupters on the ground in the community who know where the hotspots are and can intervene.
My plan is to restructure the NYPD with a deputy mayor, change the culture to a culture of respect, accountability, and proportionality, and invest in the community.
WSR: The most contentious neighborhood meeting I’ve ever attended involved the Central Park West bike lane. From bike lanes to carshare to parking permits, tell me about one or two policy changes you would make when it comes to what may be one of the city’s greatest and most underutilized physical resources?
RM: I, too, was one who was surprised that the bike lanes going along Central Park West [were so contentious]. Having lived with those bike lanes and having a bike—I don’t have my own bike, I have a CitiBike—I’m in favor of that, I think it has transformed them for the good. I want to make sure that as people exit on Central Park, that for the elders you have the crossing boxes at the intersections. I want them to be louder, with more countdowns, and I want to make sure that the bicyclers recognize and respect the elders and those who are crossing the street. I want to make sure that we enforce that.
We need to have more streetscapes, we need to have more green spaces, and I also, candidly, like the outdoor spaces in the restaurants. I think it has created a vibrancy in the community that makes the community alive. I like what’s taking place and I want to create more outdoor spaces, and make sure that those outdoor spaces are safe.
WSR: Are you a public school parent or a private school parent, and can you talk about that decision?
RM: Private school.
WSR: What political or policy positions do you hold that would put you at odds with your peers in finance?
RM: What political or policy vision do I hold that would put me at odds? I don’t know who my peers in finance would be, and therefore I’m not certain, but my position is pretty transparent: I want to grow the city. I got no jobs, I got no dignity, I got no jobs, I got no city. I am pro growth, and I’m also for inclusive growth. And when I say inclusive, it shouldn’t be the case that last year New York City spent 22 and a half billion dollars, and 80 percent of the MWBEs [Minority/Women-owned Business Enterprise] got zero. We need to be inclusive and intentional. It shouldn’t be the case that we’re not invested in the future, when it comes to technology. It shouldn’t be the case that we’re not invested in CUNY, and having CUNY be the epicenter of workforce training, and the epicenter of technology going forward.
I’m not certain who my peers are. I’m the only one who’s got the experience, and has been held accountable. I’ve created more opportunity and more wealth than all the other candidates combined. All of them combined. We’ve got a hundred years of government service, of all the other candidates combined, and we are going backwards. We’re going backwards in health care, we’re going backwards in the economy, we’re going backwards in education, and we’re going backwards in criminal justice. It is time for something new: the status quo means we are going backwards.
WSR: Is there anything I missed that you’d like to address?
RM: I think we’ve seen a few recent announcements that [put into] question how transactional the city’s politics have become, and some of the old guard doing wherever they can to reinforce the old guard. I would like your readers to know that I do not owe any political favors. I don’t owe any political debts. My sole focus is what is in the best interest of New York City, and I have a track record of having invested in the community, creating opportunities—which is what this is all about. I want New Yorkers and all of our children to have the same opportunities. So I’m for universal basic opportunity, to make sure that the elders are taken care of, that those who are working have jobs, that those who want to work have jobs, and that those who are coming behind us have the right education. I can do that without regard to any special constituents. I left my job—I haven’t been termed out. I’m not looking for a promotion, and I don’t have to respond to any political constituents out there to keep the transactions going. I’m focused solely on what is in the interest of New Yorkers, that’s it, including our elders and our children especially.
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.
In a weak field, McGuire is the best candidate. He knows how to successfully run a large, complicated organization. He has common sense, moderate beliefs to help everyone without being obsessed with identity politics.
Please don’t hate on him for working at a bank. Citi does a lot of good for the community and employs thousands of New Yorkers in good jobs – from tellers to bankers. His independence means he can stand up to all the unions – police, teachers, etc. He wants to improve NYPD but not treat them like the enemy, unlike Wiley and others.
Mr. McGuire wants to create “a deputy mayor for small businesses will create a red tape commission and a shot clock, because a lot of this today is very bureaucratic”.
In other words, he wants to create a new government bureaucracy to help small businesses deal with government bureacracy.
As a former bank executive Mr. McGuire should realize that some businesses should not be kept alive if they are only dependent on government subsidies and hand holding to survive. I don’t get his obsession with trying to prop up unviable small businesses.
I was in Whole Foods and Target over the weekend. Both are clean and well lit. Employees earn a decent living, have benefits and opportunities for advancement. These are thriving businesses that pay their rent and city taxes and employ many people who otherwise might not have such a good opportunity.
Does Mr McGuire believe that these people would be better off working in a small bodega? Would UWS residents be better off paying inflated prices with poorer selection in a small store? Would the neighborhood be better off if it was filled with small businesses who are being propped up by subsidies and contribute little to the overall economy?
Mr McGuire should end his obsession with small businesses and instead concentrate on allowing already successful businesses to thrive.
I tend to agree with you on supply and demand and efficient markets. I prefer to support local businesses, but at some point they just weren’t meant to be.
That being said, there is a safety and quality of life issue around having lots of empty storefronts. I’m not sure what the best answer is, but unlike most of the other candidates, at least it is prominently on McGuire’s radar.
As a small business owner on the UWS, quality of life and safety issues affect us GREATLY and we need support on these fronts. Vacant stores DO make things worse for everyone and if people keep ordering online or only going to mass market stores, your streets will be barren. Our store is growing and staying alive and we have not gotten government help at all due to being too newly opened. Only thing keeping us alive this year is our wonderful customer base we’ve built but if quality of life, street homeless & safety issues continue to make people avoid my street we won’t grow and flourish with new customers.
Why? What is wrong with him working at Citi? Citi is an good corporate citizen. It is one of the larger private sector employers in NY. It pays a fair wage, not just to rich bankers but to people in much lower positions.
This “I hate banks” mentality is narrow-minded and ignorant. Are they perfect? Definitely not. But they are not all evil.
Did the Citibank VP just come out and say he’s in favor of commercial rent control? Lordy. And I think he misunderstood the question about his ‘peers in finance’.
Also, on guns, I am unclear as to what he means when he says ‘… if you have a prior conviction for a violent crime or possession of an illegal firearm, and you’re arrested with a loaded gun you should be held in jail with no exceptions.’ Is he saying you should get a lifetime sentence when found guilty, or is he saying they should be held without bail until trial?
He was once my favorite candidate, not sure if he still is, but now that we can vote for five people, he will still be near the top.
Denton pretty sure he means held without bail. I think bail reform needs to be revised to exclude repeat offenders, especially assault charges. Not sure how that got passed to begin with.
WSR, Thank you for this. I had no idea that we had a viable candidate with the proper mindset to correct what is happening. I may have to vote now.
In my view, McGuire is by far the best candidate, and not only because he has no “baggage”. He has experience leading large institutions, has fiscal chops, excellent work ethic, knows the V.P personally (NY needs all the friends in D.C. it can get) and has charm and likability that can appeal to NY’ers widely.
A bit odd there’s zero discussion or follow up on the public / private school question… seems important to get a candidates thoughts on education.
As someone who has worked in both the public and independent school systems in NYC (and elsewhere), his answer is loud and clear. Ask yourself, why would someone send their kid to a $50,000+ a year school when a free option is available? The answers are known. The barrier, which plays politics with our kids, is far too powerful.
I liked McGuire from the start mostly because he wasn’t a politician owing favors to pretty much everybody. After hearing him speak and looking over his policies he seems like the best person for the next few years to quickly rebuild NYC and I’m pretty sure that unlike our current mayor, McGuire probably has some mathematics skills.