We didn’t see the last one from Andrew Yang. This week, the former presidential candidate sent strong signals that he could toss his hat into the ring in New York’s already extremely crowded mayor’s race. On Tuesday, a New York Post headline proclaimed, “Stringer Weak, Yang Could Be NYC Mayor Candidate by 2021, Polls Show.” In the poll in question, Yang was 20 percent, Eric Adams, Brooklyn District President 14 percent, Comptroller Scott Stringer 11 percent, and everyone else in the race was below 10 percent.
Of course, polls are sometimes used for specific political purposes, to influence public perception and to influence the course of a race. The Yang Bomb is a prime example – it’s an in-house poll conducted by political consultancy Slingshot Strategies. In other words, this is a far cry from an independent measure that provides a potentially accurate snapshot of the race. It’s more like a press release.
Regardless of his chances of winning or even his running chances, both of which are very unclear at this point, Yang is a relatively big name in politics, and his potential entry into the NYC Mayors’ race should be taken seriously by the city’s growing socialist left. Like it or not, we may have to deal with Yang’s presence. So it is time we looked at his politics.
Socialists 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 although he had lost primary school badly, he managed to bring 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 found that many longtime UBI advocates were actually against Yang’s “Freedom Dividend” plan, arguing that “Yang’s version might do more harm than good, as some Americans between accepting $ 1,000 per month and receiving certain public benefits. In other words, the Freedom Dividend plan was far from redistributing wealth. It was just a reshuffle of social programs – undermining existing entitlements like Medicare to provide $ 1,000 a month instead.
So it was perhaps not surprising that Yang’s advocacy of his branding proposal was not accompanied by support from other universal programs. During the campaign, he was actually open to Medicare for All. This position did not go unnoticed. In October 2019, aspiring host Krystal Ball spent an entire section of her show discussing how Yang’s position on Medicare for All “was a mistake and ultimately inconsistent with Andrew’s general worldview.” Yang often seems to get the benefit of the doubt – perhaps because it is more convenient than accepting the reality that, despite his sympathy and popularity, his policies are at best underdeveloped and at worst actually regressive.
Yang never withdrew his opposition to Medicare for All. But this week even the ball to the left of center tweeted, “I think @AndrewYang would be a fantastic mayor.” It’s time to ask the question: what would our city look like with Andrew Yang as mayor? The answer: actually not that great.
In case people don’t remember, we already had a businessman as mayor and things weren’t going well. Michael Bloomberg’s pro-developer domination of our city is one big reason we are in dire straits. We have underfunded schools and over 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 has done little to change the status quo established over the course of Bloomberg’s nearly twelve-year tenure as mayor.
Yang didn’t do anything to prove that he was indeed different from Bloomberg. In fact, he did just the opposite: According to Politico, Yang is “in talks with Tusk Strategies, the consultancy that worked on Mike Bloomberg’s 2009 mayoral campaign.” CEO Bradley Tusk was Bloomberg’s campaign manager, was a political advisor to Uber and a former advisor to the Police Benevolent Association, the NYPD’s largest union. In a mayor’s race where the policing debate will undoubtedly play a major role, it is alarming that Yang is blatantly teasing a connection with a pro-cop power player even before the announcement.
After the murder of George Floyd in May, when massive protests called for the police to be de-financed, Yang intervened on Twitter and gave this wise advice: “An officer suggested national training to get me off the shooting to kill and get through Replacing intermediate weapons and non-lethal approaches to slow life and death decision-making. “In the midst of massive civil unrest and a scouting to disappoint the police, Yang’s message was clear: Let’s hear what the police have to say.
Unfortunately, the Bloomberg-Yang similarities only become clearer upon closer inspection. And when Yang has dealt with local issues, he sounds completely touchless. A 2019 article published in Reason magazine, a libertarian outlet, was titled “Andrew Yang hates zoning laws.” The article excitedly proclaimed, “The presidential candidate wants booming cities to lift restrictions on new developments.” The piece refers to the platform page “Zoning” on Yang’s website, a page that seems both comically uninformed and alarmingly right-wing: “With NIMBY (not in my backyard) and zoning laws, the ability of new living can be built in certain areas was disabled. . . ”
This is kind of a strange phrase – there is no “zone law” that can be easily repealed. Zones are what cities use to plan what can be built on each piece of land. Even the powerful position of NYC Mayor cannot get rid of the concept of zoning – advocating for extensive removal makes no sense. Yang even cites “my hometown of New York City” as evidence of “how true that is”. Anyone who has been to NYC recently should find this fun. Massive new buildings are being built all over our city. If you look up, all you see is super tall towers and the cranes that build them.
The idea that we can solve the housing crisis in our city by repealing already weak regulations and letting the market work its magic is not only ridiculous but also dangerous. Imagine thousands of luxury apartments sitting thousands of feet in the air and completely empty while thousands of people sleep in the streets far below.
If the housing stock that is being built is not affordable or even public, we will continue on a path that will eventually lead our entire city to be in the shadow of towers in which no normal person can afford to live.
Yang’s YIMBY approach reflects a fundamental misconception about how displacement works in New York City. When developers build luxury towers, it cascades and wreaks havoc on the surrounding neighborhood. Property values are rising rapidly and landlords are increasing rents accordingly, kicking people out who have lived there for years or even their entire lives simply because they cannot afford to pay the suddenly much more expensive rent. And due to 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 to the developers and only speed up the displacement process.
In the past few months alone, New York City has seen several major battles over developer-led reallocation plans. There were tough battles against immensely powerful financial interests. The last thing we need is a mayor ready to stamp those proposals.
Fortunately, New York’s political landscape is currently undergoing a profound change. With a large number of elected officials and allies, the NYC Democratic Socialists of America hopes to build on that dynamic in 2021 with a list of six city council candidates and a massive state-level tax the rich campaign.
Regardless of whether the organization joins the mayoral competition, it can use its newfound power to violently defend itself against candidates who do not represent the interests of the working people. I regret to inform you that this includes Andrew Yang.