Andrew Yang emerges as surprise front-runner in NYC mayoral race

Former presidential candidate wants New York City to be an oasis of clean energy, bicycle lanes and green spaces

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - APRIL 05: New York Mayoral Candidate Andrew Yang speaks to members of the media along Canal Street in Chinatown on April 05, 2021 in New York City. Yang, an Asian American, has been working to draw attention to recent assaults against Asians both in New York and the country. The candidate, who is currently one of the leaders in the mayoral race, rode the subway to Times Square with members of the media and candidates for City Council.   Spencer Platt/Getty Images/AFP
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The upbeat technology entrepreneur Andrew Yang made headlines during his failed 2020 presidential run with a signature policy of no-strings-attached $1,000-per-month payments to every American.

The Democratic nomination – and the presidency – ultimately went to Joe Biden. But Mr Yang has re-entered the political fray with an unexpectedly strong showing in the race to be the next mayor of New York City.

The Ivy League-educated son of Taiwanese immigrants is the front-runner for the June 22 Democratic primary that will likely decide who wins the November 2 mayoral election and replace incumbent Bill de Blasio.

Recent polls show that most New Yorkers have yet to decide how they will vote, but with 10 weeks left until election day, Mr Yang has a roughly six-point lead and by far the best name recognition out of more than a dozen Democratic wannabes.

At the weekend, Mr Yang, 46, visited the city’s famed seafront amusement parks at Coney Island, which on Friday welcomed back visitors after an 18-month shutdown due to the coronavirus pandemic.

He sells himself as a fun, energetic and slightly nerdy steward for a city of some 8.4 million people who saw their beloved metropolis rocked by lockdowns and mass layoffs as Covid-19 tore through the city and claimed 32,000 lives.

“New York is coming back!!” Mr Yang told his 2 million Twitter followers on Monday.

His legion of online cheerleaders – the so-called Yang Gang – tout plans for a cleaner, greener skyscraper city, with more outdoor space, bicycle lanes and a renewable energy hub in Long Island City to power homes across Queens, the city’s biggest borough.

This week, he focused attention on one of New York’s annoyances: street vendors. He called for more spaces where they can operate legally while not hurting rent-paying retailers, which have lost revenue during the pandemic.

While Mr Yang is the front-runner, he is no shoo-in. Brooklyn borough president Eric Adams, city comptroller Scott Stringer, former MSNBC analyst Maya Wiley or another Democratic candidate could easily snag the lead during next month's televised debates.

The introduction to New York of a ranked-choice voting system adds another layer of uncertainty to the coming ballot. Voters for the first time will be allowed to express a preference for up to five candidates.

As the race heats up, Mr Yang has come under fire from his rivals, who accuse him of lacking public service know-how after working as a corporate lawyer, at start-ups and at a non-profit technology firm.

“This is not a start-up,” Mr Adams said at a recent event for blue-collar union workers.

“This is a city where a leader must have been a worker. People like Andrew Yang never held a job in his entire life.”

Would Getting the ‘Green’ Light Be a Big Boost for New York‪?‬

Portraying himself as the working-class candidate, Eric Adams took a swing at Andrew Yang this week. With so many New Yorkers undecided, Yang, who leads the polls, may see more of this in the next three months. Learn more on a 🆕 "Off Topic/On Politics" podcast 🎧

Posted by Spectrum News NY1 on Friday, March 26, 2021

He has also been compared unfavourably to the city’s most famous politician, Donald Trump. The Republican former president's "America First" nationalism resonated poorly in his hip and immigrant-friendly home town.

“Andrew Yang just can’t get his story straight and that makes him dangerous for New Yorkers,” a representative for rival candidate Ms Wiley recently said.

“Our city deserves a serious leader, not a mini-Trump who thinks our city is a fun plaything in between podcasts.”

If elected, Mr Yang would be the city's first Asian-American mayor. The campaign comes amid concerns over a spike in anti-Asian hate crimes, including last month's brutal roadside attack on a 65-year-old Filipina near Times Square, a video of which was widely shared online.