Gotham Gazette

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Maya Wiley's Strengths and Weaknesses as She Runs for Mayor

Maya Wiley award City Council

Maya Wiley (photo: John McCarten/City Council)

Maya Wiley has an extensive and diverse resume, working inside and mostly outside of government, but has never run for office before this year, when she is seeking to become the first woman and second Black person ever elected Mayor of New York City.

Undoubtedly in the top tier of the crowded Democratic field hurtling toward the June primary likely to decide the next mayor, Wiley has raised a significant amount of money and qualified for millions in public matching funds, received a number of important endorsements, and is widely considered among the candidates most likely to win, though perceived to be behind the better-funded and more-known Andrew Yang, Eric Adams, and Scott Stringer, while others are hopeful they can surge in the final months.

Like all candidates, Wiley comes to the race with various strengths and weaknesses that will help determine whether she can successfully convince enough voters to select her in their top two or three through the first citywide use of ranked-choice voting and carry her to victory in the increasingly intense primary. The first goal, of course, is to be ranked first by as many voters as possible.

A civil rights attorney and former counsel to Mayor Bill de Blasio, Wiley has been running an assertive campaign with a team of veteran political operatives, though she often falls back on vague talking points, values statements, and lawyerly ambiguity. As a first-time candidate for elected office she offers herself as a straight-talker yet regularly appears unwilling or unable to say what she really thinks about a particular issue or what she would specifically do if elected. But Wiley has run as an underdog with confidence, built on decades of experience working on the thorniest issues in American society and fighting for equity that isn’t easily attained, power that isn't easily ceded.

She has been rallying Black women, especially, while assembling a multi-racial coalition of powerful labor unions and elected officials that includes the 1199 SEIU health care workers and U.S. Representatives Nydia Velazquez and Yvette Clarke. A former MSNBC legal affairs contributor, Wiley is a compelling and compassionate public speaker who knows how to read a room, even on Zoom, and has sought to differentiate herself in the field as the progressive candidate most in touch with the 'pain and purpose' of communities of color — though she has competition in that regard from former nonprofit executive Dianne Morales.

The challenges Wiley faces are significant: she must introduce herself to many more voters with relatively limited funds and separate herself from candidates who have stronger public brands or long-held elected office by making her vision for the city and positions on key issues more clear and offering a more commanding narrative around why she should be the next mayor — right now, she most often says she’s running to make New York "a city where everyone can live with dignity.” She must land her attempt to play the insider/outsider who spent enough time in city government to know it well but not so much that she’s part of the status quo or old guard, and in doing so she must separate herself from her former boss, de Blasio, while also appealing to those, especially Black voters, who still support the outgoing mayor. She must convince left-leaning Democrats disillusioned with de Blasio that she wouldn’t also disappoint them by being too weak or ineffective or distracted.

Wiley must persuade a broad enough overall coalition, that for her to win must include large swaths of both Black voters and progressive white voters, in similar fashion to the central coalition that helped de Blasio prevail in the crowded 2013 primary, though he was also buoyed by a significant number of Latino and Orthodox Jewish voters in getting just over the 40% threshold needed in past primaries to avoid a run-off.

Wiley comes from a family of civil rights activists, and she followed in their footsteps with a focus on issues of racial justice and police reform. She began her career with the NAACP Legal Defense Fund in 1992, working there for two years before joining the civil rights division at the office of the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, where she served for three years between 1994 and 1997. She then was a senior adviser on race and poverty at the Open Society Foundations till 1999. In 2002, she co-founded the Center for Social Inclusion, a national nonprofit organization dedicated to combating racial inequity. Twelve years later, in 2014, she was hired by de Blasio to act as his counsel and administration lead on key initiatives, work she did for two-and-a-half years before departing and being named by de Blasio as chair of the city’s Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB), a police oversight agency. She led the body for just over a year and resigned to prioritize her position at The New School, where she taught and served as senior vice president for social justice.

On the mayoral campaign trail, Wiley often mentions aspects of her resume but rarely notes any particular accomplishments. In her time at City Hall and the CCRB, she led on several racial equity and justice priorities but was also embroiled in some controversy.

For the de Blasio administration, she spearheaded efforts to expand internet broadband access, which she continued to work on as co-director of the Digital Equity Lab at The New School. She also helped the city increase contracting awarded to Minority- and Women-Owned Business Enterprises (MWBEs). She continued in a similar vein as she focused on police accountability and reform at the CCRB.

But as de Blasio’s counsel she advised him on two matters that became a stain on the mayor’s record, one involving his solicitation of donations from entities with city business and the other his shielding communications with outside political advisors (some of whom had business or clients with business before the city), whom she dubbed “agents of the city.”

A handful of people who worked with Wiley when she was at City Hall generally described her as committed, caring, collegial, and productive, while two described her as slow to execute. Wiley has admitted a sense of being in over her head initially when taking on the broadband project, given her lack of familiarity with city government and the nuts and bolts of the issue itself, though on the mayoral campaign trail she regularly touts what she was able to accomplish on the subject in a relatively short amount of time and blames de Blasio’s leadership for not going further to get more New Yorkers connected to the internet at home.

But it’s not Wiley’s government service or her academic experience that brought her national attention. She gained prominence on MSNBC, earning her a large social media following and popularity among the channel’s (mostly white) progressive audience. In one particularly viral moment, Wiley convinced former Donald Trump aide Sam Nunberg, who appeared in desperate straits while on air, to testify in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election rather than refuse a subpoena and risk jail time. She was widely praised for her show of humanity toward Nunberg, displaying an empathy that is at the center of her mayoral campaign.

Her MSNBC presence and her background doing civil rights work helped Wiley develop a national network that has boosted her fundraising, though only contributions from city residents are eligible for matching funds. Wiley has had among the top totals for number of individual donors, both overall and from within the city.

When Wiley jumped into the race in October, she shook up a field that was just beginning to form and which continued to grow thereafter, most notably with Yang’s January entrance.

“The theory of the case, originally, was that Maya could really be almost kind of a unicorn candidate,” said Neal Kwatra of Metropolitan Public Strategies. “She's super smart, very compelling. She understands how to communicate to the public, given her experience on TV. I think one of the things that she's going to still need to do that I don't think we've seen entirely yet is make that emotional connection with voters and sort of talk to voters more broadly about what her motivation is, and what her story is, and why, after everything she's done in her life...why does she now want to try to lead the largest city in the country? What is it about her background that not just motivates her but prepares her?”

What at times appears to hold Wiley back is her cautious instincts and measured approach to policy and hot-button issues. She has issued detailed plans on gun violence, a New Deal-type jobs program, avoiding an eviction crisis, and expanding and funding the “care economy” that largely employs women of color. But she has often hedged her positions on several other issues, perhaps most notably the sweeping recommendations of a school desegregation task force that she co-chaired at de Blasio’s request. Asked repeatedly whether she is making the recommendations part of her campaign platform, Wiley has been evasive and only gone as far as to say she stands by them — she has yet to release a full education plan. Her refusal to take a conclusive stance on some issues has allowed candidates like Morales, Stringer, who is the city comptroller, and former federal housing secretary Shaun Donovan to outflank her on the left or simply provide more clear answers to those who may be watching a particular candidate forum or interview.

“She is certainly a contender, but not a top contender,” said George Arzt, a veteran Democratic consultant. Arzt noted Wiley’s tendency to speak in talking points rather than substance. “I find that she doesn't talk in policy...I think with a little bit of help on policy, and on getting a strong policy point of view out, she could do well,” he said, arguing she needs to become known for ideas beyond her strong focus on police reform issues, something Wiley has attempted to do with her “New Deal New York” and “care economy” plans.

Some see her measured approach, in combination with other characteristics, as a strong positive. “She has a temperament that is able to explain complex issues to voters in a way that has a level of intellect and compassion behind her explanation, which has been missing in our politics on the local, state, and federal levels for so long,” said Dr. Christina Greer, political science professor at Fordham University. “One of the two has always been missing or both. So I think that that's what's attracting voters to her, is that combination of intellect and compassion.”

Wiley has repeatedly distanced herself from de Blasio, often criticizing his failure of leadership and the many unfulfilled progressive promises of his two terms. It’s unclear how much dissatisfaction with de Blasio could taint her campaign, or to what extent the association could be helpful, especially among the Democratic primary voters who believe the two-term mayor has fought for them. Repeatedly asked about it, Wiley has over and again said she “stands on her own two feet” and is her own person with her own candidacy. She says she’s proud of her work at City Hall but that she also “voted with my feet” to leave the administration when she felt that she was bumping into a “brick wall” in terms of not being able to advance priorities.

In the spotlight for some, likely a relatively small number of close-watching politicos, is the controversial defense Wiley offered of the mayor’s attempt to hide his communications with outside advisors from public disclosure and the role she played in shaping his line-blurring efforts to raise funds for a nonprofit he formed to promote his agenda, which landed the mayor under federal investigation. Both are the sorts of ethical matters that are usually of more concern to the press and good government groups than to the masses.

Wiley had termed the outside advisors “agents of the city,” a shaky legal argument that was eventually rejected by a court that ordered the emails released after the New York Post and NY1 sued the administration under the Freedom of Information Law. The emails were more revealing and embarrassing than evidence of improper behavior, but nonetheless were a black eye for the mayor, part of an association with Wiley remembered by political insiders.

The mayor’s fundraising for his nonprofit was far more scandalous, leading to local, state, and federal investigations, though the mayor was never charged with any crime. Wiley, as de Blasio’s top government lawyer, advised him on how to raise funds without violating ethics regulations but the mayor still ended up in hot water. Though he faced no charges, the Manhattan District Attorney chastised him for bending the rules by raising funds from people with business before the city and the city Department of Investigation later condemned him for it. In recent reporting by The City, Wiley’s campaign laid the blame at the mayor’s feet, saying he failed to follow her advice.

“Maya Wiley is smart and capable and often stood her ground when she worked for Mayor de Blasio, but she lacks the hands-on experience that Scott Stringer has had in various roles,” said Karen Hinton, a communications consultant and former press secretary to de Blasio who overlapped with Wiley in City Hall. “Unfortunately, she was the legal mastermind behind the agent-of-the-city fiasco that failed to stop the public release of emails to Mayor de Blasio from non-employees. That said, if elected, she will hit the ground running and learn fast.”

“I don't think the de Blasio connections are all that problematic, frankly,” said Kwatra. “I just don't think voters are going to really attach her [to the mayor] that much, partly because she was there for such a little amount of time. That is not remotely a defining part of her career experience.”

For her part, Wiley has mostly critiqued de Blasio in very clear terms, though selectively. "What's wrong has not been mayoral control, it's been the mayor himself," she said about control of city schools at a candidate forum hosted by the union of principals and school administrators. At her campaign launch, Wiley gave a clear if oblique rebuke to de Blasio, saying New Yorkers would not have to worry about her being off in Iowa if she’s elected to succeed the mayor who quixotically ran for president for five bizarre months in 2019.

More central to her campaign strategy, Wiley is making an overt aggressive effort to court Black women, who vote in greater numbers and form the foundation of the Democratic electorate, as part of an appeal to the same voters who helped elect de Balsio in the last open mayoral race, in 2013. She was also endorsed by 1199 SEIU, the city’s largest union, which represents more than 200,000 health care workers who are mostly women of color. The union played a crucial role in elevating de Blasio in the 2013 primary. 

Wiley is one of many first-time candidates and she does not have a deep record of government service to show New Yorkers. Counsel to the mayor is not the type of public-facing job that lends itself to voter recognition. But that also means she does not have a lengthy public policy or voting record to defend. “For any first-time candidate, you can't point to a record [as an elected]. It's all prospecting, as far as what you plan to deliver,” said Dr. Greer. “So whereas people who have been in office, even though that could be a double-edged sword, they can at least take these various policies that they've helped implement, or loyalty,” based on what the public may be familiar with them for doing.

Candidates like Wiley, Donovan, who served for all eight years of the Obama administration and previously as city housing commissioner under Mayor Michael Bloombeg, and Kathryn Garcia, a former city sanitation commissioner under de Blasio, have all worked in government (Wiley much less so than Donovan and Garcia) and have accomplishments to point to, but not as elected officials, so they are attempting to both introduce themselves to voters and stake claim to what they did in government in someone else’s name.

“And obviously, she's trying to distance herself from her time with de Blasio,” Dr. Greer said of Wiley. “So her time in government is somewhat limited in her political narrative.”

But Wiley does tout her work on broadband, MWBE contracting, and police accountability, while she and her surrogates also paint her lack of elected experience as a strength, not a weakness. Former Bronx Assemblymember and DNC vice chair Michael Blake said Wiley has “room for growth” in pitching herself as a candidate who can lead the city.

“There is the constant validation question that you have to answer where others, because they are in office, are presumed to be better for office. That is a challenge. That is an absolute challenge. No question,” said Blake, who endorsed Wiley at the time of her campaign launch. Stringer and Adams, the Brooklyn Borough President who is Black and counting on wide support among the city’s Black voters, are the only elected officials in Democratic primary field.

But, Blake insisted, “If you are going to be the most well-funded and well-known woman, and particularly a woman of color in the race, I think that's a pretty solid standing point to begin with. And I think while the others have been elected, being elected is not enough.”

Blake said Wiley has the greatest “floor to raise up” with the ability to build a coalition of women and people of color, who will be the most likely engaged voters in the primary. “I do think when you look at what is going on in the city and in the country, there is a desire for new leadership,” he said. “Her strength of her background of what she did on MWBE issues, her work on criminal justice, I just believe it's going to create a greater argument of equity than the others.”

The 1199 endorsement will also carry extra weight this year, Blake said, in the wake of the pandemic. “People are listening to the health-care heroes, they still are. And if someone helped to save your life, if someone helped to provide care for your loved ones, I think that’s gonna be a pretty strong validator when you're talking about who should be your next mayor,” he said.

A prominent two-sided issue in this year’s election is the matter of public safety and policing, including the size of the NYPD’s budget and what responsibilities police officers are tasked with. While the crime rate fell overall last year, murders and shootings skyrocketed amid the COVID-19 outbreak and its many impacts, leading to calls for greater investments in policing. But activists have been pushing to “defund the NYPD” since negotiations over last year’s city budget and for greater accountability for police misconduct.

Having led the CCRB, Wiley expresses strong support for ensuring that abuse of power by officers does not go unpunished, and she has said she would institute a culture change at the NYPD. After the department’s violent crackdown on the Black Lives Matter protests last year, she called on the mayor to fire Police Commissioner Dermot Shea. She’s proposed a plan that would modestly reduce the size of the police and corrections forces and use the funds saved to invest in her “Universal Community Care” and “Care Income” proposals. While her plan could win her votes on the left, it could lose her support from moderates, even in Black communities, for whom public safety is a top priority and there were limited calls for defunding the police last year, as explained by a number of Black City Council members during the budget process, which did strip some funding and responsibilities from the police department, but nowhere near what activists, many of whom are Black, were calling for.

“CCRB I don't think can be ignored,” Blake said of her time leading the agency. “I think if you're talking about how do you build the bridge between the community and officers, how can someone say they have better experience than she does in that area?”

Wiley’s record on the CCRB isn’t as clear cut, however, when it comes to the most high-profile police misconduct case of her tenure. On the campaign trail, she has taken credit for the CCRB investigation that eventually led to the firing of NYPD Officer Daniel Pantaleo, who choked Eric Garner to death on Staten Island in 2014. But the CCRB investigation took three years to complete – its recommendations were made public in September 2017, a week after Wiley’s resignation from the agency – and Pantaleo wasn’t fired until 2019, five years after Garner’s death. Wiley has said that, if she was mayor, she would have fired Pantaleo sooner while also supporting full repeal of a law that shielded officer disciplinary records at the time. It does appear that the CCRB had little choice but to wait for the conclusions of legal proceedings being conducted at the state and federal levels to really move ahead with its Pantaleo investigation.

Wiley has been careful about how she discusses her police reform platform. For instance, while she regularly talks about moving some funding away from the NYPD, including through a small reduction in the uniformed headcount, she has not put a dollar figure on it and she has declined to use the “defund” terminology, and said at a recent mayoral forum that she would have elevated police officers who did their job well during the protests last year.

Wiley’s answers to questions about policing and NYPD funding often show her limited willingness to open up about what she would do as mayor in a detailed way.

City Council Member Helen Rosenthal, an Upper West Side Democrat who has endorsed Wiley, also said the city is ready for new blood. “You know how the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and expecting different results? She’s not that,” she said of Wiley. Citing her own experience of having worked in the mayor’s Office of Management and Budget under Mayor Michael Bloomberg before she became a Council member, Rosenthal said, “I've seen how mayors who are not the everyday typical Mayor can actually make a difference.”

“But I do recognize that you have to break out of the box. We're stuck in a white man’s box that  maybe 50 years ago we wanted to stay in. But the cry of New Yorkers is for meeting the moment,” Rosenthal added. 

Rosenthal’s critique of the current power structure was both personal and societal, as she alluded to the recent sexual harassment allegations against Governor Andrew Cuomo, whom Wiley was assertive in calling to resign.

Closer to home, Mayor de Blasio in recent years has been accused of ignoring sexual harassment in his administration and of being dismissive towards the women he appointed in leading positions. Wiley herself relayed such an anecdote in a recent New York Magazine story, recounting how her attempt to talk about outreach to Black communities for the implementation of universal pre-kindergarten was “steamrolled” in a senior cabinet meeting. After a complaint against her, she was later upbraided by the mayor “for my behavior in senior Cabinet and for being divisive,” she said.

“Look at the daily barrage of how men treat women as their second nature and all the people around them who enable it, wittingly or unwittingly,” Rosenthal said. “As someone who has faced a lifetime of dealing with this, I'm ready for somebody who doesn't think that way is OK and has never been part of that culture.”

She also contrasted Wiley’s leadership style with de Blasio, who was known for micromanaging and undercutting the very experts he appointed to city agencies in favor of following his own, often flawed, instincts. “I always look for people who don't clip the wings of the people around them, but instead let them fly,” Rosenthal said.

Wiley and her campaign have in recent weeks shown sharper elbows toward Yang, the entrepreneur and former presidential candidate who disrupted the mayoral race with his poll-leading entrance at the start of the year. At one of many Zoom forums, Wiley confronted Yang about reports of a misogynistic culture in his presidential campaign, and a campaign spokesperson recently called Yang a “mini-Trump” over a lack of preparation for the job of mayor. Wiley has critiqued Yang for a lack of qualifications and other forms of readiness, and sought to highlight key differences in how they approached what should happen with federal stimulus money headed to the city. While Yang cautioned against using it too quickly or inefficiently, Wiley said it must be used as intended, as stimulus, and to invest in New Yorkers.

Wiley and her campaign clearly know that with just over two months until primary day, June 22, she will have to beat or compete well with Yang among certain demographics, especially white progressives, and that while he is more popular with men than women, she is counting on women to help her win the nomination. Early polls have shown Yang as the clear frontrunner, followed by Adams then Stringer, and Wiley in apparent fourth place, though she has shown up closer to the rest of the pack, and 50% of likely voters were undecided in one recent survey, showing the wide open and fluid nature of the race.

Wiley also finds herself behind Adams, Stringer, Yang, Donovan, and former Wall Street executive Ray McGuire in fundraising, though the imminent public funds payout and mid-April filing will tell at least a somewhat new story. Still, Wiley may have millions of dollars less than several other candidates for the stretch run and need to rely on other strengths to take off, if she’s going to.

“It is clear that Maya is building a diverse coalition from communities from across the 5 boroughs and is gaining momentum every day,” said Julia Savel, a campaign spokesperson, in a recent statement. “Through her history as a champion for all New Yorkers and her time at the ACLU and the NAACP uniquely position her to bring new representation and ideas to City Hall. With endorsements from 1199SEIU, Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez, and a diverse group of state legislators and city councilmembers, it is clear that a citywide movement is happening on Maya's campaign.”

[WATCH: Maya Wiley Discusses Her Run for Mayor]

[LISTEN: Max & Murphy Podcast: Maya Wiley Runs for Mayor]

[READ: Scott Stringer's Strengths and Weaknesses as He Runs for Mayor]

[READ: Eric Adams' Strengths and Weaknesses as He Runs for Mayor]

by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Ben Max contributed to this story.

Meet the Republican Candidates for Mayor of New York City

Fernando Mateo, Curtis Sliwa, Sara Tirschwell

(l-r) GOP mayoral candidates: Curtis Sliwa, Sara Tirschwell, Fernando Mateo

The Republican primary in the 2021 race to become the next Mayor of New York City is not as crowded as the Democratic field, but it is also competitive, with three main candidates running for the nomination and chance to face the winner of the Democratic primary, among others, in the fall general election. Whomever wins the Republican primary -- which is happening in June like the rest of the city's primaries, with early voting June 12-20 and primary day June 22 -- will face an immense uphill battle to win given the city's overwhelming Democratic voter enrollment advantage. But, Fernando Mateo, Curtis Sliwa, and Sara Tirschwell are all in the running to take that long shot, knowing that the city has elected Republican mayors in the not-too-distant past and trying to seize on the failures of Democrat Bill de Blasio.

Here's a brief rundown of each of the three main Republican candidates for mayor, with links to in-depth, 30-minute video interviews Gotham Gazette conducted with each of them:

Sara Tirschwell
Tirschwell is a former Wall Street executive and current Chief Financial Officer of mental health non-profit, Foundation House. The only female Republican candidate for mayor this year, Tirschwell is hoping to become the city’s first woman mayor. She has positioned herself as a financial expert capable of guiding New York City out of its fiscal and economic crises induced by the pandemic.

“We need a problem solver with experience in crisis management and restructuring,” she says on her campaign website. “Beholden to no one but the people of the City of New York -- I have that experience -- and I am an outsider and a change agent who has repeatedly overcome adversity.”

Her campaign message has largely focused on public safety, revitalizing the economy, quality of life issues, and aggressive regulatory reform. Tirschwell has rolled out a plan to address the city’s disparities in educational opportunity.

Tirschwell has lived in New York for 30-plus years; she’s originally from South Texas and speaks openly about having had a particularly adverse upbringing and personal challenges into adulthood. She raised two daughters as a single mother and widow, which she boasts as her greatest accomplishment.

In 2017, Tirschwell sued her former employer, TCW, for firing her nine days after filing a sexual harassment complaint against her boss. It was notably considered the first “Me Too” case on Wall Street, well before the recent #MeToo movement.

Tirschwell led the Republican mayoral field in fundraising as of the mid-March campaign finance filing deadline, an advantage bolstered by a loan she made to the campaign.

Watch Gotham Gazette’s interview with Sara Tirschwell here.

Curtis Sliwa
Sliwa is the controversial founder of The Guardian Angels, a well-known group whose mission is to prevent crime in the city, and a media personality on WABC radio (and formerly on NY1 TV) with a history of misogynistic and racist commentary.

In his bid for the Republican nomination for Mayor, Sliwa has presented himself as a lifelong, no-nonsense New Yorker focused on public safety and economic revitalization, someone who “knows how to do more with less” as he stated in an interview with Gotham Gazette when discussing managing the city out of its budget challenges. Sliwa’s biggest claim to fame and to city civic service is the Guardian Angels street and subway patrol group that he launched and continues to lead.

Key policy proposals of his include property tax reform and regulatory business reform.

If elected mayor, Sliwa says he would reinvigorate the NYPD by reinstituting an anti-crime unit, and implementing special units of mental health experts to respond simultaneously with cops.

Unlike other Republican candidates, Sliwa only recently registered as a Republican, in February 2020, and says he’s been an independent for most of his life. He says did not vote for Donald Trump in the 2016 or 2020 presidential election, and he has been critical of the former president on a number of issues while supporting him on others. Sliwa is been backed by the Brooklyn and Staten Island Republican Parties and appears to be the favored candidate of former mayoral candidate and businessman John Catsimatidis, who has decided not to run for mayor this year after long-considering it and whose financial support could be helpful to Sliwa.

Watch Gotham Gazette’s interview with Curtis Sliwa here.

Fernando Mateo
Mateo is a small business owner and spokesperson who has his own history of controversy related to a business he owned and donations to Democratic Mayor Bill de Blasio’s campaign. He is President of the New York State Federation of Taxi Drivers and a spokesperson for the United Bodegas of America and has a history of civic involvement.

Originally from the Dominican Republic, Mateo has called himself “a blue-collar urban Republican that wants the best for the city of New York.” His campaign message focuses on public safety and economic revitalization through business regulation reform. He rejects calls to ‘defund the police’ and argues an additional 20,000 officers should be hired on top of the roughly 35,000 officers the force is comprised of now.

Mateo is former co-owner of the scandal-ridden Washington Heights restaurant, La Marina. The restaurant filed for bankruptcy in 2019 after a year of health code violations, a drug bust, and the suspension of its liquor license, all of which he has blamed on neighbors and police out to get him.

Mateo says he is a lifelong Republican and he voted for Donald Trump in 2016 and in 2020. In an interview with Gotham Gazette, he stated he supported Trump “until the capitol riots” on January 6. In the past, Mateo has fundraised for George Pataki, Michael Bloomberg, and de Blasio. He has been endorsed by the Republican Party affiliates in Manhattan, The Bronx, and Queens. 

Watch Gotham Gazette’s interview with Fernando Mateo here.

by Emma Seiwell

Democratic Mayoral Candidates Talk Making the City More Business-Friendly

warby parker business nyc

A Warby Parker event (photo: Demetrius Freeman/Mayor's Office)

This past week, advocacy group Tech:NYC and glasses company Warby Parker, among others, co-hosted a forum with seven leading Democratic candidates for mayor, who appeared one at a time to answer questions from Business Insider columnist Josh Barro about the city’s future and their agendas.

The participating candidates, in order of appearance, were entrepreneur Andrew Yang, former sanitation commissioner Kathryn Garcia, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, former federal housing secretary Shaun Donovan, former Wall Street executive Ray McGuire, Comptroller Scott Stringer, and Maya Wiley, a civil rights attorney and former counsel to Mayor de Blasio. The event was co-hosted by AT&T, Bowery Farming, Etsy, Harry’s, Via, WeWork, and Zola, among others.

The questions, somewhat uniform to each candidate, focused on issues relevant to the tech and business communities, such as how to attract business to New York City in the post-COVID-19 economy, the failed Amazon ‘HQ2’ deal, housing development, and expanding broadband access.

Andrew Yang
Barro asked Yang as a businessman how he thought that businesses choose to locate in New York, and how as mayor Yang would make them more interested in the city. Citing his experience in start-ups, Yang argued that the location of companies depends on where their employees would like to be. He said that “if there’s one thing that makes the world goes around for founders, it’s talent.”

To make the city more attractive to employees, Yang honed in rectifying quality-of-life issues such as “getting schools open to garbage pick up to public safety concerns.” He reiterated his oft-cited stance that the city must restore its “value proposition” to business owners and others alike to make some of the challenges of the city, like cost and commutes, worth it.

Barro asked why “garbage is piled high on the sidewalks” and why the city has not moved to containerized pick-up. Yang called out the cuts to the Department of Sanitation budget, saying that “if you’ve noticed more trash on the street, that’s why,” and saying that is something he would restore funding to.

Barro moved on to ‘HQ2,’ which was slated for Queens before activists and elected officials who opposed the Amazon deal pushed the company to back out, and the role of subsidies in attracting major technology companies to New York City. Saying that “Manhattan has a natural draw,” Yang acknowledged the role of subsidies in attracting companies to the other boroughs.

Yang said that he supported ‘HQ2’ for Queens, and falsely said, “I’m one of the only mayoral candidates who’s said on the record that losing Amazon was a mistake for the city.” Barro pressed Yang on whether the “billions in subsidies” that Amazon would have received would have been worth it. Yang said it wasn’t great policy. “You can’t just let them walk away,” Yang said, citing the many thousands of jobs the campus was slated to create and support of the service industry it would have provided.

Barro then asked if changes to corporate structures that allow for remote work, accelerated by the demands of the COVID-19 pandemic, affected the city’s ability to attract tech companies. “New York City is fundamentally a place-based economy,” Yang said, and “the New York City advantage will still be there.” Barro pressed Yang further on the difference of attracting workers versus attracting firms, asking Yang how his strategy to attract companies would change. Yang admitted that the city will have to “compete and make its case” in a way it did not have to in the past, adding that he is exploring “incentives” for workers to commute to the city five times a week, mentioning gift cards to New York City bars and restaurants as a possibility, and making investments to increase tourism.

Barro asked Yang about reducing the sky-high costs of the city’s capital projects. Yang said he would have the city “be more disciplined” about having contractors focus on the quality of their work rather than sub-contracting. He also mentioned he would streamline bureaucracy, saying that it was not user-friendly for small businesses.

Asked how many housing units the city should build over the next ten years, Yang did not present a specific figure, saying only that it would be in “the tens of thousands” for his first term and that he would want to increase the rate of housing development in the city. Seemingly underprepared to discuss housing development goals, Yang pivoted to his pledge to reduce street homelessness “by 50%” over his first term, and said he would want to convert some vacant hotels into affordable and supportive housing.

Barro concluded by asking Yang if he had connected with any of the other mayoral candidates, to which Yang responded that he was “a huge Kathryn Garcia fan” and that she was someone he “admired a great deal.”

Kathryn Garcia
Asked why she is the best candidate for mayor, Garcia told Barro that “understanding how the city works is absolutely critical, because then you can actually fix things” and “know where the pain points are.” She said her managerial experience in various roles in city government made her the strongest potential next leader for New York City.

Barro asked Garcia about the city’s garbage situation, asking if it was possible to “get it off the sidewalks and into closed containers,” to which Garcia said it was fully possible, and that part of that effort would require the city “rethink the public realm” about how street space is used. She mentioned that as sanitation commissioner she had launched a pilot program for commercial corridors that is being implemented.

Asked how she thought public spaces were being underutilized, Garcia advocated that “you need people walking the streets of New York, spending money” and that public space management efforts should look at “Open Restaurants, Open Culture, but also thinking about greening the city,” with references to two recent pandemic-era public space programs launched by the city.

On attracting companies to the city, Garcia said she would focus on a “liveable city,” as companies “locate where they have really strong labor forces.”

“We have to do way better” building housing, Garcia said, adding that her efforts would target “unlocking the private sector by getting rid of the bureaucracy” and building between 20,000 and 30,000 units a year. Citing that “time is money in construction” and that “we don't actually do good planning,” Garcia said she would increase community input and reduce bureaucracy. Barro challenged her on this point, asking how she would resolve situations where increased considerations would conflict with expeditiousness, citing her support while working under de Blasio for special construction permits for hotels. Garcia sidestepped the first part of the question, only defending her support of special permits for hotels.

On expanding broadband access, Garcia said she would target lowering costs, facilitating rule changes to make the expansion of broadband easier in communities, and having the city connect residents to broadband themselves if companies did not create broadband access where the city would like.

Eric Adams
Adams said that he is the best candidate for mayor because of his life experiences from growing up in poverty, experiencing police brutality, becoming a police officer himself, and his diabetes diagnosis that he went on to beat through a healthy lifestyle. As “someone who has gone through a lot,” Adams said he was in the best position to help other people “going through a lot.”

On how companies should be “respectful” in the city and be good neighbors, something Barro brought up as Adams has discussed it in the past, Adams said he would challenge corporations to think on the question “how do I involve myself in the communities put in place long before me?” such as working with the Department of Education to teach children life skills. On how he would actually accomplish these partnerships, Adams pointed towards working with specific organizations and not “demonizing companies” and creating “this synergy that we are in this together.”

Examining his stated plan to name an “efficiency czar” to make city government work better, Barro asked how Adams’ approach to reducing waste differed from past tactics under Bloomberg and de Blasio. Adams argued that “the city is dysfunctional” because “agencies are not aligned” and pointed to his record in the NYPD using data and technology as part of the department’s modern evolution. When pressed by Barro on how agencies would operate differently, Adams cited his mother saying “What gets measured, gets done. If you don’t inspect what you expect, it’s all suspect,” and said he would want real-time data for examining basic city services.

Barro gave Adams the same question he gave to Yang on whether the city should push for tech companies to locate in boroughs other than Manhattan and whether Adams would support subsidies to make that happen. Adams denied that the city needed a subsidy program, and turned to discussing quality-of-life issues. To “build the proper environment” for companies to locate all over the city, he would focus on providing services such as access to transportation, public safety, and high-speed internet, he said.

Barro brought up the defeated Industry City rezoning in Brooklyn, an expansion and development proposal promising thousands of jobs and more economic activity along the Brooklyn waterfront that was ultimately defeated by local activists and City Council Member Carlos Menchaca. “It’s really unfortunate that we could not seal the deal in Industry City,” Adams said, adding that on development projects in general he would want to focus on being inclusive but also on “how can we get to a yes.” On whether or not local Council members have too much power to kill projects in their districts, Adams argued that for projects that affect the entire city, one member of the City Council should not have the power to shut them down, an informal practice known as “member deference” where the full Council defers to the local member whose district the proposal is slated for.

On housing, Adams told Barro that asking how many units of housing to add was “the wrong question” and that the city should audit its current housing to see where there are vacancies or lack of use and go from there. Barro pushed back, saying that even with auditing vacant housing more housing must be developed because of the city’s growing population, on which Adams deflected and instead pressed his desire to identify unused housing.

Shaun Donovan
Barro opened his conversation with Donovan, the former head of housing in the city and nationally under Mayor Bloomberg and President Obama, on housing. Donovan said the city should add 50,000 units per year, a very large goal, and touted his “15-minute neighborhoods” plan to ensure every New Yorkers lives in a great neighborhood with access to everything they need.

On rezonings, Donovan said he was open to upzonings for more housing, such as what the de Blasio administration is currently attempting in SoHo. He added that there should be a “citywide land use budget” to “make sure every community is doing its fair share,” through looking at ways to add density and using citywide inclusionary zoning.

After Barro asked what he would do differently to add housing from his time under Bloomberg, Donovan said the scope of the city’s housing problem is wide enough that “changing the trajectory” for the city takes years. He also said he was proud of the Bloomberg legacy on upzoning wealthier communities.

On lowering the cost of construction, Donovan discussed “building differently” such as using new technologies and having an administration “that brings innovation to every phase of what government does.”

On attracting increasingly mobile workers and firms to New York City, Donovan called himself “an urban optimist” and that the question was about whether or not specifically New York City could manage the challenge. New York City can become the “tech center” of the world, he said, and he would make it happen through his specific plans and by focusing on quality-of-life issues.

Ray McGuire
McGuire argued that he was the best candidate for mayor because of his private sector experience, where he was one of the top executives at Citi and on Wall Street more generally, saying that “this is not the time where someone gets to the mayoral spot to learn how to manage or lead.”

On attracting businesses, McGuire said that the city should “incentivize businesses to do more business here, not less” and that he would work on uniting business interests with the rest of the city, rather than pursuing divisive measures such as increasing taxes.

To move “job centers out to the outer boroughs,” McGuire supported using subsidies, which he referred to as incentives. McGuire said the collapse of the Amazon ‘HQ2’ deal was a mistake and that the project would have been a big net positive for the city, even with the subsidies.

On expanding broadband access, McGuire said it’s essential for education, and pointed to his economic comeback plan, which would include efforts to create universal broadband access.

To improve the efficiency of the city’s capital projects and “to bring costs under control,” McGuire said he would “bring all constituents to the table.” He said that he “wasn’t in anyone’s pocket” and that his “sole focus” is on what is best for the city, that he’s not “focused on sub-agendas.” He referenced de Blasio’s tagline of the “Tale of Two Cities,” saying that now New York City was a “fractured city.”

Calling his answer “nonspecific,” Barro pushed McGuire to elaborate on what made his leadership skills unique. McGuire said that, having led a global business, he was the only candidate with the skills to unite the diverse constituencies of New York City and focus on “shared prosperity.”

On housing, McGuire said he would like to increase the city’s housing units by 10%, or 350,000 units. Barro asked McGuire for a timeline on such development, which McGuire side-stepped, pointing to lowering construction costs and the economic benefits new construction would bring.

Scott Stringer
Stringer said he should be the next mayor in part because he is a “real seasoned government leader, who has vision and experience.”

Barro asked Stringer how he would seek to regain jobs lost in the COVID-19 pandemic, confronted with “an economy that may be permanently different in certain ways,” citing business travel as something that may permanently decrease.

Stringer replied that he would focus on small businesses, including by directing $1 billion from the city’s federal stimulus money to them. He would provide tax incentives for new businesses to locate in the city in "vacant corridors” and would make sure small businesses are not “fined and fee-ed into oblivion.” He said small business owners would not need to hire an expediter to get projects approved in the city and he would create a tech platform for small businesses to use to efficiently navigate city processes.

Asked what he would do differently from Bloomberg and de Blasio on the issues of inefficiency in small business processes, Stringer lambasted de Blasio by saying “what he didn’t do was govern.” Saying “you gotta manage this town,” Stringer said that he would focus on actually accomplishing goals that the city sets for itself.

On attracting tech companies to boroughs other than Manhattan and the role of subsidies in those conversations, Stringer said “it’s exciting that we’re spreading our economy out,” that “if we build it, they will come,” that he would focus on quality-of-life issues such as transportation, and that attracting businesses relies on the “value proposition” of what the city can offer businesses.

On how many housing units he would seek to create as mayor, Stringer said “as many as possible,” but he said key to his vision is creating enough “low-income housing” to actually meet the need in the city. Looking at the legacies of Bloomberg and de Blasio, he said, “We’ve had mayors talking about these big numbers, but they have not helped people get housing.” His efforts would focus on housing that targets those close to homelessness and would focus on true affordability. He would create 10,000 units of low-income housing and “catalogue” the vacant parcels the city owns for potential developments.

Maya Wiley
Saying that the COVID-19 pandemic “pulled the curtain back” on the issues the city faced, Wiley said that the challenge for the next mayor would be to “create a more unified city.” Doing this requires “very different leadership” to pursue “transformative policy,” Wiley said, adding, “I’m not a politician, and I think that’s the point.”

On expanding broadband, Wiley pointed to her work on universal broadband when working for de Blasio at City Hall by soliciting input from outside groups such as Girls Who Code, and by unifying the efforts of different agencies to work on the project. When Barro pushed Wiley for concrete steps for accomplishing universal broadband, she said she would focus government efforts on the “last mile problem in highly, highly, underserved areas” by “asset-mapping” current city resources that could be used to provide universal broadband. She would also pursue public-private partnerships, and look at technological innovations, she said.

On small businesses, Barro asked about why Wiley’s platform would have the city increase the number of restaurant health inspections, but to have those inspections announced in advance. Wiley said sometimes the city’s efforts to protect health can backfire by “jeopardizing the business rather than serving the public,” and that her plan would maintain restaurants’ compliance with health code violations while

Adding to her response, Wiley said she would streamline small businesses’ interactions with the city and grow their relationship with the city. She would want the city to be more proactive in their assistance to small businesses, so that they work together to solve problems rather than having the city shutting down actions after the fact. As an example, she mentioned having the city release blueprints for COVID-19-safe outdoor dining vestibules, rather than punishing restaurants for non-compliant vestibules after those businesses spent thousands of dollars “that they don’t have” on them. This would be “business-friendly, without sacrificing the issues we have to protect for the public,” she said.

Barro asked Wiley if there were other “big pilots” such as Open Streets she would want to pursue as mayor. “City government is a city unto itself,” she replied, and said that it is important to “recognize where government needs to partner with itself” better. To that end, she mentioned her plan to create an Office of Public Space Management, which would unite different agencies to create a centralized approach.

by Grace Getman for Gotham Gazette

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