Andrew Yang’s campaign for Mayor of New York City is one viral flub after another. On her eponymous Showtime show, Ziwe asked Yang what was his favorite subway station in New York City. Yang replied: Times Square. “What’s not to like?” Yang asked, either blissfully unaware of how bad the answer was or absolutely certain it would go viral. Naturally, it did. New Yorkers on Twitter dragged Yang instantly for his seemingly phony answer. During the same interview, Yang also said he listens to a lot of hip-hop and referenced Jay Z as one of his favorite artists. When Ziwe asked him what his favorite Jay Z song was, Yang stared blankly back while searching for an answer. “Huh,” he wondered. “What is my favorite Jay Z song?”
i asked new york mayoral candidate andrew yang what his favorite jay z song is pic.twitter.com/UV8tQJXta1
— ziwe (@ziwe) May 22, 2021
Awkward cringe is the name of Yang’s game. He’s a vapid shell of a politician, the kind who cares more about any kind of attention than seeming inauthentic. In fact, inauthenticity might even be part of his shtick. The New York Times describes his run as a “post-embarrassment media campaign,” with James Poniewozik writing that Yang is “testing the theory that there’s no such thing as bad publicity.” His greatest hits tour is seemingly endless, from bizarrely tweeting about a dog he gave up on National Pet Day to backtracking his initial full-throated support for Israel after tremendous public backlash. His flubs range from benign social media bullshit to offensive or “shameful” politics. “But after every incident, he got more famous,” Poniewozik writes. “Fame got him to the front of the pack and … fame has kept him there.”
For all Yang’s basketball embarrassments and dumb tweets, though, the bad stuff is beginning to pile up too. Back in April, David Moore of Sludge reported Tusk Strategies is running Yang’s campaign. Tusk Strategies’ corporate clients “have included AT&T, Uber, private equity giant Blackstone, Walmart, and business group the Times Square Alliance.” That doesn’t exactly quell criticisms that Yang is an empty vessel for big tech. His universal basic income plan for New Yorkers would pay out far less than the city’s residents receive in benefits from housing or child care programs that Yang would prefer to cut. Critics called his presidential UBI plan a Trojan horse for major budget cuts that could exacerbate inequality. Turns out this one could, too.
Police defunding isn’t happening with Yang, either. From the same Sludge story, Yang says he wants to increase NYPD’s presence in the subway system and would be willing to reallocate funds to make it happen. That flows back to his campaign, too—his campaign manager Chris Coffey represented the New York City Police Benevolent Association, the largest police municipal police union in the world.
Perhaps the cherry on top, though, is Sludge’s most recent report that found Republican megadonors are essentially funding Yang’s campaign. The finance billionaires supplying Yang’s PAC have “donated millions to national GOP groups.” That’s questionable for a Democrat, but it tracks when you think about who Yang is, or at the very least, the kind of person he’s projecting himself as. He loves big tech. He doesn’t seem to give a shit about New York City, know anything about living here, or understand what the city’s average residents want. And he’s presenting himself, knowingly or not, as a vapid, attention-seeking celebrity with virtually no governing skills.
Yang ran a revolutionary campaign for president in that he courted voters of all stripes. It was a lesson Democrats will hopefully apply going forward. But the difference between that Yang and this one is he hadn’t yet revealed there was nothing behind the curtain. The only thing he really stands for is himself. Many politicians have used New York as a platform to launch themselves to national prominence. Yang is taking the backward approach, treating the most prominent city in the world as a soft landing and cynically hoping his celebrity and silly viral clips win the day.
The New York mayoralty isn’t Yang’s lifelong dream or some exciting duty he desperately wants. It’s a stepping stone, a lateral move to keep his political profile high before he’s ready for another run at the White House or something else that piques his interest. It’s all about the next move, the next dumb play that’ll keep people talking about him so he doesn’t have to reveal anything about who he is or what he truly believes. That’s what politics has become in many ways, and in that sense, Yang is the perfect candidate. But New Yorkers can do better.