For former presidential candidate Andrew Yang, who entered the New York City mayor’s race as a frontrunner in January, this week brought into sharp relief some yawning gaps between what he knows and what he doesn’t about the basic functioning of New York City.
On Thursday, flanked by former NYPD officer Edwin Raymond, who’s running for City Council, Yang was asked by NY Post reporter Julia Marsh if he supported the repeal of 50-a, the long-standing law that shielded police discipline records from public view. State legislatures repealed the law last year, amid massive public demonstrations following the murder of George Floyd.
“The repeal of 50-a,” Yang repeated, blankly. “Do you know what 50-a is?” Marsh prodded. “This is not the, it’s not the mandatory interview of the…” Raymond tried to push Yang towards the right subject area, muttering under his breath, “the records, the disciplinary records.” At which point Yang finally arrived — “Um, I think we should get more transparency in terms of police officers and their records.”
Earlier on Thursday, at a taped forum on the future of homelessness sponsored by WIN, the largest provider of shelter and supportive housing for homeless families in the city, Yang said it would be “extraordinarily helpful” for the city to have shelters specifically for victims of domestic violence. The event was moderated by Spectrum NY1 reporter Courtney Gross who noted, “There are already a number of domestic violence shelters... They do already exist.”
Yang walked back his statements, his eyes darting to the right of his zoom screen, insisting he’d meant that there wasn’t enough capacity at such facilities.
“There are. Oh no, I, of course they do exist, so that’s one aspect of something we should be increasing capacity of,” he said, pivoting to talk about the need for more beds in psychiatric facilities. “There are a lot of things we should be increasing capacity of.”
As of last year, the city had 2,500 emergency beds for survivors of domestic violence and about 800 families are housed in the system on any given day, according to city figures.
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Yang sat down with Gothamist / WNYC shortly after that press conference in Brooklyn Thursday and said running for mayor “has been a blast” and he’s learned so much about New York City in the process. He said his campaign has put out over 80 pages of policy that present a clear vision for the city but, he stressed, he doesn’t think people in government have all the answers.
“My goal as mayor will be to take the work that oftentimes others are doing and then augment it and amplify it. I'm not someone who thinks the government is going to have all of the answers or even most of the answers,” Yang explained. “I feel like oftentimes, especially in a place like New York, they'll be some nonprofit organization or activist group that is tackling it and has been working on it for years that you can build on and learn from.”
Asked specifically whether he had reviewed existing city and state policies, like 50-a, he said, “You want to know what's in place, you want to know what's working and what's not,” he said. “Police officers have told me that they have adapted, but it is something worth revisiting if officers feel like it would enable them to do their jobs safely and responsibly.”
A day earlier, Yang had offered a 26-word proposition for a city takeover of the MTA outside the agency’s headquarters in Lower Manhattan. City Council Speaker Corey Johnson published a 104-page proposal on the subject more than a year ago.
When asked what would happen to the MTA’s operating budget and expected deficit, he punted to James Rubin, a former state operations director for Governor Andrew Cuomo, who dismissed the question. “Five people in this world who understand the spaghetti structure that the MTA’s debt exists,” Rubin said.
Later in the presser, Yang appeared not to know that the city’s Department of Transportation already controls many bridges within the five boroughs, while the Port Authority and the MTA operate others.
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Jake Sporn, a consultant for Tusk Strategies and spokesperson for Yang, said the candidate was in constant communication with policy experts, academics, advocates.
“New Yorkers aren’t going to be distracted from the fact that [Yang is] as pragmatic, progressive, and thoughtful on these issues as anyone who’s ever competed for this job—whether he recites statutory code numbers.”
Mayoral opponents who’ve been consistently trailing behind Yang in citywide polls seized on the latest fumbles as more evidence Yang was ill-equipped to lead a city of more than 8 million people.
“Andrew Yang’s ignorance of critical issues facing our city isn’t just insulting -- it’s dangerous,” New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer said. “The scale of what Andrew Yang does not know about city government is matched only by the vast emptiness of his ideas.”
At a press conference on Friday afternoon Maya Wiley said if she was elected, there would be, "no police officer whispering in my ear telling me how to answer questions," referring Edwin Raymond coaching Yang.
"Now, can you imagine a woman running to be the mayor of the largest city in the nation not actually knowing how the police department works?" Wiley asked. "Let's be honest, I don’t think that would fly, and frankly, I don't think it should."