5 NYC Mayor’s Race Takeaways: Yang Drives the Bus, Republicans Joust – The New York Times

Yang Drives the Bus, Republicans Joust: 5 Takeaways From N.Y.C. Mayor’s Race

The Democratic candidates vowed to stop Zooming and get out more, and a rap video earned mixed reviews.

Credit…Andy Kiss/Getty Images

With less than three months before Primary Day in New York City, most of the Democratic candidates for mayor appear to be quickly tiring of two things: mayoral forums on Zoom, and Andrew Yang’s presumptive role as front-runner.

Rival campaigns launched their most vigorous attacks yet against Mr. Yang, the former 2020 presidential candidate, as they scrambled to define him and draw attention to policy differences.

Mr. Yang was even called a “mini-Trump” by an aide to Maya Wiley, the mayoral candidate and former MSNBC analyst, over his comments about the city budget.

Yet Mr. Yang continued to set the agenda, visiting Yankee Stadium on Opening Day, releasing a campaign rap video — he did not rap — and finally drawing some get-well sentiments from his rivals after he was sidelined by a kidney stone.

The Democratic candidates also released a flurry of proposals to combat inequality and reopen arts venues, and two Republican front-runners traded insults at a debate.

Here is what you need to know about the race:

Most discussions about public transit in New York City center on the subway. That changed last week — with Mr. Yang, as usual, driving the bus.

He did so by saying that he was “open to re-examining” a new busway on Main Street in Flushing, Queens. The remark upset transit advocates, who have called for more bus priority corridors across the city, especially after the 14th Street Busway, which debuted in Manhattan in 2019, was widely celebrated.

Mr. Yang said he generally supports busways, but he had “heard numerous community complaints” about the one in Flushing. His campaign said he did not want to get rid of it if elected but might want to consider tweaks to the layout that critics fear would give more access to cars.

Scott M. Stringer, the city comptroller, quickly staged an event to ride the bus down 14th Street to criticize Mr. Yang and to highlight his own plans to improve New York City’s buses, which are the slowest of any major city in the world.

“New York City needs a mayor who’s going to stand up for what’s right, and Andrew Yang is showing that he’ll put pandering over good policy,” said Mr. Stringer, who has pledged to be the “bus mayor.”

Mr. Yang’s aides returned fire, posting a photo of Mr. Yang riding the bus and asking: “Which of these candidates actually takes the bus?” (A few hours later, Mr. Stringer posted a photo of himself riding a bus.)

The seemingly endless parade of online mayoral forums may actually be nearing an end.

As more New Yorkers get vaccinated and the weather warms, it is increasingly clear that the final phase of the campaign will be waged in person, rather than from behind a screen. A number of the candidates, especially Mr. Yang and Eric Adams, the Brooklyn borough president, have maintained intense in-person schedules for some time.

Others are plainly now seeking to catch up.

Candidates including Shaun Donovan, a former federal housing secretary; Kathryn Garcia, the former sanitation commissioner; and Raymond J. McGuire, a former Wall Street executive, spread out across the city for outdoor walking tours, policy rollouts and meet-and-greets.

On Saturday, Ms. Wiley and Mr. Yang traversed the same stretch of Prospect Heights in Brooklyn, greeting voters who were picnicking and drinking outdoors on a sunny afternoon as the popular Open Streets program reopened on Vanderbilt Avenue. On Sunday, Mr. Stringer rolled out “Bangladeshis for Stringer” at Diversity Plaza in Queens.

Conversations with nearly 20 voters across that Prospect Heights scene on Saturday underscored the opportunities and the challenges facing the candidates as they get out more: Many New Yorkers are undecided and are just beginning to tune in to the race, making the in-person appearances and efforts to stand out all the more important in the sprint to June.

Dianne Morales, a former nonprofit executive, went a step further than other candidates, declaring that she was done with online forums.

“This race will not be won on Zoom,” she wrote on Medium. “We will meet New Yorkers ‘where they are at,’ prioritizing community-centered, on-the-ground organizing strategies to connect with those who have been underserved by this city.”

Credit…Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images

They describe themselves as law-and-order politicians, but two Republican candidates for mayor on Wednesday engaged in an often disorderly debate rife with personal insults and pointed barbs.

“I have enough dirt to cover your body 18 feet over,” Fernando Mateo, a restaurateur, told Curtis Sliwa, the founder of the Guardian Angels, insinuating that he held damaging information about his rival.

Mr. Sliwa, who was wearing his trademark red beret, told Mr. Mateo to “calm down,” only to launch several attacks on Mr. Mateo during the course of the debate.

The event was hosted by WABC, the conservative radio station owned by John Catsimatidis, who funds the Manhattan Republican Party chaired by his daughter. The Manhattan party has endorsed Mr. Mateo for mayor. So have the Queens and Bronx parties. Mr. Sliwa has won the backing of the Staten Island and Brooklyn parties.

Though Mr. Mateo said he had once been “very good friends” with Mr. Sliwa, even carpeting Mr. Sliwa’s old apartment on the Lower East Side, they spent much of the debate attacking each other. Time and again, Mr. Sliwa called Mr. Mateo a “de Blasio Republican” for raising money for the mayor. Mr. Mateo said Mr. Sliwa, whose messy divorce involved issues surrounding child support, had stolen money from his own son.

The debate did include some discussion of policy.

Both candidates said they would pour money into the New York Police Department and revive a police force they said Mayor Bill de Blasio had weakened. Both said Staten Island, the city’s most Republican borough, deserves more mayoral attention.

But they did differ on several issues, including former President Donald J. Trump: Mr. Sliwa did not vote for him in 2020; Mr. Mateo did.

They also differed on the recent legalization of recreational marijuana. Mr. Sliwa attested to the role that medical marijuana had played in easing his discomfort from chronic Crohn’s disease, and said legalizing the drug was inevitable. But he also argued that the new legislation overtaxed the product and would lead to a flourishing illegal market for more affordable marijuana.

Mr. Mateo said he believed in decriminalizing the drug but not legalizing it.

“I don’t believe in it,” Mr. Mateo said. “I don’t like the smell of it. I just don’t like it. Have I tried it? Yes, I have. When I was a kid. And it got me very sick.”

Mr. McGuire won notice when his campaign launch video featured Spike Lee narrating over Wynton Marsalis’s jazz compositions. Andrew Yang took a decidedly different tack.

Mr. Yang’s campaign released a rap song and video called “Yang for New York,” and the response was varied. Ebro Darden of Hot 97 gave the song four fire emojis, while Wilfred Chan, a journalist, called it the latest in a line of “cheesy social-media content” that had helped Mr. Yang’s campaign gain “massive reach.”

But for MC Jin, the rapper featured in the video, it was an honest expression of his support for Mr. Yang’s candidacy for mayor.

“The only way to bring New York back is to move it forward,” said MC Jin, whose given name is Jin Au-Yeung. “That hit me hard the first time I heard him say that.”

MC Jin said Mr. Yang reached out and asked him to produce a theme song. Mr. Yang first sent the video to his volunteers as an anthem for them and his campaign.

“Asians are seeing themselves in the news for the most painful of reasons. But with MC Jin, you have an iconic Asian-American hip-hop artist showing optimism, vibrancy and a path to the future,” Mr. Yang wrote.

This isn’t MC Jin’s first rap about Mr. Yang; he also created music during Mr. Yang’s bid for the Democratic nomination for president.

“Everyone’s just looking at what’s going to happen as these months go by,” MC Jin said. “How’s New York really going to bounce back. I know Andrew is putting emphasis on that matter.”

The candidates are all releasing various plans for the city, trying to show they have serious ideas for its recovery from the pandemic.

Mr. Adams released a 25-point plan to fight inequality last week, including a proposal to provide all first-time mothers with a doula, a trained professional who supports a mother before, during and after childbirth. He believes they are critical to address the high maternal mortality rates among Black women.

“While early childhood education is critical to development, we don’t pay enough attention to prenatal care,” his plan said.

Mr. Adams also called for requiring the New York City Housing Authority to sell air rights over its properties to raise $8 billion for repairs, expanding services for children with disabilities to reach more Black and Latino families and creating an online portal called MyCity to make it easier to apply for public benefits like food stamps in one place.

Mr. Donovan, who is trailing in polls, released a plan to reopen arts venues. In fact, Mr. Donovan has so many plans that he put them in a 200-page book — one that he promoted on Twitter in a video showing him excitedly admiring it.

Four days later, the post still had only received nine likes, including from campaign staffers. Mr. Yang’s post about his rap video got about 11,000 likes.