For several months, as the pandemic has worsened New York City’s financial outlook, business leaders have cast around for one of their own to run for mayor next year.
They offered their support and floated the possibility of tens of millions of dollars in campaign donations for the right candidate, someone more favorable to the business community than the current mayor, Bill de Blasio, and with the financial background to keep the city solvent.
That candidate has apparently emerged.
Raymond J. McGuire, one of the highest-ranking and longest-serving Black executives on Wall Street, announced on Thursday morning that he is leaving his post at Citigroup to prepare for a run for the Democratic nomination for mayor, just eight months before the primary.
Mr. McGuire, 63, a vice chairman at Citigroup, had been mulling a potential run for months. Although he is well known in the financial world — he was one of three finalists in 2018 to become president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York — he is far less known to voters, who must be persuaded to back a first-time candidate over more established rivals.
He will also have to raise funds in a compressed amount of time; Mr. McGuire said that he would not participate in the city’s matching campaign finance system, allowing him to accept larger donations.
With New York City battling simultaneous crises that cut deep into the heart of its character and intensity, Mr. McGuire believes he is better suited than his rivals to guide a recovery.
The city faces the loss of at least $9 billion in tax revenue over the next two fiscal years, which could cause the layoffs of tens of thousands of city workers. The city is also dealing with a national reckoning over discriminatory policing, while shootings and homicides have risen in recent months.
“New York gave me the opportunity to be enormously successful,” Mr. McGuire said in an interview. “Now New York is in a financial crisis that has exploded into a whole bunch of crises — educational, health and criminal justice. If there is a moment in history where my skill set can help lead, this is it.”
After Mr. McGuire informed his colleagues and clients of his decision on Thursday morning, his campaign launched a website and sent an introductory email that focused on what Mr. McGuire saw as the city’s most pressing challenge.
“I’ll start with this: No jobs, no city. It’s that simple,” he wrote.
For the last 18 months, Mr. McGuire said, his peers in the business world have tried to persuade him to run. William M. Lewis Jr., co-chairman of investment banking at Lazard, said Mr. McGuire had “a unique understanding of why Black lives matter,” but also of the financial crisis the city faces.
“We need someone who is going to walk into the room and say, ‘Let me see the spread sheets, and let’s deal with the crisis at hand,’” said Mr. Lewis, who has known Mr. McGuire since their days as undergraduates at Harvard. “We need somebody who is going to be able to get their hands around this budget, talk to Washington and help get us more money. We need somebody who’s going to say everyone needs to pay their fair share.”
Mr. McGuire joins a growing field of declared and likely candidates, including the Brooklyn borough president, Eric Adams; Scott M. Stringer, the city comptroller; Dianne Morales, a former nonprofit executive; a former federal housing secretary, Shaun Donovan; Maya Wiley, a civil rights lawyer and former counsel for Mr. de Blasio; Kathryn Garcia, the former sanitation commissioner; a Brooklyn councilman, Carlos Menchaca; and Loree Sutton, the former veteran affairs commissioner.
City laws prevent Mr. de Blasio from running for a third consecutive term.
Many successful business leaders, like Ronald Lauder and John A. Catsimatidis, have in the past tried and failed to win the mayoralty. But the notion that a sudden shift or a calamity could alter the trajectory of New York City’s elections is hardly implausible.
The fiscal crisis of the 1970s helped push Edward I. Koch into office in 1977; he was then unseated in 1989 by David N. Dinkins, whose campaign to become the city’s first Black mayor took flight after the racially motivated murder of Yusuf Hawkins in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn.
In 2001, Michael R. Bloomberg, a billionaire businessman then running as a Republican, captured the general election, an upset that was widely attributed to the Sept. 11 attack on the World Trade Center and its devastating aftereffects on the city’s economy and psyche.
Mr. McGuire resisted comparisons to Mr. Bloomberg. Raised by his mother, a social worker who was a single parent, and his grandparents in Dayton, Ohio, Mr. McGuire says he has never met his father. Scholarships helped him attend the Hotchkiss School in Connecticut, and Mr. McGuire went on to attain degrees from Harvard College, Harvard Law School and Harvard Business School.
“I doubt we’ve arrived at the point where we would hear anyone who followed in my footsteps being called the white Ray McGuire,” he said. “Judge me on my merits.”
Mr. McGuire lives on Central Park West with his wife, Crystal McCrary McGuire, a lawyer and filmmaker, and their 7-year-old son, Leo. The couple also have two children from Ms. McGuire’s previous marriage to the former New York Knicks player Greg Anthony: an 18-year-old daughter, Ella; and a son, Cole, 20, who is a potential first-round pick in the coming National Basketball Association draft.
The apartment is filled with works from African-American artists like Romare Bearden and Charles Alston (Mr. McGuire serves on the boards of the Whitney and the Studio Museum in Harlem). He and his wife also own a home in Bridgehampton, N.Y.
He is known to quote Notorious B.I.G. lyrics (“If you don’t know, now you know” is one of his favorites) and the character of Omar Little from “The Wire” and is fond of saying he is comfortable anywhere from the “streets to the suites.” During a recent visit to the Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network in Harlem, Mr. McGuire spoke about the history of the civil rights movement with the cadence of a Black minister.
In spite of his Wall Street pedigree, Mr. McGuire says that when he is coming home from the gym in workout gear, he is viewed as just another 6-foot-4 Black man.
“I could easily be the next George Floyd,” said Mr. McGuire, who has referred to Mr. Floyd’s death at the hands of police officers in Minneapolis as “coldblooded murder.”
The disparate impact of the coronavirus pandemic on Black and Latino people is merely the most recent example of “systemic, institutional racism,” said Mr. McGuire, who wrote the introduction to a recent report from Citi that concluded that $16 trillion could have been added to the United States’ economy if four key racial gaps facing Black Americans had been closed.
While Mr. McGuire has spoken out against discriminatory policing, he is not calling for police departments to be defunded. Last year, along with other Black leaders, Mr. McGuire signed a letter to The New York Times denouncing episodes in which police officers were doused with water in Harlem.
Christina Greer, an associate professor of political science at Fordham University, said the comparisons to Mr. Bloomberg were inevitable.
“There is already a 12-year record of what happens when a rich person becomes mayor,” Professor Greer said. “With the issues the city needs to handle, voters may want the next mayor to be someone who fundamentally understands city government.”
But Kirsten John Foy, a civil rights leader who has not endorsed a mayoral candidate, said he met with Mr. McGuire at the basketball court of Marcy Houses in Brooklyn to hear his vision for the city.
“He’s an intellectually curious and highly successful Black man that wants to serve,” Mr. Foy said. “That narrative is appealing to people of all ages and all colors.”
Susan Beachy contributed research.