When Ray McGuire resigned as vice chairman at Citigroup Inc. last fall, he left as the first Black man to hold the post in the company’s history and as one of the most successful deal makers in the banking industry.
But after four decades on Wall Street, Mr. McGuire, 64 years old, decided to pursue a career in politics after seeing what he felt was New York City unraveling during 2020.
The Covid-19 pandemic had ravaged the city’s hospital system, and communities of color were the hardest hit by the virus. Meanwhile, the May 25, 2020, killing of George Floyd, a Black man, by a Minneapolis police officer had spurred large-scale protests in New York City and around the country.
Mr. McGuire said he was frustrated that local elected officials weren’t doing enough. With the support of the business community, he officially joined the crowded field of Democratic contenders in the mayoral race in December, embracing the role of outsider and vowing to end the status quo in the city.
“I’m not a politician. We need change,” he said in an interview.
Mr. McGuire has been one of the top fundraisers in the primary, which will be the first time ranked-choice voting is used in a citywide contest. He has raked in more than $9 million in donations without taking part in the city’s publicly funded matching program.
At the same time, he has struggled to build support. A poll released Monday showed 4% of voters have Mr. McGuire as their first choice. Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams leads the race with 24% of the first-choice votes, according to the poll.
Much of Mr. McGuire’s campaign contributions have come from some of the wealthiest New Yorkers in his home borough of Manhattan, where he lives with his wife, Crystal McCrary McGuire, and three children.
But his campaign says he appeals to a broader swath of New Yorkers, including outer-borough voters living in neighborhoods that have suffered during the pandemic.
The low poll numbers also just make him want to work harder, his campaign said.
“The worst thing you can say to Ray McGuire is you can’t or you won’t, because now he’s determined,” said the campaign’s spokeswoman, Lupe Todd-Medina.
Mr. McGuire has focused his campaign on the city’s recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic. He has proposed a plan that would bring back 500,000 jobs by using city-funded subsidies to pay for half of the salary of workers at small businesses hit hard by Covid-19. On public safety, he has called for more accountability for the New York Police Department and having City Hall play a direct role in the management of the department.
His opponents have painted him as a Wall Street candidate. Shaun Donovan, another Democratic candidate who has struggled in the polls, accused Mr. McGuire in the first mayoral debate in May of playing a role in the mortgage crisis that caused a recession amid the financial crisis more than a decade ago. Mr. McGuire has said he wasn’t involved in mortgages at Citigroup.
With less than a week left before the June 22 primary, Mr. McGuire has been barnstorming through New York City. He visited five churches across the Bronx on Sunday, and on Monday he hosted a reception at the restaurant Melba’s in Harlem with former New York Knicks star Charles Oakley.
Last week, at the Broadway-Junction subway station in East New York, Brooklyn, Mr. McGuire listened to anyone who wanted to speak with him while asking them what the city’s elected officials—including some of his opponents in the mayoral race—have done for them.
Janice Pinnock, 27, was at the station on her way to her job as a manager at Shake Shack in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. The Far Rockaway, Queens, resident said her biggest issues in New York City are gang violence and the lack of opportunities for young children. While reading Mr. McGuire’s campaign literature, she pointed to one paragraph in which he says, “I know what it’s like to struggle.”
“Not a lot of people know what it’s like,” she said.
Mr. McGuire grew up in Dayton, Ohio, raised by his single mother and grandparents alongside two brothers. He attended boarding school in Connecticut on scholarships and went to Harvard University, where he earned a bachelor’s and then degrees in law and business.
He said he was one of the few Black people working in corporate finance when he started in 1984. He had to fight through the conscious and unconscious biases of many co-workers and bosses to get ahead, Mr. McGuire said.
U.S. Rep. Greg Meeks, a Democrat who represents parts of Queens and is the chairman of the borough’s Democratic Party, said in April that he was endorsing Mr. McGuire because the city needed someone with managerial experience.
“We should look at who has the best ability and résumé, and has been able to accomplish almost the impossible,” Mr. Meeks said.
While campaigning on the first day of early voting on Saturday, Mr. McGuire was greeted with cheers when he stopped by a barbecue outside a public-housing complex in Harlem. He spoke about an issue he has raised throughout his campaign: a fair economic recovery across the city.
“I don’t owe any favors to anybody,” he said. “No political favors. I’m in this for us.”
Write to Katie Honan at Katie.Honan@wsj.com
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