Andrew Yang, Mayor of New York City?

Would a woman with his credentials be taken seriously?

The Venture for America entrepreneur is leading the early polls for mayor of New York City and NYT columnist Michelle Goldberg is frustrated, declaring “There Could Never Be a Female Andrew Yang.” While her thesis is unfalsifiable, it’s based on the adage “men are judged on their potential and women on their accomplishments,” for which she provides a smattering of evidence.

The problem, though, is twofold. First, again, it’s very early in the campaign. The primary isn’t until June 23 and one imagines few are paying much attention at this point, especially coming on the heels of the exhausting 2020 election. Second, Yang is running against who he’s running against, not a female version of himself.

In the latest round of polling for New York’s Democratic mayoral primary, Yang continues to lead. A Spectrum News NY1/Ipsos poll shows him with 22 percent of likely Democratic voters, followed by the Brooklyn borough president, Eric Adams, with 13 percent. The progressive polling firm Data for Progress shows Yang with 26 percent, double Adams’s 13 percent. A survey by the Siena College Research Institute and AARP has Yang leading with voters over 50, getting 24 percent of the vote, followed by Adams and the city comptroller, Scott Stringer, who each get 13 percent.

You might notice that neither Maya Wiley nor Kathryn Garcia are among the top three, despite their obvious qualifications. On paper, Wiley looks like the perfect candidate to recreate the coalition that elected Mayor Bill de Blasio. A mediagenic former MSNBC commentator, she served as both counsel to de Blasio and chairwoman of the city’s police oversight agency. She is a progressive Black woman with an Elizabeth Warren-like arsenal of plans.

Kathryn Garcia is the former commissioner for the New York City Sanitation Department and should be an obvious choice for those who care most about competent crisis management. As a City & State article noted recently, she has a “reputation as a go-to fixer, called upon to tackle challenges like lead exposure in children and delivering meals during the Covid-19 pandemic.”

But the Civilian Complaint Review Board and sanitation department are not usually a direct pathway to the mayor’s office. Sure, they’re important and provide really useful administrative experience. But they’re not high-profile jobs likely to get people excited about a mayoral candidacy. I can’t find much about the CCRB, other than that it was a part-time job Wiley held in addition to several other posts. But the Sanitation Commissioner job in its current incarnation goes back to 1933 and I don’t recognize any of the names; I’m pretty sure none of them went on to be mayor, let alone directly from the post.

Last month, Yang’s pollsters asked New York voters what they wanted in a mayor, giving them seven options, all worded positively. The top two responses were “a unifier who can bring the city together” and “a visionary who can figure out what it’ll take for N.Y.C. to recover from Covid.” Third was “a manager who understands city government.” Dead last was “a public servant who has spent their life working for others.”

Unfortunately, women are rarely seen as visionaries. It’s impossible to imagine any woman traveling the path of, say, Pete Buttigieg, from mayor of the fourth-largest city in Indiana to credible presidential candidate to cabinet secretary. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is one of the great political talents of her generation, but I doubt she’d be taken seriously if she ran for New York mayor, despite being far more politically experienced than Yang. One woman in the mayoral race is running a left-wing outsider campaign, a former public-school teacher and nonprofit executive named Dianne Morales. In the Data for Progress poll, she’s at 3 percent.

So, again, this is all unfalsifiable. But mayor is an elected political position. No woman has ever held it. Ditto the governorship of New York state. That’s odd, in that women have held those posts in other major cities and states for decades. Still, New York has had two women Senators, including incumbent Kirsten Gillibrand and her predecessor Hillary Clinton. And many women US Representatives. Regardless, in this particular race, we have three relatively unknown women, none of whom seem to meet the criteria the voters say they prioritize. (Whether AOC would be “taken seriously” as a mayoral candidate is unknowable since, well, she’s not a mayoral candidate.)

Writing in The New Republic, Alex Pareene contrasted Yang with Cynthia Nixon, a celebrity with a deep history of civic engagement whose 2018 primary challenge of Gov. Andrew Cuomo “never stood a chance.” Yang’s innovation, Pareene wrote, was to “become a celebrity by running for president,” legitimizing himself by sharing a stage with the leaders of the Democratic Party. It’s a good point, but it leaves out what is probably an even more salient difference between Yang and Nixon.

Male candidates can embody possibility and run as repositories for people’s diffuse hopes. Women usually have to pay their dues. It creates a double bind. There’s never been a female mayor of New York City, but that doesn’t make it any easier for a woman to be the candidate of change.

So, here’s the thing. Neither Yang nor Buttigieg should have been on the debate stage in the Democratic primaries. Neither had resumes worthy of the presidency or had sufficient popular support in the early going to be viable. But the rules of the game had been changed for this particular cycle to allow those savvy at online fundraising to qualify. And, when they did, they managed to impress the hell out of the elite journalist class and some subset of the voters.

It’s notable that Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, and Amy Klobuchar all did better in the primaries. All three were serious candidates for Vice President, with Harris ultimately getting the nod. But, yes, Buttigieg catapulted himself into consideration for Transportation Secretary through his performance and his perfectly timed withdrawal from the race and endorsement of Biden.

And Yang, of whom I had never previously heard, made himself into something of a household name. That gave him early name recognition and buzz when he threw his hat into the ring. Whether he can sustain his momentum and go from 22-26 percent to 50 remains to be seen. I don’t know the other candidates at all but it certainly looks like Adams is the biggest obstacle.

Further, Nixon is simply not a reasonable comparison. She was running against an incumbent mayor in a party primary; Yang is running in an open race. And Nixon was known for her role on Sex and the City, whereas Yang is known as “that guy who ran for President.” Lots of candidates have turned a failed Presidential bid into other political offices.

FILED UNDER: Gender Issues, US Politics
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Yang’s lead is pretty low largely because the field is so crowded.

    This means that the Democratic po primary will likely be the first big test of the Ranked Choice Voting recently adopted in New York. It’s been used in some state legislature and Congressional primaries but not in a high profile race like this

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  2. Sleeping Dog says:

    Andrew Yang has a polling lead, has had me scratching my head. What the voters choose to do there is their concern, but it is curious. Even as a mogul, Yang’s resume is thin compared to say, Bloomberg’s. Then, Krugman believes that Yang is getting a free pass;

    Andrew Yang Hasn’t Done the Math
    Was his economic story too good to check?

    …Yang, who has never held office, owes his prominence largely to his reputation as a thought leader, someone with big ideas about economics and policy.

    What I do know is that Yang’s big ideas are demonstrably wrong. Shouldn’t that be cause for concern?

    To Goldberg’s point, she argues a better case that men get more credit for being inspirational and thought leaders, while women need to prove accomplishments. Whether her position would stand up to scrutiny?

  3. Kylopod says:

    It’s notable that Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, and Amy Klobuchar all did better in the primaries.

    Better than Buttigieg? He was the declared winner in Iowa. The only other candidates to win any contests (primary or otherwise) were Bloomberg, Sanders, and Biden.

  4. KM says:

    Our society has always let men feel comfortable overshooting the mark and reaching for a position they are eminently not qualified for by actually giving it to them. See the last guy in the Oval Office ultimate proof. Mediocre males believing they’re Special and Unique is so common we don’t even register it anymore unless it goes really poorly. Why should they start at the bottom like a schlub and have to work to get experience when they can just run for the highest office available and have a non-zero chance of winning? Think of every college kid you know who expected to skip being a teller and applied to be a manager or a C-suite position. Chances are extremely high they were males since women learn very early on that’s not gonna happen for us. The glass ceiling is very real and you smack into it pretty quickly; it takes more effort to advance and we’re deeply aware we need to prove why we deserve what men take for granted.

    Yang thinks he can change the world. Good for him as I like enthusiasm – get some cred and some experience under your belt before trying for higher office, though. Put in your time and don’t skip the line. Don’t assume that because you’re Special you just jump ahead.

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  5. Michael Reynolds says:

    Actually wanting to be mayor of New York City is evidence of a serious personality disorder if not mental illness.

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  6. Jay L Gischer says:

    Don’t take me as contradicting the general thesis of “men have it easier”. However, I think AOC, in particular, has figured out how to check the “visionary” box.

    And let’s remember that voters just sent Marjorie Taylor Greene to Congress. That wasn’t because of her experience. She has figured out how to do politics in the Trumpist style – which requires no competence at governance whatsoever.

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  7. James Joyner says:

    @Kylopod: Fair. Warren, mostly by virtue of staying in the race through Super Tuesday, out-performed both in the delegate and popular vote counts considerably. But Buttigieg did better on all counts than Klobuchar.

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  8. KM says:

    @Jay L Gischer:

    She has figured out how to do politics in the Trumpist style – which requires no competence at governance whatsoever.

    Greene hitched her wagon to Trump himself and later decided to emulate his style. The mediocre male went there first and she followed in his wake, using him as the acceptable template for her to his misogynistic followers. Her “experience” is being a MAGAt provocateur and she was very quickly sidelined for being the useless idiot she is. I highly doubt anyone actually expected her to do anything other than rubberstamp what she was told and act out for the crowd; she’s one of over 400 legislative individuals who get things done so she and her followers are fine with her lifting weights for Jesus or whatever instead of doing real work. Even Palin had to start at the city council level before she could overreach.

    I’ll give you AOC. Her ability to surge ahead of “where she’s supposed to be” is a major reason why the Right hates her so much. The uppity bartender who got lucky on her first run but then showed she can actually do some of what she promised is infuriating to a group used to coasting on unearned laurels.

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  9. Kylopod says:

    @KM:

    The mediocre male went there first

    I would argue Sarah Palin went there first.

  10. Pat Curley says:

    “It’s notable that Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, and Amy Klobuchar all did better in the primaries.”

    Than whom? Not Buttigieg, certainly. Harris didn’t even make it to Iowa, let alone the primaries.

    And Goldberg is wrong about AOC; if she ran for mayor she would immediately vault into the top tier of candidates, despite a pretty thin resume (at least compared to that Sanitation Commissioner), for the same reason Yang is in the lead: Name recognition.

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  11. @Jay L Gischer:

    The problem AOC faces is that her district is likely to be one of those targeted to be carved up in reapportionment.

    It is expected that the state of New York will lose at least two seats in reapportionment. Possibly three. This will require significant redrawing of district lines.

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  12. KM says:

    @Kylopod :
    Sad as it is to say, Palin actually did the work and put her time in. Trump just jumped to the highest office in the land *solely* due to him being….. well, him. Palin held multiple offices and was a mayor and Governor before her VP run. She actually was aware of how government work and what the office would entail.

    I do not like her personally but she did it the proper way and so she’s gets her due respect for that. Trump decided he was Super Special and convinced a chunk of idiots to vote him as America’s King with zero experience. He is the first “famous for being famous” to launch into the Oval Office with no damn idea about what he’s supposed to do (bills were appear on his desk, remember?)

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  13. Sleeping Dog says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    The problem AOC faces is that her district is likely to be one of those targeted to be carved up in reapportionment.

    Are you implying that she faces retribution from the ‘establishment’ for encouraging challenges to safe Dem seats. 😉

  14. Kylopod says:

    @KM: Just because Palin was relatively more qualified than Trump doesn’t mean she was well-qualified. She had less than two years as governor of one of the smallest states in the country. Moreover, she quickly proved herself to be mind-bogglingly ignorant of national and international policy, as well as temperamentally unfit for the office. And after the election, she quit her job as governor in the middle to launch a career as a reality-TV star. What made her a precursor to Trump wasn’t just the fact that McCain selected her as running mate; it was the way she parlayed her failed vp run to become a right-wing superstar where her ignorance and lack of qualifications weren’t just tolerated but actively celebrated. What Trump did to reach the White House was essentially just follow the Palin playbook, and add an actual run for the presidency instead of just continually pretending to to bilk his followers.

  15. CSK says:

    @KM:
    “Nobody knew that health care could be so complicated.”
    — Donald J. Trump, Feb. 2017

    Nobody. No one had ever before given it a thought.

  16. Gustopher says:

    @Jay L Gischer: We have a long history of voting in untraditional, colorful candidates for the House, so I wouldn’t look there for confirmation of anything.

  17. Tony W says:

    @Kylopod:

    I would argue Sarah Palin went there first.

    Dan Quayle would like a word.

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  18. MarkedMan says:

    @KM: I had actually heard of Palin when she was chosen and my jaw dropped. She was in the middle of a scandal… now which one was it? There were so many. I think it was using police to enforce a personal vendetta? In any case, I thought, either they know this or don’t care or were so negligent at vetting they didn’t even check with local officials.

  19. KM says:

    @Kylopod :

    it was the way she parlayed her failed vp run to become a right-wing superstar where her ignorance and lack of qualifications weren’t just tolerated but actively celebrated.

    True but that wasn’t my point or even @James. As terrible as she is at it, she *does* have some governmental experience. She *did* hold several offices as she ascended the political ladder. She’s hideously underqualified to be a dogwalker but at the very least, she did manage to conform somewhat to a political career before deciding to go full grift. She turned her crappy lack of talent into wingnut welfare but got there because she could point out “achievements”. She’d have just been another no-name politician if she hadn’t been picked.

    Trump was ALWAYS full grift. He was reality TV first before we even had the term. The Apprentice started 4 years before we heard Palin’s name nationally and he was running scams since before a chunk of the voting population was born. He turned his crappy lack of talent into a political career because of wingnut welfare and it launched him straight to the top. He picked himself and beat out better candidates for the job by beating them down. At best, Palin would have been #2 and that’s only because McCain brought her in. She would have never gotten there on her own and she was very aware of it.

  20. David S. says:

    I mean, I like Yang because he promoted UBI. Full stop. To the extent that he’s a UBI proponent, I like him. If a woman had promoted UBI, I’d like her too. For pretty much everything else, Yang’s a nobody to me. Worse, he sounds like he’s said some sketchy things about Asian Americans, which bottoms out his credibility for me.

    It’s mostly just a little sad that he’s even in the running. Shooting for an NYC mayorship is a little ambitious with his resume, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he doesn’t actually end up making a real attempt. Shooting for a mayorship of South Bend might’ve been more realistic.

  21. Kylopod says:

    @KM: The problem is trying to use these examples to prove a sexist double standard, when you’re comparing apples-and-oranges situations. It’s true that no woman who was a failed businessperson and reality-TV star with no political experience has ever ascended to the US presidency. But then, no man with those traits has, either, except for Trump–and most people once thought it was impossible for Trump as well. We don’t know how successful a woman with those same traits would have been, because there’s no way to test it. All we know is that Palin provided a model for how crass ignorance, mediocrity, and laziness could be rewarded in the GOP, before Trump went on to do the same thing. (Yes, there were precursors before, such as Dubya and even Reagan, but Palin brought it to a whole new level.)

    I’m not saying there aren’t sexist double standards in politics–there most certainly are. What I’m pushing back against is a kind of reductive formula I keep hearing of “If X were a woman, nobody would give him the time of day” or “If Y were a man, she’d be at the top of the field.” It is never that simple. There’s always a complex tangle of factors explaining why one person succeeds where another fails, and gender itself is just one category where the effects of privilege come into play (look at Meghan McCain for instance).

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  22. @Sleeping Dog:

    Basically