New York City mayoral candidate Andrew Yang broke with other contenders during a heated debate on Wednesday night, acknowledging that he would welcome support from embattled current Mayor Bill de Blasio and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo in the city’s upcoming Democratic primary.
A debate moderator asked the eight candidates on stage at the live debate to raise their hands if they wanted an endorsement from de Blasio and Cuomo, Democratic leaders who have faced bipartisan criticism over their leadership during the coronavirus pandemic. In both cases, Yang was the only candidate to raise his hand.
Yang indicated he would welcome support from de Blasio despite frequently targeting the mayor’s missteps during the debate. The former Democratic presidential candidate said he would grade de Blasio’s tenure as "incomplete" because the mayor still had time not to "squander" federal COVID-19 aid money.
Yang fended off attacks from other candidates throughout the debate, the first in-person event of its kind during the race. Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, former New York City Sanitation Commissioner Kathryn Garcia and Yang are considered three frontrunners in a crowded field that has yet to yield a clear favorite.
The debate turned heated within the first hour when Yang said "no one is talking about" a looming budget deficit in New York City. He argued that de Blasio’s handling of the budget was "setting us all up for failure."
"Imagine if you were a household that knew you were going to owe $5 billion in 2023 and we give you $12 billion today and then you spend it before any of these people are going to have a chance to take office," Yang said.
Yang’s remarks drew a sharp rebuke from Scott Stringer, the current New York City Comptroller.
"As your consultants have told you time and time again, they admit you’re an empty vessel," Stringer said. "I actually don’t think you’re an empty vessel – I think you’re a Republican who continues to focus on the issues that will not bring back the economy."
Stringer accused Yang of focusing on "TikTok houses in the midst of a housing crisis," in a reference to Yang’s plan to encourage influencers to live and work in New York City.
Maya Wiley, a former counsel to de Blasio and civil rights attorney, targeted Yang’s work with Venture for America, a nonprofit that sought to train college graduates to work for startups.
"You promised 100,000 jobs, you created 150,000, and graduates of historically Black colleges and universities did not get the opportunities that they were promised," Wiley said.
Criticism of Yang focused largely on his lack of experience. A former tech entrepreneur, Yang has never held public office.
Adams referenced reports earlier this year that Yang left the city for his house in New Paltz during the pandemic while many New Yorkers were stuck at home.
"You left the city during a very difficult time, even during a time where I did not see my son over two months because I was in the streets during COVID. You did not vote in municipal elections at all," Adams said. "How the hell do we have you become our mayor with this record like this? How will you govern a diverse city like this?"
Yang, in turn, spent much of the debate touting his plans to revitalize the economy and strengthen law enforcement efforts in response to a surge in gun violence in the city. The former presidential candidate also called for a resumption of in-person learning at the city’s schools.
New York City’s primary elections will be held on June 22.