NEW YORK — Andrew Yang kicked off his New York City mayoral campaign with a series of stumbles, gaffes and rough headlines.
So far, it seems to be working out great for him.
Yang has consistently led the crowded Democratic field in polls and has outpaced his competitors in energy: As they cautiously hosted virtual campaign events, he was barnstorming the city until a Covid-19 diagnosis forced him into quarantine on Feb. 2.
Another public poll released Wednesday confirmed his frontrunner status, even before he airs any advertisements. With 28 percent of voters saying they would back him, Yang is well ahead of his nearest rivals, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams at 17 percent and City Comptroller Scott Stringer at 13 percent. And his name recognition — 84 percent among Democratic voters polled — puts him nearly 20 points higher than his nearest competitor.
The former presidential candidate has pursued a campaign strategy of being ubiquitous in the city, sucking up the oxygen in the race and assuming any attention is better than none at all.
And he’s so far been able to shake off a series of self-inflicted errors, attacks from opponents and news articles about a toxic environment in his presidential campaign.
“We are out there all the time,” said co-campaign manager Chris Coffey. “Andrew is authentic and he is not a career politician. And that means that he is not always going to be on script.”
As Yang prepared to kick off his campaign, POLITICO revealed that he left the city at the height of the coronavirus pandemic, spending much of his time at a second home in New Paltz. He then drew a torrent of criticism after explaining his move to The New York Times by saying: “Can you imagine trying to have two kids on virtual school in a two-bedroom apartment, and then trying to do work yourself?”
His escape to New Paltz, on top of City & State’s reporting that he has not voted in many mayoral elections, left his rivals accusing Yang of lacking New York City bona fides.
He then proposed a casino on Governors Island, an idea roundly panned by other politicians as ill-advised and illegal. Online critics were equally passionate about contesting his definition of a bodega, the small convenience stores that dot thousands of New York blocks.
The mayoral candidate withstood criticism from Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who accused him of ripping off her "Green New Deal" proposal for public housing, and state Sen. Julia Salazar, who said he was using people as props by campaigning along a food bank line. Coffey said Yang and Ocasio-Cortez have since had several positive exchanges.
Some of his baggage is heavier.
Former staffers told Business Insider they experienced sexism in his presidential campaign, while the Daily News reported that his mayoral campaign was requiring volunteers to sign nondisclosure agreements.
But with few New Yorkers closely watching the mayor’s race at this early stage, those controversies may not have registered with likely voters, political operatives say. To the extent they have, they may have served to further increase his profile.
“Five hundred people who are obsessively watching every move are really not representative of the electorate,” said Democratic consultant Neal Kwatra, who’s worked extensively in New York politics. “Most voters in southeast Queens and Central Brooklyn who are likely to decide this election probably didn’t pay attention to these perceived gaffes.”
Consultant Lis Smith, a veteran of New York politics who recently worked on Pete Buttigieg’s presidential campaign, agreed.
“There’s a big difference between what animates Twitter and what New Yorkers actually care about,” said Smith, who is not affiliated with any candidate in this race. “The race is going to be decided on Covid, economic and public safety issues — not debates over what qualifies as a bodega.”
Coffey said the hits against Yang aren’t making a dent with voters.
“I think we’re seeing people just don’t care about that stuff,” he said. “Other people are spending their time throwing opposition research minutiae at him and it’s not sticking.”
He also contrasted Yang, who has never held elected office, with the political careers of two other leading candidates — Stringer and Adams.
“They want someone who is fresh and when Ritchie Torres and Andrew Yang walk down the street together they look like tomorrow,” Coffey said, referring to the new congressman who is co-chairing Yang’s campaign. “And the other candidates sometimes look like yesterday.”
The poll released Wednesday, commissioned by lobbying group Fontas Advisors and conducted online by Core Decision Analytics, was one of the first public polls to gauge the state of play months ahead of the June primary. Some of Yang’s negative press hits, including the Business Insider story, were published after Jan. 25, when the survey was completed.
Yang’s opponents, who did not comment for this story, acknowledged he has an early lead but cautioned that his standing could easily change as the race progresses. For starters, the candidates have not begun defining themselves and attacking each other in mailers and on television ads. Most New Yorkers are also not attuned to the race this far ahead of the June 22 primary.
Ray McGuire, a Wall Street executive who has quickly amassed a war chest and large campaign team but is polling at just 2 percent, launched digital ads on Feb. 9 — two weeks after the Fontas poll was concluded.
The poll described McGuire to voters as a “finance executive,” a far cry from the humble roots he features in his online spots.
And with such high name recognition, Yang appears to be closer to his ceiling of support than his contenders.
“Voters aren’t fully engaged yet in this campaign,” said George Fontas, whose firm released the poll.
In 2013, for instance, current Mayor Bill de Blasio was not atop the mayoral polls until one month before the September primary. He won the race only after the decline of earlier frontrunners Christine Quinn, Bill Thompson and Anthony Weiner.
“Things are quite fluid in this race,” Kwatra said.
“I think it’s clear he is a top-tier candidate in this race, both by virtue of name ID and his ability to raise money,” he added, though Yang’s current campaign finances are not yet available. “The question is, can he sustain being a frontrunner? Talk to Christine Quinn about that. It’s not easy.”
This is not a CAPTIS article. Originally, it was published here.