In the state of New York, a great dichotomy is emerging – a contrast between two cities and two politicians. The two cities, naturally, are Albany and New York City. Albany, the state’s political center and home of the legislature, is infamous for a history of palm-greasing and party machine politics. Yet it continues to be great source of political talent, having produced both of the state’s sitting US Senators – Senate Majority Leader Schumer and Senator Gillibrand. New York City, on the other hand, is the nation’s financial hub and the state’s economic core. Despite lacking the status of a political capital, the city continues to produce political stars too. Think Michael Bloomberg or the now somewhat politically disgraced Rudy Giuliani.
With the contrast of the two cities established, their two most prominent politicians today can be introduced as well: Governor Andrew Cuomo and aspirational Mayor of New York City Andrew Yang. The two couldn’t be more different, however; and that juxtaposition is only being further advanced as the timing of one’s fall coincides with the rapid rise of the other.
Cuomo is political royalty. Not only was he married to a Kennedy, but he is also the eldest son of former Governor Mario Cuomo – a respected national leader of the Democratic Party in the 1980’s and a liberal political icon. Ironically, the political firebrand’s most famous speech at the 1984 Democratic National Convention provided inspiration for the title of this article as Governor Mario Cuomo directed this attack at then-President Ronald Reagan: “Mr. President, you ought to know that this nation is more a Tale of Two Cities than it is a ‘Shining City on a Hill.’” Mario Cuomo’s son quickly followed in his footsteps leading the Department of Housing and Urban Development during the Clinton Administration and then getting elected Governor himself in 2010. As Governor of one of the largest states in the country, Cuomo enjoyed high national name recognition and prominence, gaining an especially large political following during the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic as a political leader in contrast to then-President Trump, providing daily press conferences and briefings in stark comparison to Trump’s often combative White House conferences. He even made sure to capitalize on the political success financially with the release of his book Leadership Lessons from the COVID-19 Pandemic. In 2021, however, it all came crashing down on Cuomo.
In January of this year, an investigation by the state’s Attorney General Letitia James concluded that Cuomo’s administration had undercounted the number of COVID-19 related deaths at nursing homes to protect from the political backlash that was forming surrounding his controversial policy of admitting COVID-19 positive patients to nursing homes. Several Democrats in the State Senate immediately turned on Cuomo, calling for his emergency powers to be stripped. The attacks on Cuomo further escalated in February, as a series of ten accusers came forward over sexual harassment allegations directed at Cuomo. He slowly lost the support of the party leadership, with Senate Majority Leader Schumer even publicly disavowing Cuomo’s actions. As if the public backlash from that pair of scandals wasn’t enough, just this past week reports has emerged that Cuomo staffers were pressured into working on his book. Although the Governor has refused to resign and stated that he will carry on through the remainder of his term, it is clear that Andrew Cuomo no longer has a political future and any presidential aspirations he may have pondered last year are no more.
Andrew Yang, on the other hand, is undeniably on the come up. Yang, unlike Cuomo, is not political royalty, and frankly, has zero political experience. A corporate lawyer turned entrepreneur, Yang came to political prominence with his bid for the presidency in the last election cycle. Some media outlets described him on air as a “random man running for President” early on in the race. Nonetheless, Yang defied all odds in the presidential race garnering a surprising amount of support from a niche voter base taken by Yang’s authenticity, novelty, and slew of policy-oriented ideas. Yang pitched numerous detailed policies ranging from using a PowerPoint at the State of the Union to his signature Universal Basic Income policy which he termed the “Freedom Dividend.” Although Yang didn’t gain the nomination or even garner a cabinet nomination from the Biden Administration, his campaign arguably manifested significant policy impacts this last year with the series of stimulus packages released during the pandemic implementing UBI oriented principles. Then you reach the present, with Andrew Yang leading a pack of mayoral hopefuls in New York City.
Andrew Yang claiming the title of “frontrunner” in the race to lead the largest city in the country was no small feat and anything but expected. Even after defying odds in the presidential race, the media still cast doubt on his mayoral campaign when he announced in January of this year. Nonetheless, his existing national name recognition and policy platform proved a success, launching him to the front of a race littered with members of the city political establishment. New York City’s primary is just over two months away—on June 22—and Yang has commanded a fairly large lead in recent polls, although they also show about 50% of voters are undecided. The primary will be the city’s first experiment in ranked-choice voting, where voters can rank their five favorite candidates, out of a total field of 21. This crowded field, combined with the limitations on traditional campaign activities due to the pandemic, have allowed Yang to capitalize on fairly high name recognition from his failed Presidential run.
The juxtaposition posed by these two Andrew’s and two cities indicates a sea change occurring in American politics and more specifically Democratic politics. The spur of scandals and subsequent backlash directed towards Andrew Cuomo reveal a festering distrust among establishment politicians. This is a sentiment that was long established in Republican circles, culminating in the Trump Presidency, however the Democratic Party has thus far avoided it. The rise of Andrew Yang may just be the spark needed to light a fire of a new anti-establishment Democratic politics – a brand of politics yielding in new leaders and new ideas. Andrew Yang and universal basic income are likely just the first to come.