Can Andrew Yang’s Star Power Carry Him to New York’s City Hall?

In the last few months, the man who would be New York’s most famous mayoral candidate acted like anything but one.

He spent more time barnstorming Georgia than he did the five boroughs. He openly contemplated cabinet roles and lobbied Washington lawmakers around stimulus relief. And he often made television appearances from his weekend home in the Hudson Valley rather than from his apartment in Hell’s Kitchen.

Andrew Yang has a habit of practicing politics in unexpected ways.

He began the presidential race as an unknown candidate and stayed relevant longer than more accomplished politicians did, building an ardent fan base through his quirky style, warnings about automation and championing of a universal basic income. He now turns to the New York City mayor’s race with significant name recognition, a vivid social media presence and a demonstrated ability to raise money.

But he is still every bit the unorthodox contender, and that approach offers Mr. Yang both opportunities and monumental challenges in the race to lead New York out of a pandemic-fueled crisis. His candidacy — which may be officially announced as early as this week — would offer a clear test of whether New Yorkers want a splashy but inexperienced contender with bold ideas for navigating the city’s recovery, or whether a mood of citywide emergency propels a more familiar local figure with a traditional governing background.

Detailing the public health and economic challenges facing New York, he continued, “If you look at that situation and say, ‘Hey, city government has been working great for us, and we need someone who has been a part of the firmament for X number of years,’ I would disagree with that assessment.”

Mr. Yang grew up in Schenectady, N.Y. and Westchester County, attended Columbia Law School and stayed in New York City afterward, working, raising two young children and maintaining fond memories of Mayor Ed Koch from his suburban childhood.

He has a slate of ideas for revitalizing a city reeling from the pandemic, proposing “the biggest implementation” of a basic income in the country, addressing broadband internet access and urging the establishment of a “people’s bank of New York” to assist struggling New Yorkers. Some operatives and lawmakers doubt the feasibility of his vision, and Mr. Yang, a neophyte when it comes to city political battles, will need to explain how he would achieve such sweeping goals given the city’s staggering financial challenges.

Although he has never run for office in New York, Mr. Yang’s presidential bid showcased his fund-raising ability, especially among small-dollar donors. He has a larger national network than typical mayoral candidates, and intends to announce Martin Luther King III as a co-chair of the campaign, Mr. King confirmed.

Mr. Yang has also enlisted the prominent New York operatives Bradley Tusk and Chris Coffey, and has been in touch with New York political figures including members of the congressional delegation; the City Council speaker, Corey Johnson; the city’s public advocate, Jumaane Williams; the Queens borough president, Donovan Richards Jr.; as well as union leaders, legislators and stakeholders like the Rev. Al Sharpton.

But for much of his career — he has a mixed record of success in the nonprofit and start-up worlds — he has plainly been absent from New York politics.

“Is he a New Yorker? I don’t even know,” said Kathryn S. Wylde, who leads the Partnership for New York City, an influential business organization. “I’ve never run into him as a New Yorker.”

Mr. Yang’s allies hope that some of his strengths at the national level will translate in New York.

During his presidential run, Mr. Yang connected with younger people, but the youth vote has not traditionally been influential in New York mayoral primaries. His candidacy will test whether he can bring more young people into the process, though he already has significant competition for the support of young progressive voters in particular.

He demonstrated little traction with Black or Hispanic voters last year, but hopes that his universal basic income proposal will help him resonate across a range of communities of color, which were disproportionately hard-hit by the pandemic.

That is an untested calculation in a diverse field that includes a number of candidates with much deeper ties to those communities and records of working on behalf of those voters. Mr. Yang may face an uphill battle in introducing himself as a New Yorker who understands the intricacies of the challenges at hand.

Yet despite his untraditional background — and in some ways, because of it — he also possesses a set of political assets that may make him formidable.

His signature issue, universal basic income, has growing political resonance as millions of Americans face unemployment, and the government cuts stimulus checks.

“No elected official in the country has done more to shine a spotlight on the need for a basic income than Andrew Yang,” said Representative Ritchie Torres, who was recently elected to represent the South Bronx, adding that Mr. Yang was on a “very short list” of candidates whom he was considering endorsing.

Mr. Yang also generates enthusiasm with a base of devoted fans that rivals may struggle to match in the sprint to the June Democratic primary.

And it was in Georgia that he spent time with at least one of his future co-chairs of his expected mayoral campaign: Mr. King, the eldest son of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and a human-rights activist, who cited Mr. Yang’s focus on the poor as especially compelling.

But some New Yorkers said his time in Georgia has little relevance to his presumed next job as mayoral candidate.

“Good for him as a human, but it wouldn’t be how I would use my time if I were running for mayor and the race were in six months,” said Eric Phillips, formerly a spokesman for Mayor Bill de Blasio. “He’s certainly done nothing that I’ve seen that demonstrates a command for city issues or the kind of really difficult decision-making that’s involved in managing 325,000 people and $90 billion. He hasn’t been involved in the civic fabric of the city.”

News that he has not even voted for mayor also stunned some New Yorkers.

Asked to explain that record, Mr. Yang acknowledged that in the past he may have taken city government “somewhat for granted.”

“Right now we’re facing an historic crisis,” he said, adding that many New Yorkers “right now are engaging in different ways.”

He promised that in the coming weeks, he would be accessible to his hometown.

“Anyone who wants to talk to Andrew Yang in the days to come, like, I want to talk to them,” he said.

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