On November 2, New Yorkers will head the polls to pick their next mayor. Democrat Bill de Blasio is term limited, so voters have two fresh faces: Democratic Eric Adams, a retired NYPD officer; and Curtis Silwa, who is like if Frasier was also Batman. In heavily Democratic New York City, Adams is favored to win by a mile. To get to be the party’s nominee, he had to prevail in a hotly contested primary against over a dozen candidates including one who was a candidate for President of the United States just a year earlier.
That was, of course, Andrew Yang, who was treated as a frontrunner for part of the race but who in the end tallied just 14.8% of the vote – and that was after a series of instant runoffs in New York City’s first modern experiment with ranked choice voting. Yang’s bid for mayor crashed pretty early when it was revealed that he – like many affluent New Yorkers – had fled the city during the COVID-19 pandemic. Yang explained, “Can you imagine trying to have two kids on virtual school in a two-bedroom apartment and then trying to do work yourself?”
Nevertheless, Yang remained the leader until voters got to know other candidates, in particularly Adams. A black ex-cop, Adams seized the moment in a way that other candidates couldn’t, placing himself as someone who understood the need for law and order but also someone who understood the excesses of the city’s police department and the need to curtail its worst practices.
Yang, on the other hand, was claiming that “single-room occupancy” homes could help solve housing crisis (Quick reminder about Yang’s quote two paragraphs up). It just didn’t sit right with voters.
Yang’s bid for mayor came after his failed bid for president, where he outlined a ton of policies but where universal basic income was the one he was best known for. Yang’s warnings about automation and his belief in the power of technology to make a utopia in the near-future made it seem, at times, like he was on a totally different debate stage than the other presidential contenders. He ended his campaign after the New Hampshire primary, where he won less than 3%.
Fast-forward to October 3 and the first excerpt from Yang’s book Forward: Notes on the Future of Our Democracy is published in Politico. Titled, “When I Ran for President, It Messed With My Head,” the piece wobbles from topic to topic trying to make a broader point that the president is more of a media figure than an actual administrator, and that the way we treat media figures makes them “susceptible to growing so out of touch. You spend time with dozens of people whose schedules and actions revolve around you. Everyone asks you what you think. You function on appearance; appearance becomes your role.”
When we talk about people being unprepared for the presidency, I fear we talk too much about how someone might not know a lot about foreign policy or might not understand the economy. But the truth is that those least prepared for the presidency are those who believe the president single-handedly runs the day-to-day activities of the federal government. In a way, this is something that perhaps no modern president understood as well as Donald Trump, who embraced the celebrity aspects of the White House while delegating far more than his recent predecessors. But Barack Obama and George W. Bush got it, too. Bush’s carefully cultivated image of ‘the guy you’d have a beer with’ – nevermind that Bush doesn’t drink alcohol (neither do Trump or Biden) – helped him appeal to voters but also maintain support for his policies. This notion of the president as media figure goes back over a century; it was the cornerstone of both Roosevelts’ political appeal. We remember Abraham Lincoln for a speech he gave at the opening of a cemetery, which is perhaps more solemn than the opening of a shopping center but is not any less politically calculated.
On October 4, Yang announced he would leave the Democratic Party. His announcement didn’t get a lot of traction as a global Facebook outage captured most of the world’s attention that day.
Then, on October 6, the big one: Yang is starting a new political party.
It’s called the Forward Party, inspired by Yang’s 2020 campaign motto, “Not left, not right. Forward.” Forwardists have some, uh, straightforward ideals: term limits, ranked choice voting, transparency, privacy, publicly-funded elections, election and lobbyist reform.
The Forward Party most closely resembles the pirate parties found around Europe. Pirates are big into freedom of information, increased technology in government and democracy, transparency, privacy, net neutrality, and intellectual property reform.
There is a United States Pirate Party already but it isn’t as fleshed-out as its European counterparts. And Yang has little to say on the subject of intellectual property reform, a core tenet of all pirate parties, so it isn’t a huge surprise that he opted to found his own party instead of allying with the USPP or another similar movement.
It’s also not a huge surprise because the New York mayoral race showed that Yang’s future in the Democratic Party isn’t as bright as it once appeared. Yang was criticized for his attempt to beeline from tech bro to president. When he ran for mayor of New York, The Atlantic called him a “political Kardashian,” a celebrity candidate whose celebrity status comes from being a celebrity candidate. Yet two different runs in high-profile Democratic primaries came to nothing for Yang, who then faced a question: what would his future in politics be? He could run for an even lesser race, like a seat on the New York City Council. The Columbia Law-educated Yang could run for attorney general of the state. He could lean on the Biden administration to tap him for a key role – he was an advisor in the Obama administration alongside, uh, Elizabeth Holmes – maybe one of the many inspector general positions that remain open. It wouldn’t be glamorous, but it would ensure that Yang’s next bid for office came with some real-world experience behind it.
For all of Yang’s criticism of the media attention surrounding presidential candidates, though, it feels like that’s the part he wants to keep in his life. The Forward Party keeps Yang jetting around the U.S. giving speeches and acting as a kingmaker, granting endorsements to aspiring Democrats (the party expects to endorse candidates in the two major parties until election reform allows open primaries or, ideally, ranked choice voting, and it feels really unlikely that Yang will find a lot of Republicans who want to make it easier to vote). The party’s website stakes out what it will take to get Yang’s attention and candidates, eager to capitalize on having a political Kardashian come to town to speak with them, will do what it takes to get the Forward Party’s endorsement.
It’s all for Yang, though. It’s all to keep him in the headlines, to keep him in the political scene. How well it works will depend on how willing folks are to seek out his seal of approval the further we get from his moments on the 2020 presidential debate stage.