These mayoral candidates have the city’s attention

Mayoral candidates
Mayoral candidates
New Yorkers for Donovan; Garcia Campaign; Jeff Reed/New York City Council; lev radin/Shutterstock; Hallie Easley; Loree Sutton for Mayor; Celeste Sloman; Yang for Mayor
Shaun Donovan, Kathryn Garcia, Carlos Menchaca, Ray McGuire, Dianne Morales, Loree Sutton, Maya Wiley, and Andrew Yang

These mayoral candidates have the city’s attention

They’re not in City Hall yet, but they already wield immense political power.
February 7, 2021

One measure of political power is how often your opinion is solicited on certain matters. And these days, nobody is getting asked more questions than the crop of candidates running for New York City mayor in 2021. “How will you reduce segregation in the city’s school system?” “Do you think the NYPD budget should be reduced?” “What’s your favorite movie set in New York City?”

Once the calendar turned to the new year, the hopefuls started speaking at several online forums per week. By the end of January, that turned to two Zooms per day, and there’s no sign of slowing down.

“Long time no see,” New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer said to his fellow candidates before a recent forum, a sarcastic twinkle in his eye. “I missed you guys.”

“Has it been 24 hours?” Kathryn Garcia, another contender, joked.

There are, at last count, 38 people who have signed up to run for mayor, but just 10 of them are viable enough to be considered on this list. Two of them, Stringer and Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, derive their political power from their lofty day jobs. The others have the power of potential. Much like the latest Silicon Valley stock, they may not have much to show right now, but their future growth could be enormous, and a lot of New Yorkers are eager to invest.

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Most of them have left their jobs to run for mayor full time, but each candidate is used to wielding some level of political power already. Shaun Donovan was the director of then-President Barack Obama’s Office of Management and Budget. Garcia was the city’s sanitation commissioner and became Mayor Bill de Blasio’s go-to crisis manager, whether the issue was public housing or food distribution. Ray McGuire was a Master of the Universe on Wall Street, working mergers and acquisitions at Citigroup by day and serving on nonprofit boards by night. New York City Council Member Carlos Menchaca blocked the Industry City rezoning. Dianne Morales ran her own nonprofit as the executive director and CEO of Phipps Neighborhoods, an organization that fights poverty by providing educational, career-readiness and financial counseling programs. Loree Sutton was de Blasio’s first veterans affairs commissioner. Maya Wiley was de Blasio’s top lawyer and has spoken to massive audiences as an MSNBC legal analyst. And Andrew Yang raised millions of dollars while running for president and influenced the national conversation as a political upstart.

Now, they’re all focused on the same goal: winning the June 22 Democratic primary. Of course, they’re already winning in certain ways. Thousands or even millions of dollars are pouring in from around the country to support them. They’re hiring staffers to help spread their message to primary voters. And yes, they’re being asked for their opinions, endlessly. 

This power is fleeting. Just ask City Council Speaker Corey Johnson or Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., all but forgotten by the local press after they abandoned their respective mayoral runs – despite their powerful positions. Only one candidate will be picked once the votes are counted and the instant runoff has played out. Also-rans from the last open mayoral election in 2013, like Christine Quinn and Bill Thompson, ended up with plum jobs soon after, but they weren’t mayor of The Greatest City in the World.

De Blasio earned that honor more than seven years ago, but lately, the title has seemed more like a burden. When the mayor was asked on a recent episode of WNYC’s “The Brian Lehrer Show” to give a word of advice to his successor, whoever that may be, he recommended that they take questions from their constituents. “You’ve got to constantly hear the voices of people,” he said, whether that’s from public radio callers or from town hall attendees. This way, he said, you get to “see how much people care.”

It was funny advice to the crop of candidates. After all, taking questions from the people seems to be the only thing they’re doing right now, in forums and endorsement meetings and neighborhood walkthroughs. For now, they all get to act like the mayor. But after the election, only one of them will still have New Yorkers’ attention.

Jeff Coltin
is a senior reporter at City & State. He covers New York City Hall.