Editor's Note

Editor’s note: Why do we care what celebrities think about New York politics?

We can’t look away.

From left, Anne Hathaway, Anna Wintour, Serena Williams and New York City Mayor Eric Adams at Fashion Week in 2022.

From left, Anne Hathaway, Anna Wintour, Serena Williams and New York City Mayor Eric Adams at Fashion Week in 2022. Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office

Once you start looking for the celebrities wading into New York politics, you see them everywhere. They’re on Zooms with the mayor, stopping by the Capitol, taking pictures with lawmakers, pushing niche legislation, attending press conferences, voicing ads, hosting fundraisers, endorsing candidates, going to political book parties and, yes, running for office themselves. They are so ubiquitous we almost take them for granted as political players. But respectfully, what do they know? Why do we care what famous people think about how our city and state should be run? They may be beautiful and talented, and they definitely have a lot of influence, but they’re also one-percenters who don’t take the subway. (Or when they do, it makes headlines.)

If you want to see how celebrity involvement can really tank a good cause, look no further than the fiasco with Time’s Up, the organization founded by famous actresses to combat sexual harassment. Hundreds of A-listers signed onto an open letter published in a full-page ad in The New York Times to launch the initiative in 2018. The idea was to pay for legal representation for underprivileged women who wished to report and fight sexual misconduct. The only problem was the organization was tied to the people who were most often threatened by those allegations: powerful men. After a series of high-profile conflicts of interest, including suppressing support for women accusing former Gov. Andrew Cuomo of sexual harassment, the organization dissolved in 2023. Time’s Up indeed.

On the flip side – Would New York’s extremely harsh Rockefeller Drug Laws have been rolled back without the constellation of celebrities who showed up at the rallies and recorded video ads calling for that? Probably, but their involvement certainly didn’t hurt. 

You have to admit: Celebrities are really fun. We’re obsessed with them! We can’t look away from them. We want to be close to them. We feel seen by them when they care about a policy that impacts us. We think Mark Ruffalo is handsome, OK! Sue us! And sometimes their involvement is crucial to draw attention to an issue. What follows is our exploration of the at-times toxic fascination we have with these people who are often not qualified to weigh in on the governance of our great state. Lights, camera, activism!