New York City mayoral candidate Andrew Yang has a taken a more conservative tack in the race than some of his competitors. | Spencer Platt/Getty Images
NEW YORK — Three mayoral candidates descended on Brooklyn's Park Slope the morning after a contentious debate, but it was Andrew Yang who got the most attention — and not the kind he likely wanted.
Yang was headed to the Park Slope YMCA — a spot notorious for Mayor Bill de Blasio's oft inopportune workouts, in a move many expected would bring some criticism of the mayor. Instead, Yang was met by a dozen members of New York Communities for Change, a social justice organization, who shouted down the candidate and ultimately scuttled the event — forcing him to take questions on the move.
Yang has taken a more conservative tack in the race than some of his competitors and, even as a Democratic candidate for president, drew attention for his libertarian leanings. During the debate, rival candidate Scott Stringer called him a Republican, and during an interview this morning, Yang said he would adopt a governing similar to former Mayor Mike Bloomberg, who was first elected as a Republican.
Known for his affable campaign style, Yang attempted to talk to the protesters ahead of the event. Undeterred, they carried signs and shouted "No new cops!" and "Hedge fund mayor!" — effectively drowning out the candidate's prepared remarks.
"We have been fighting for this city for many years, from fast food, raising the minimum wage, all this stuff. We have never seen Mr. Yang. In all this 16 years, I have been out on the streets fighting. I have never seen Mr. Yang until he was running for president," said LeRoy Johnson, a 58-year-old Jamaican immigrant who is the chair of the organization's Flatbush chapter. "We need a mayor who understands the city, you understand? We need someone who understands the people."
The group, which had previously endorsed Stringer before pulling its backing in the wake of sexual assault allegations (which Stringer has denied), still has members who support the city comptroller. Yang briefly descended into a nearby subway station. He later said the protesters were not representative of the wider electorate.
"The biggest chant I heard was 'No new cops' which I think goes against what I'm hearing from most New Yorkers," Yang said. "I'm very clear that 'defund the police' is the wrong approach."
Yang spokesperson Jake Sporn called the protest "a desperate attempt to distract from [Stringer's] failing campaign."
The Stringer campaign denied allegations of "astroturfing," a strategy where a protest is designed to appear organic, but is deployed expressly to create conflict.
"We had nothing to do with Andrew's troubles this morning — they were entirely of his own making," said Stringer spokesperson Tyrone Stevens. "Now that New Yorkers are on to his cons and gimmicks and turning on him, he's making silly, sorry excuses."
Other candidates had a more pleasant experience in the neighborhood.
Kathryn Garcia — a longtime Park Slope resident — ordered bagels and Maya Wiley toured the area, both chatting with voters. Garcia said posters on Reddit were impressed with her debate style, and a city employee approached her to ask for advice on finding fulfillment amid government bureaucracy.
Wiley received cheers from passersby outside the Park Slope Food Coop and weighed in on her performance at Wednesday night's debate.
"The debate was the opportunity for New Yorkers to see what courage looks like in the face of a crisis," Wiley told reporters. "It's the opportunity for candidates, for all of us, to show what our vision is but also to distinguish ourselves from other candidates, and to make sure voters are getting all the information. If I hear a candidate say something about what they've done, and I know there's a fact that is missing ... I'm going to share it with voters."
She cited Yang's track record with Venture for America, a nonprofit he established that wasn't the job creator he claimed it was.
Wiley added that "the setup was challenging" due to social distancing, and that not being able to hear each other well may have contributed to the yelling during the debate. She said she's gaining momentum as the progressive candidate and coalescing voters shedding from Stringer and former nonprofit executive Dianne Morales.
"It's not about ideology, it's about people's lives," Wiley said. "The issue we have in the city is we have to talk about the ideas and the plans that we all need."