“I am a numbers guy. And I am not going to be the next mayor of New York City based upon the numbers that have come in tonight. I am conceding this race.” With those words, Andrew Yang ended his bid to become the leader of America’s largest city on Wednesday night, after taking a disappointing fourth with the vast majority of first-round ballots in the Democratic primary reported.
It was a bitter reverse of Yang’s long-shot presidential run, in which he’d emerged out of nowhere as a quirky, likable figure with a marquee policy idea—a universal basic income—and hung on long enough to make a national name for himself on the debate stage, thanks in large part to a ferociously loyal online fan base. This time around, Yang entered as a front-runner with some of the best name recognition and fundraising in the race, only to trip on questions about his managerial competency, lack of experience in government, ties to lobbyists, and occasional gaffes (like when he justified leaving the city during the COVID crisis by asking New Yorkers whether they could “imagine” working in a two-bedroom apartment with children, which, yes, they could). Despite his generally sunny demeanor, his lobbyist connections and moderate stances on key issues like policing managed to generate genuine, widespread loathing among the city’s left-wing activists that sometimes escalated into a weird form of Twitter derangement (see: Bodega-gate, Times Square–gate, and A Train–gate). In his rookie run, he beat expectations. In his sophomore effort, he vastly underperformed them.
So, what now for Yang? To be clear, I have no actual idea what he’s planning. But it feels inevitable that he’ll stick around in politics and media for at least a while longer, because he has a brand, and that’s what people with brands do. At the moment, there are a few obvious routes he could go, which I’m unscientifically going to rank from most to least likely.
Option 1: Pundit and thinkfluencer (extremely likely)
One thing that was fairly obvious if you watched the mayoral campaign is that Andrew Yang has gotten very good at being on television. He’s lively and delivers a crisp sound bite. And no wonder: After going through the gantlet of 2020 Democratic debates, he joined CNN last year as a political commentator, and kept the gig up until his mayoral run. The most obvious thing for him to do at this point would be to return to TV land with a nice contributor deal and enjoy himself yucking it up with Van Jones, albeit with a deeper understanding of what it’s like to run (and lose) a campaign where you’re looked at as a potential favorite. Yang’s run, which coincided with an uptick in anti-Asian hate crimes, led him to speak more at length about his own heritage and experiences as an Asian American man. And though he in no way speaks for the entire diverse range of political views within the Asian American and Pacific Islander community, he’d certainly bring a bit more representation to an underrepresented demographic in America’s pundit class. Plus, he could go back to writing books on his favorite themes, like inequality and the benefits of simply giving money to the poor. They’d probably sell, even if according to his former advisers, his social media following has cooled off a little.
Option 2: Run for Congress (kind of likely)
Yang did not have any of the qualifications one would ordinarily look for in a president, not to mention mayor of a city of the size and complexity of New York. He has never worked in government in any capacity and his track record of actually running organizations was, well, spotty. He was the CEO of a moderately sized GMAT test prep company that was eventually bought by Kaplan; later, he ran a nonprofit called Venture for America that promised to create 150,000 tech and startup jobs around the country, but only seems to have produced about 150 while burning prodigious amounts of cash. He’s not obviously the guy you want in charge of the U.S. military or keeping the streets plowed.
Yang is, however, a famous media figure with a cult following and some big ideas about public policy, some of which are fundamentally very good—like that we should give more money to poor people. That is a perfect set of qualifications to serve in Congress. Plus, you can imagine him having fun with it. As Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has shown, you can be a widely influential political and media personality on Capitol Hill even without much concrete power as a member. I mean, half the job is really just posting (more than half, if you’re a Republican).
New York’s Senate seats aren’t opening up any time soon, and even if they did, my guess is he’d face a hopeless primary against AOC. But what about the House? Yang is a resident of Hell’s Kitchen, in New York’s 10th Congressional District, an outrageously gerrymandered creation that covers Manhattan’s solidly Democratic West Side, then skips over the river and snakes through Brooklyn until it gobbles up the ultra-Orthodox Jewish neighborhood of Borough Park. (In other words, it is essentially designed to ensure that the city’s liberal Jews can outvote its conservative Jews, and it’s so self-evidently absurd that I can only assume it will survive the upcoming redistricting process.) At the moment, the seat is occupied by 74-year-old Jerry Nadler, who chairs the House Judiciary Committee. As far as I know he hasn’t shown any recent desire to retire and is actually still somewhat young by the demographic standards of the Democratic Party’s House leadership. But if Democrats lose the House in 2022, it’s conceivable—though by no means assured—that he might choose to retire in 2024, leaving an open seat for Yang to take a run at.
Would he be a shoo-in? Not necessarily. There’s a decent chance he’d have to face current Council Speaker Corey Johnson, who is currently behind after the first round of balloting in the comptroller’s race. Plus, Yang got blown out on the West Side during the mayoral race, running fourth overall in Manhattan. But after aggressively courting the Orthodox community, he absolutely dominated in Borough Park, where despite the neighborhood’s Trump-y inclinations, residents have a history of bloc-voting in Democratic primaries to retain some local influence. So Yang might actually have a base to work from.
Option 3: Run a nonprofit (maybe likely?)
Look, by all accounts, Yang did not do a great job with Venture for America. But you can imagine him combining a pundit gig with a role at some sort of nonprofit or political advocacy organization. Maybe he starts a group dedicated to promoting UBI. Or maybe, as one of the country’s most famous Asian American politicians, he could use his fundraising prowess to help build out Democratic Party infrastructure in AAPI communities. Who knows? I’m spitballing. But raising money is basically three-quarters of the game in the nonprofit and advocacy world, and it seems like he’s got skills he could put to use there.
Option 4: Run for City Council (not likely, but I’d love to see it)
Look, it’s not a glamorous idea. Running for New York City Council is the sort of thing you’re supposed to do before you run for president or mayor. But maybe getting some government experience would help burnish Yang’s résumé if he feels like taking another shot at mayor one day. And, because of a quirk of the New York City Charter, there’s going to be another election for the district covering Hell’s Kitchen, where he lives, in 2023. He’d have a bigger media megaphone than anyone else in the body, and it’d give him credibility as someone interested in being a politician rather than a personality. Starting back at the bottom might seem a little remedial, but it might be a way to actually win a race.