The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Andrew Yang is running for New York mayor. He wants universal basic income — and TikTok Hype Houses.

Andrew Yang, a former Democratic presidential candidate, formally announced his run for mayor of New York. (Salwan Georges/The Washington Post)

As Andrew Yang roams through New York’s uncharacteristically empty streets, he chats with supporters, waves at sanitation workers and drops into a Brooklyn barbershop. Narrating those scenes in a video he posted Wednesday night, Yang boasts of his New York roots while boosting his signature issues, like universal basic income.

“We need to realize Martin Luther King Jr.'s dream of a guaranteed minimum income and get cash into the hands of people who need it most,” Yang said in the 2½-minute ad.

Yang’s video made official his entry to a crowded field of seasoned local politicians hoping to succeed New York Mayor Bill de Blasio (D), who is term-limited from running again.

Fresh off the buzz of an upstart presidential campaign that earned Yang a loyal following in the Democratic primaries that coalesced under the #YangGang moniker, he figures to be a major fundraiser and serious contender.

But in New York, some critics have begun circling, questioning why Yang and his family left town during the pandemic and highlighting some of his more unusual campaign pledges — including a vow to bring TikTok Hype Houses to the city.

Yang, an entrepreneur and philanthropist, was born in Schenectady, N.Y., and moved to Manhattan for law school. He stayed, and lives in the Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood with his wife and two sons. He joined the jam-packed Democratic primary field as a largely unknown figure, but built a considerable following by the time he dropped his bid last February.

Yang filed his paperwork to run for New York mayor earlier, but he made his official debut as a candidate with his video Wednesday, the day he turned 46. Once again, he’s an outsider in the race — he has never worked in city government and didn’t vote in the past four mayoral elections. Yang is centering his bid on a similar promise as his presidential campaign: a guaranteed minimum income for New York City residents. He also proposes creating “a People’s Bank so it stops being so expensive to be poor,” as he said in the video.

Some critics questioned his commitment to the city — a refrain that escalated after a profile in the New York Times on Monday noted he had been riding out the pandemic in Upstate New York.

“We live in a two-bedroom apartment in Manhattan. And so, like, can you imagine trying to have two kids on virtual school in a two-bedroom apartment, and then trying to do work yourself?” Yang told the Times.

Scott Stringer, the city’s comptroller and a mayoral candidate, tweeted in response to the quote: “Yes, actually I can.”

Eric Adams, Brooklyn borough president and another candidate for mayor, tweeted the city deserved a leader who was not “out-of-touch.” Dianne Morales, a former nonprofit executive who is also running, said she spent the year “living with THREE generations under one roof, AND running a campaign from home.”

In a statement to the Times, Yang defended his family’s decision to spend most of their time in the Hudson Valley.

“We took our two kids, including my autistic son, to Upstate New York to help him adapt to our new normal,” Yang said. “Evelyn and I know how lucky we are to have that option, which is why I’ve committed the past several years of my life to lifting up working families and eliminating poverty.”

On Wednesday, Yang found another policy to shake up the race: TikTok Hype Houses. Yang’s proposal, highlighted in a viral tweet from a Times reporter, would attract young Internet creators to the city to form collectives, like those where TikTok stars live together and collaborate.

“We need to help create similar artist collectives that utilize new technologies,” Yang writes.

The idea lead to some taunting on Twitter, where some called on Yang to focus more on regular New Yorkers who can’t afford rent rather than teens who go viral on TikTok.

In his announcement video, which was directed by the Oscar-nominated director Darren Aronofsky, Yang also pledged to improve technology in the city’s classrooms.

“We’ll bring New York City into the 21st century by getting everyone high-speed Internet so our kids can learn,” he said.

Another promise, though, seemed destined to spark its own conflict among basketball fans.

“Maybe we can even save the Knicks,” Yang said.