Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has endorsed Maya Wiley for mayor of New York, a dramatic intervention that could heighten the chances of the city electing a woman for the first time and only its second Black leader.
Ocasio-Cortez, a leading progressive in Congress popularly known as AOC, shot to national fame in 2018 when she beat a longtime incumbent, Joe Crowley, for the Democratic nomination in a district in Queens and the Bronx.
“If we don’t come together as a movement we will get a New York City built by and for billionaires, and we need a city by and for working people,” Ocasio-Cortez said on Saturday. “So we will vote for Maya No1.”
Wiley is a lawyer and community organiser who was a counsel to the current mayor, Bill de Blasio, and has taught urban policy and social justice at the New School in Manhattan.
“She will be a progressive in Gracie Mansion,” Ocasio-Cortez said, referring to the mayoral residence. “We can’t let New York become a playground for the wealthy where working people cannot afford to live.”
Wiley lauded Ocasio-Cortez as a strong leader and promised to do the same for the city.
“It’s time we have this kind of courage leading us at a historic crossroads,” Wiley said, according to New York Daily News, referring to the city’s prospects after the coronavirus pandemic. “We need the courage to bring every New Yorker back with us.”
This week Wiley told the New Yorker: “There’s one progressive in this race who can win this race. And it’s me.”
In April, she told the Guardian she wanted to change a history which has seen New York elect 109 mayors – 108 of them white men, the exception David Dinkins, who led the city for three years from 1990 and who died last November, aged 93.
For long periods the New York race has been led by Andrew Yang, a centrist tech entrepreneur who achieved his own national fame with a surprisingly strong run in the 2020 Democratic presidential primary.
After failing to land a place in Joe Biden’s cabinet, Yang entered the race to succeed De Blasio in New York.
Gaffes and missteps including choosing to live outside the city during the pandemic, not voting for mayor between 2001 and 2017 and supposedly misunderstanding the subway system did not stop him dominating early polls.
Democrats will choose their candidate – and in all likelihood the next mayor, given the political leanings of the city – on 22 June. The primary will be conducted through ranked-choice voting, which lets voters pick up to five candidates in order of preference. Some early results in other contests might be known that evening but the nominees for mayor are unlikely to be known for weeks.
Polls have tightened, with Yang, Wiley, Brooklyn borough president Eric Adams and former sanitation commissioner Kathryn Garcia the top four in a crowded field.
Garcia has been endorsed by the New York Times. Wiley will hope Ocasio-Cortez speaks to young New Yorkers as the Grey Lady does to the city’s establishment.
Hit hard in the early stages of the pandemic, New Yorkers are only now beginning to return to normal life. In her interview with the Guardian, Wiley said Covid “laid bare once again – like all our crises that reveal racial inequity – our failure to invest in our people.
“… You know, 88% of New Yorkers who have died from Covid are people of colour. We are not 80% of the New York City population. The highest rates of unemployment are in the same communities that had the highest rates of death due to Covid. And the highest infection rates, and are the same communities that are over-policed, and are the same communities that are struggling to get the vaccine.
“If we want to recover from Covid we have to pay attention to all our people. And what we love about the city … is the fact that 800 languages are spoken here, and the fact that 40% of our people were born in another country, and the fact that we have descendants from North American slaves, and the fact that we have people who live in luxury housing and people who live in public housing, and that’s part of what makes us rich.”
She was also asked how she would manage the notoriously difficult relationship between the mayor’s office and Andrew Cuomo, the powerful Democratic governor of New York state.
“I would manage the relationship with the governor the way I manage all relationships,” she said. “Open communication, starting with principles and purpose that meets the needs of people.
“We have a shared constituency. There are many partnerships, we need to get what we need from the state government. And if you want partnerships that focus on hard problems and real solutions, then pick a Black woman. Because that’s what we do every single day and in every single way.”