The public perception of Andrew Yang’s mayoral candidacy so far has been largely defined by his habit of tweeting a lot and his (sometimes odd) celebration of the wide world of food in New York City. But the two trends crossed paths on Sunday in a way that briefly soured his campaign, when Yang tweeted a vow to crack down on unlicensed street vendors if he were elected.
While the former presidential candidate followed up by stating that he’d like to expand opportunities for immigrant and non-English-speaking street-cart operators to “bring more unlicensed vendors into the legal market,” the comment was immediately criticized as a backward priority as the city emerges from a pandemic. The Street Vendor Project, a group advocating to help street-food operators “earn a living and contribute” to city life, called Yang’s comment “grossly uninformed,” adding that “vendors bring business to commercial corridors, increasing foot traffic and economic growth for all.” New York City comptroller Scott Stringer held a press conference in Queens on Monday, taking the opportunity to criticize his fellow mayoral candidate. “[Yang] wants to create a crackdown on vendors, and send enforcement to the immigrant communities that powered us through the pandemic,” Stringer said, before inviting vendors, advocates, and Assemblymember Catalina Cruz and State Senator Jessica Ramos to speak.
Later on Monday, Yang apologized for his comment, telling reporters at an event in Brooklyn that “I regret that I took on such a frankly complicated and nuanced issue” on Twitter, adding that such thinking was “a product of that medium.” He also said that his tweet made it “seem like it’s a zero-sum game between unlicensed street vendors and retailers.”
While the remark and the statement of regret is the definition of a minor scandal, it does mark an unforced error for the leading candidate for mayor. While around 50 percent of voters in a poll from late March stated they did not yet know who they’d cast their ballot for, Yang led the crowded field with 16 percent, followed by Brooklyn borough president Eric Adams at 10 percent.