I have a pet peeve I want to share with you,” Andrew Yang declared immediately after we were introduced on Zoom late Thursday night.
The emotional toll of a series of setbacks that saw Yang fade from front-runner to fourth place in some polls was evident. He leaned forward toward the camera, face taut.
“So, Eric Adams two debates ago said what he couldn’t do without was a bubble bath,” Yang said. “When he gave reporters a tour of the basement he supposedly lives in, there is no bathtub in the basement. So, I just want people to notice there’s no bathtub.”
Adams had spent the better part of the past week facing questions about where exactly he lives, between his office in Borough Hall, a New Jersey condo he owns with a romantic partner, and the Bed-Stuy brownstone he represented to reporters as his home. Yang didn’t buy it, pointing to the presence of a small shower cabinet — but no bathtub — in the residence as apparent proof Adams is lying about where he rests his head at night.
The issue seemed personal to Yang, who has been loudly criticized for decamping to a second home upstate with his family at the start of the pandemic, while the city he wants to lead as mayor was under siege by the coronavirus. Yang has had it with feeling like his own conduct is under constant attack while Adams’s has been treated lightly.
So for over two hours, Yang and his wife, Evelyn, aired their frustrations with the campaign season. Andrew had returned to their apartment after a day on the trail wearing his signature ensemble: navy suit, light-colored shirt, blue campaign-logo lapel pin, no tie. Evelyn looked every bit the well-heeled Manhattan public-school mom in athleisure. Behind them were plants and campaign posters in their dedicated room for interviews. It was an initial question about the location of their Zoom backdrop that caused Yang to lace into Adams.
“Where is he? Like a lobbyist’s office? Who knows?” Yang said, raising his voice incredulously.
Part of the appeal that helped Yang go from a long-shot presidential candidate to national celebrity to mayoral front-runner was his cheerful demeanor. And while he smiled and made exaggerated gestures and dopey voices to mock what he sees as a lack of scrutiny for Adams, it was evident there was anger boiling below the surface.
“You can tell that this is actually frustrating,” Evelyn said as she gestured toward her husband who was rocking in his chair and stewing after begging the city to pay attention to Adams’s basement bathroom. She describes herself as “more fired up” about the campaign than ever after watching what she sees as unfair and racial attacks on her husband.
“You can tell I have a lot of this pent up right?” she asked with a laugh.
The pair argued in the final days that the race is a battle between Yang’s positive vision for the city and “the machine” of Adams, a reference to the fact that his decades-long career has ties to old-school political clubs. The Brooklyn borough president has also faced allegations of corruption, which he dismisses as political attacks. Yang insists Adams’s issues left him with no choice but to speak up.
“I’ve been put in a position where I have to say, look, Eric Adams is not a principled leader,” Yang said.
Yang is one of four candidates in the top tier, along with Adams, Maya Wiley, and Kathryn Garcia — whom he has appeared alongside with in the final days of the campaign. But Yang is clearly focused on Adams. The couple expressed deep frustration at their impression that his record and conduct were ignored until the closing weeks of the campaign — the same time he pulled ahead as front-runner in most polls — while they believe Yang’s every move has come under a microscope since the start.
“The contrast! The contrast!” Evelyn said, sighing and waving her hands.
As an example, Yang pointed to an incident where he was heavily criticized for awkwardly giggling when a YouTube interviewer asked him: “Do you choke bitches?”
“It’s like DEFCON Four, Andrew responded poorly to street comedy,” Yang said, before going after the media. “And then it’s like, Eric Adams, rampant corruption … well, who cares because I’m not going to get clicks on that one.”
Both Yang and his wife believe he’s received undue attention because of the same thing that, at first, fueled his City Hall bid: broad name recognition and a vast online following he earned while running for president. Yang arrived on the national stage warning about the threat automation posed to millions of workers and focused on the idea of a universal basic income as a solution.
“He made the stimulus checks happen,” Evelyn said, arguing her husband’s promotion for universal basic income as the pandemic took hold was directly responsible for some of the coronavirus-relief payments. Yang piped in to clarify that he didn’t have his UBI advocacy organization up and running when the first round of checks were issued in March 2020. But he said he “talked to dozens of legislators” ahead of the second payments and “was responsible for the House version” by Democrats that eventually gave people $2,000.
As an evangelist for giving everyone money, Yang said he initially expected to be viewed as “left of Bernie” Sanders when he entered the presidential race, but instead was perceived as a “libertarian.” Yang believes this was “just political” and attributed it to the fact he did not already already have a following like Sanders, the nation’s most prominent socialist. Yang similarly believes entrenched politics are behind progressives’ reluctance to embrace him in New York, too.
Of course, this analysis discounts Yang’s other stances that have irked the left: more funding for the NYPD, including more cops on the subway, support for charter schools, ties to allies of billionaire former mayor Michael Bloomberg, and, recently, an expression of unqualified support for Israel as it waged war in the Gaza Strip.
Yang got attacked from across the political spectrum when on a debate stage last week he said taking people with mental illness off the streets was a matter of public safety. “Yes, mentally ill people have rights, but you know who else have rights? We do! The people and families of the city,” Yang said. “We have the right to walk the street and not fear for our safety because a mentally ill person is going to lash out at us.”
Evelyn came to her husband’s defense on this front as well, arguing the policy “substance” of his answer — getting them help — was sound even if he sounded insensitive. “The words are not politically correct in the way a politician would present it,” she said. “I think it’s because he’s not a politician, but you know what his values are.”
After the debate, Yang emphasized on Twitter that he was referring to a surge in attacks on New Yorkers of Asian descent that have, in many cases, been perpetrated by people with a history of homelessness and mental health crises. In general, Yang said the violence has motivated him to speak up more about anti-Asian hate.
“The way Asians were treated before COVID was invisibility,” said Yang. “It was invisibility and diminution. … Then, post-COVID, it became a higher degree of animosity and vitriol and sometimes that manifested in violence.”
Evelyn added: “As one of the most prominent Asian people, he was like, ‘I have an obligation to speak about this and this experience for everyone else who looks like me.’”
Born in Schenectady to Taiwanese immigrants and living in the city since the 1990s, he is adamant that some of the questioning of his ties to New York City is racial. “I think a lot of it is the fact that I’m of a community that people naturally cast as being somewhat on the outside,” said Yang. “That’s not a positive thing.”
Indeed, criticism of Yang’s status as a true New Yorker has gone beyond a spotty voting record in local elections to nitpicking everything from his descriptions of subway routes to his musical choices. Last month, a Daily News cartoon mocked him for being a tourist with a caricature that included his eyes drawn as simple slits, which first appeared online. After criticism, the paper changed the illustration of Yang’s eyes for the print edition.
“I felt the sting,” Evelyn said of her initial reaction to the cartoon. “When you see it, automatically, it hurts you.” That was on top of another incident during the campaign where she says a woman accused her of carrying disease — a racist trope commonly used against Asians during the pandemic.
Yang, who has alluded to being bullied for his race in his youth, described being blindsided by the Daily News portrayal. “I was surprised by several aspects of running for mayor in New York City and I’d say this was one of them,” he said.
Despite his diminished political standing, he still has a shot at City Hall. Yang and his campaign insist they’re bullish on his chances and are counting on an influx of new voters who may have been undercounted by surveys. Either way, the polls have varied with the new ranked-choice voting system injecting a degree of uncertainty into the home stretch of the race. While Adams is a front-runner thanks to a strong base of support in the Black community and among labor groups, Yang and the other three major challengers each have a plausible chance at an upset.
To make that happen, Yang’s campaign has changed tactics in recent days, with the singular focus on Adams as just one example. Over the weekend, he appeared with Garcia and urged his supporters to rank her second on their ballots. When pressed repeatedly, Garcia would not return the favor and insisted her ballot was a private matter — and resisted pushing her people to rank Yang. And Evelyn has taken on a more prominent role.
“Wow look at this! What a sport! She really is the closer!” Yang quipped as he kissed his wife on the cheek before excusing himself after an hour.
Evelyn stayed on because she wanted to share her view that her husband was truly motivated to help others, despite knowing the popularity he earned in the presidential race could take a hit in the rough world of New York City politics. “Andrew’s mission was to do what he could to help,” Evelyn explained. “It’s not like the mayor’s office is a stepping stool to a higher office. … You get your hands dirty as mayor.”
The race has been especially grinding on the couple, who are raising two young sons. They’ve been particularly candid about their oldest, Christopher, who has special needs due to autism. “We do have fun but this was — all of it — like a sacrifice,” she said. “We had very good civilian lives.”
Evelyn also suggested campaigning is harder on Yang than his gleeful appearances might lead you to believe. The couple both described Yang as an introvert and she described public life as “depleting” for him.
“To be in the spotlight as he is, that’s not where his energy comes from,” Evelyn said of her husband after he retired to bed. “He gets his energy from … being alone basically.”
The long hours and intense political fighting have also worn her out, but she has no regrets. “If the machine wins, then so it does, but we tried our best,” she said.
And with that, at nearly two in the morning after two Zoom rooms both expired and gave way to a phone call, Evelyn felt unburdened.
“It was like a therapy session,” she said before hanging up. “I feel like I unloaded so many things on you.”