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Yang’s presidential campaign principles do not apply to New York politics

Andrew Yang speaks to members of the media along Canal Street in Chinatown on April 5, 2021 in New York City. | Spencer Platt / Getty Images

NEW YORK – Staff joining Andrew Yang’s presidential campaign were given a list of ‘principles of operation’ – a 10-point code of conduct as they competed against seasoned politicians vying for the Democratic nomination from 2020.

The guide included basic workplace tips: Keep an open mind to new ideas, take personal responsibility for mistakes, reinforce recommendations with data. One of the principles was more blunt – a directive to “line up or quit”.

“Staff members have the right to have dissenting opinions and, if necessary, those opinions should be shared with management. This should take place behind closed doors, in a one-on-one meeting. After the meeting, the discussion is over, ”said the provision, according to a copy obtained by POLITICO.

He concludes: “Both sides move forward regardless of the outcome. No one has a grudge.

Now, the spirit of the “align or resign” directive is absent from the campaign of Mayor Yang, who quickly had to adapt to the free-for-all nature of New York City politics. Although virtually a one-party city where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans 7 to 1, New York is an international metropolis of hyper-local and often conflicting concerns and perspectives. In an attempt to put together a winning coalition ahead of the June 22 primary, Yang had to bow to the will of divergent politicians and interest groups – as well as her own employees – on heavily loaded issues such as policing, support for Israel and taxation. increases on affluent residents.

What emerged is a candidate whose own consultant recently called it an “empty container” – someone new to the local political scene and therefore free from the allegiances that career politicians hold, whose positions are unpredictable and somewhat devoid of a global ideology.

Interviews with Yang’s top staff show conflicting views, some of which are at odds with the positions the candidate has expressed on the trail. His team claim that this approach has helped him climb to the top spot in the eight-way primary.

“I feel like I can shape it on every issue,” Rep. Ritchie torres, one of the first supporters and co-chair of Yang’s campaign, recently mentionned.

His opponents say he lacks ideological consistency and will appeal to interest groups. And the far left Democrats fundraising to stop Yang’s rise believe that the qualities that broaden his appeal arose out of his own skepticism about certain principles he held dear, such as supporting an income tax hike for the rich.

Perhaps no problem has demonstrated this inconsistency more than the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement which opposes the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories.

Yang started the race with a op-ed in the Jewish publication, the Forward, equating BDS, as it is commonly known, with “fascist boycotts of Jewish businesses”. New York mayors have no control over foreign policy but generally pay homage to the city’s large Jewish population.

What followed this editorial was a series of attempts at clarify your position, each time upsetting a very controversial side of the question.

Yang recently won the support of a list of politically influential Orthodox Jewish leaders , many of whom support Israel and view BDS as anti-Semitic. His position has been criticized not only by Muslim groups, but also by some of his own campaign collaborators. In a recent interview, campaign co-director Sasha Neha Ahuja confirmed that she did not agree with Yang’s statements about the move.

What critics see as an opportunistic about-face has a political advantage: Yang has received support from two city council members who are so opposed in their view of Middle East politics, one voted to oust the other from the immigration committee in 2019.

Yang’s team is also not fully aligned with its relatively pro-police posture in the face of rising gun violence.

Some of his advisers, for example, disagreed with his position on the reinstatement of a NYPD unit in plain clothes that was disbanded last year and had been involved in some of the city’s most notorious police shootings.

“If someone comes to you and says, ‘We need all these new officers,’ I’d say, ‘Well, first of all, let’s consider re-enacting a version of the crime unit, ” Yang told the New York Post editorial board ahead of his endorsement from rival Eric Adams this week.

Ahuja, campaign co-director Chris Coffey and senior advisor André Richardson acknowledged internal disagreement on the issue in a joint interview last week, but all said their views had been taken into account as the campaign was assessing its position on how to deal with the increase in crime.

“We cannot allay fears in white and affluent communities that feel unsafe by re-establishing a police unit that historically mistreats people in black and brown communities and makes us feel unsafe,” said Richardson. . “I do not support the anti-crime unit and I do not support the plainclothes unit.”

“Our job is to make sure there is a diverse perspective that helps move Andrew and inform his perspective,” Ahuja said. “It means community members on the ground who have been directly affected by police violence, community members who have been directly affected by gun violence.”

Some of Yang’s team don’t line up with his opposition to the increase in the income tax of high incomes – a position he occupies not always articulate and one that puts him at odds with many Democratic politicians in New York City.

Bradley Tusk, senior Yang consultant, for example, recently applauded Yang’s fiscal prudence stance at FOX Business, but communications director Alyssa Cass told POLITICO in an interview last month that she supported a tax hike on high-income residents.

“I am a progressive. Andrew and I don’t always line up. Most of the time, we do. But no matter what, he’s open to hearing all sides of the issue before making a decision, and I always feel heard, ”Cass said.

Some former supporters said they were surprised by the “line up or step down” memo, interpreting it as a requirement for uniformity of thought and action. A former assistant who spoke during the 2020 race about what he described as noxious working conditions ended up taking the memo’s advice and resigned shortly after starting.

“In New Hampshire, there was a pervasive culture of implicit threats of dismissal to oppose them over housing policy and organizing,” James Davis, who briefly worked as a field organizer for the Yang 2020 campaign. “This ‘align or quit’ philosophy was not just abstract to me or a large part of its staff; it was very coercive in New Hampshire.

Others said they saw it as an invitation to speak out freely.

“I really thought it was the by-product of getting people to share their views,” former finance director Carly Reilly told POLITICO. She said she was young and inexperienced when she joined the presidential campaign. “I was really given a voice,” she added. “I felt very grateful.”

In an interview with POLITICO, Yang said he “was just trying to set very, very clear guidelines and behavioral safeguards” for anyone representing the campaign, whether on social media or in person. “The idea was that if you fundamentally disagree with those values ​​or guidelines, then, you know, then this campaign might not be for you.”

Ahuja said the mayor’s campaign does not publish a set of written principles like the presidential campaign and that no one is asked to “line up or step down”.

“We expect all of our employees to share a common set of values, including decency, kindness and respect for one another, and to welcome and always take into account the political views of those who are part of the campaign team and the outside, ”she said in a written statement. “None of this is new. If that’s too much to ask, our campaign probably isn’t for you. “

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